I'm sharing my straightforward, practical approach to raising children of good character in my new book "Strong and Kind." In this excerpt, I point out that, sometimes, letting your kids see you cry isn’t so bad – in fact, it can be a good thing:
If you watched "Dancing with the Stars" when Sadie was on it, you probably saw Willie crying. His eyes tend to get really watery when our kids do something he’s proud of. Okay, we’re both crybabies about our kids. I tend to cry when I talk about them, if I tell a story about something they did that really touched me, or if someone tells me about something good that they’ve done. The bottom line is that we cry when we’re proud or happy, but Willie and I don’t often cry when we’re upset. We don’t typically cry over a stubbed toe or a temporary disappointment. Because of this, our kids remember distinctly every time they’ve ever seen us cry.
This really hadn’t hit me until a recent incident occurred that involved all of the children. I was recovering from a hysterectomy and the road to recovery had not been as smooth as I had hoped it would be. I’m one of those people who, when the doctor says, “You’ll have to stay home for two weeks,” thinks, Oh, that will be nice. I’ll get so much done. I’ll organize my desk, work on my book, perhaps clean out closets ... I guess I was envisioning a vacation, not a recovery. I never dreamed it would be two weeks of getting out of my bed only to move to the recliner. When I went to my two-week checkup, I told the doctor that it had been worse than I’d expected. His comment was, “This is a major surgery. Even after six weeks, you’ll only be 85 percent recovered.”
“What?” I said in shock. “I’m ready to get back to normal life now!”
I hit my breaking point about two weeks into my recovery. I was frustrated about the fact that I wasn’t feeling better yet; Willie was on a hunting trip; the kids were home all day because it was a Saturday; and I had stayed in bed most of the day. At lunchtime our sweet Will made me a sandwich, and John Luke made me a milkshake for a snack (ice cream is the way to my heart). So despite the fact that I felt bad, at least the kids were taking care of their mama.
That night, I woke up at three in the morning feeling thirsty and decided to go to the kitchen to get a glass of water. That’s when I saw it! The house was destroyed. The bread, deli turkey, and deli cheese (from lunch, let me remind you) were sitting on the counter all dried out. Wait, there’s more. The milk was still out from the milkshake John Luke had made me, and the counters were covered in mac-and-cheese boxes, soda cans, and chips bags. My house looked like a frat house after a party.
You have to know this before I go any further: I’m really not a neat freak. I’m totally okay with a house that looks lived in. Well, not this night. At 3 a.m. I sent a text to our kids that started with, “I have raised a bunch of slobs.” It went on to say that they’d better come straight home from church that morning. Furthermore, they were not to even stop to eat; they needed to get home and clean up every bit of the mess. Then we were going to have a serious talk. I even used what Sadie calls “the D word” — disappointed. For Sadie, the worst thing she can hear is that her parents are disappointed in something she did. I did feel a little bad about calling them slobs, so I followed it up with a text saying that I was proud of them in so many ways, but that I really needed them to step it up in this department.
Well, the kids came in solemnly, one-by-one, in a line, after church. I’m sure they hoped that I would be over it by that time, but no, I was still pretty worked up about it. I had spent the morning thinking of all the ways I had failed as a mom. My disappointment was not just in my children, but in myself for not teaching them well enough.
I was upset and not feeling well. In any case, I cried during our little family meeting that day. I apologized for the middle-of-the-night text calling them slobs; perhaps I could have handled that a little more calmly. I went on to explain that I was disappointed in the lack of care for the food we have and the home we have. We discussed how they could and would do better going forward. Then I made the kids clean up the entire house. We are now able to laugh about the whole incident, which I love. Every time I say anything about cleaning up, Sadie says in a dramatic voice, “What are we? A bunch of slobs!” and we all get a good laugh out of it.
Bella later told me that she knew this was serious because the last time she saw me upset and crying was when we were still living in our other house. We’ve been in the house we’re in now for eight years, which means that she couldn’t have been more than 4 years old. Still, she remembered everything about that particular event. Certainly, I’ve cried in the past eight years over stress, disappointment, heartache, and exhaustion. Apparently, Bella hadn’t seen it.
I say all of this to say that it’s okay for the kids to see us having those moments; perhaps I should show my kids those moments a bit more often. It’s okay for your kids to see you vulnerable, for them to see that we all have times when we’ve just had enough, times when life gets overwhelming and people or circumstances disappoint us. That’s part of being real with your kids.
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