Thursday 22 April 2010


Showing your emotions as a parent: The good, the bad and the ugly?

We interrupt this blog to talk about serious stuff...

Yesterday was not a Good Day. In truth, I haven't had a Good Day in a long time but yesterday was particularly bad: I cried in front of the kids. I have very complicated feelings about this. I do feel that it's important to show them that it's okay to feel sad or angry just as much as it is to feel happy. I know through my own experiences with depression that internalising negative emotions is toxic. But yesterday was more complicated than 'I bashed my toe and it's sore', or 'I'm sad we're leaving Grandma and Grandpa' or 'I'm angry that our oven just broke and I'm not sure how I can make dinner now'. Those are things that easier to explain, fall within the realm of things that are 'rational' to cry about, but most importantly have nothing to do with the kids.

But what do you say when you are crying because of the relentlessness of being a parent? That Jamie's constant begging for food every minute of the day makes you despair? Or that the fact that 98% of everything that Maia says is a whine makes you see red? That they never listen? Or they never stop fighting? Because I also know that giving children a sense of responsibility for their parents' emotional well-being is very toxic. What a burden to bear on tiny shoulders that what they do or don't do can make me cry.

So what do you think about children seeing their parents cry (both as a child yourself or now as a parent)? Is it healthy or does it just create panic? I'd love to hear your thoughts, unless of course your thoughts are that I'm a bad mother. I'm just not up to hearing that right now.


  1. Can I join the "not having many good days lately" club? Admittedly I'm managing to get out of bed these days which is a novelty but man alive, the kids are just leeching any strength I have out of me.

    I can't cry right now because of the meds, but last time I cried in front of the kids was when Nairn ran away from me in the mall. When he was found I burst into tears because I was so scared and I think that made him realise how bad he'd been. Personally I think it does kids no harm to see that Mummy or Daddy is fallible too.

    Hope you're okay x

  2. It may not be healthy but, I feel it's all about the understanding of emotions from my point of view. I have cried in front of my son, (he's 4) probably for the same reasons you did. It didn't feel good and could only explain it to him that ''mummy was just feeling sad''

    If you are happy all the time, what are they supposed to do when they feel sad? Go with the old british way of a slap on the back and get on with it? Not in my house we won't anyway! lol

    I hope you have a good day soon, each day as it comes is how i do it...

  3. Think I'm a fully paid up member of the "not having many good days lately" club? too. I have a 3 yr old & 18 month old & just feel exhausted & under constant pressure to do & be more.
    I think it is okay to let your children see emotions, everyone has them & they'll have to deal with them too. At least if they see them it can open up conversations about what makes people feel sad, cross etc & maybe help them vocalise their emotions too.
    and WTF is it with the "I'm hungry, Mum, I'm hungry" thing, my child ate so much but will take one bte & ask for something else. Argh.

  4. I have cried in front of Kathryn for a variety of reasons, and think it's not a bad idea - I don't want to give her the impression that grown ups are all happy smiley but don't want to make her think crying is the only way of dealing with sad feelings.dieri

  5. erm and my verification word is on the end of my comment. How strange.

  6. You are not a bad mother! I think we all have those days and doesn't it seem like they come in big long strings of bad days? It's like an endurance race that isn't possible to finish. My kids are still small enough that they don't really notice my tears (The little self-centered monsters), so I have indulged in some "My life is unbelieveable, why did I have children" tears around them and they just kept watching whatever movie I put on to distract them from what a hopeless wreck their mother is. I remember from my own childhood seeing my mother cry. It was usually about my delinquent brother (who really was and spent most of his teen years in juvenile hall or rehab) but every so often it was about the rest of us. I never knew how to react to her at the time, but I think it helped me to realize that it is OK to express anger and frustration that way. I'm glad that my parents didn't cloak their feelings in front of us. My hubby parents never fought/cried/emoted in front of him, and now he often has no idea how to express how he feels. He's learning, since my waterworks come on at the drop of a hat, but it has been really a hard process for him.

  7. Amanda,I hope that fact that you cried in front of your kids doesn't mean you are a bad mother...because if it does, then I am one too. I have been doing this mom thing for 18 years now and in my experience all small children are exasperating and with all the other pressures of life you are bound to cry sometimes...and it's good for your children to see that you are teaches them empathy.

    doesn't it seem like as soon as you vent about something it magically gets better? hope this trick works in this case and tomorrow is a much better day.

  8. Nice to be in good company here. I have days like this, where I am in such a grump and say things to the kids such as "being a mum is really hard" I have other days where I am on top form and say how much I love being a mum. It's all about balance, I hope, as in all things.

  9. I don't like the boys seeing me cry because when I do it's not just a wee sob and a sniffle it's proper honking, snotters and floods of tears. I think it would be a bit scary for them although they have seen me upset occasionally.
    I hope you get some good days soon.

  10. I don't have any kids so can't really comment on it from a parental point of view, but my own mother (who I love dearly and am very close to now) hardly ever cried in front of me and when she did it freaked the shit out of me. I honestly think that letting your children see that you have emotions and are a human being and can share the things that make you human with them is no bad thing. You don't have to tell them that it's because of them, of course, but that you're tired and unhappy and need some peace and quiet is something most kids can understand, I think.

    And I can also empathise with the lack of good days. Depression is a bitch, eh? Take care.

  11. I had a few of those days. Especially when I was huge pregnant, had four kids running around, homeschooling and everything else while my hubby was deployed for 400 days to Iraq. Yeah, I was a mess.

    The kids seem okay though. The complete breakdowns were usually just when I couldn't deal with those same things you can't deal with. We're parents, true but we're not doormats. I think it's good for our kids to see every once in a while their actions do effect us negatively.

  12. I'm glad to see a post like this (and the comments that have followed). I don't wish sadness on anyone, I'm just glad we can all relate to each other.

    I've been depressed and felt like crying for the last week. My four year old, Alex, has seen me cry. My husband was overseas for two years (with two week visits every 3-5 months) and I used to cry every time he left and sometimes just because I was overwhelmed.

    I remember one day when I was trying to take Alex to the pizza buffet place on Mom's Eat Free Day and he threw a monster tantrum. We left, I buckled him in, then just sat in the parking lot crying on the steering wheel. That wasn't the last time I've been in that position.

    It makes us human to show emotion and I think our kids learn from it.

  13. Another really interesting honest post and why I love your blog (as well as all the lovely fabric!). I think its ok to cry in front of your children. We've all been there! It doesn't hurt for them to know that parents are not perfect and have emotions and get frustrated/upset too. I guess when it becomes a problem is when its not a one off after a bad day. If a parent was crying regularly then I think thats different as it may cause anxiety in the child. Hope you are ok? Ever thought of having a Homestart volunteer? I've just started working for them and the volunteers are so lovely. It could just be someone coming round to make you a cup of tea or entertain the kids while you have an hour to yourself. Just a thought? I wish I had one!!

  14. i don't think it is a bad thing for kids to see their parents cry, i think it is good that they see we have emotions and even that sometimes we get shouty angry - hyper happy - tearfull or even bored.
    i sneak off to cry if i have to tbh i don't like anyone to see my weakness - i find crying {in myself} shamefull and maybe that is 'cause i only ever saw my Mum cry once in 40 years and that's because i'd been so bad she was ashamed of me :0(

  15. You are a Mummy, not a bad one just one that has bad days. I wish I was nearer to give you a hug and listen. It's ok to cry, I cry alot and it doesn't bother the boys at all and the girls will give me a hug and ask what's up. If I'm tired or poorly or something has upset me that they will understand they will be more helpful in the house and calmer around me but they will accept it when I say 'nothing' when they ask, sometimes we feel like shit that's all. Elizabeth understands this more now, occasionally she will come home from school and cry and often it is for no reason or no particular reason, she is tired or has had a falling out with a friend but often she cannot put her finger on it but is better after a cry and a cuddle. My own mother never cried in front of us and never comforted us when we cried, it's amazing how different a mother i am. She wasn't a bad mother for not showing emotion and I hope I am not a bad mother for showing more. I think sometimes if we didn't all have a good cry we'd just explode, the sadness/anger/frustration would eat us up and we'd be unable to feel anything else. A cry is not a bad thing. You are not a bad mother.

  16. I am sorry that you have not had a good day in a while and that yesterday was particularly bad. Please call if you would like someone to listen. While I don't think that our kids always need the details of why we are crying (particularly if they are the cause), I don't believe it causes any harm for them to see it now and again. I hope tomorrow is better.

  17. I have three children and they're all at home a lot of the time so they've seen me cry, shout, laugh and everything in between. I don't think it's a bad thing that they see you're having a bad day or a bad few days because they also see you get over it. Surely it's better to grow up knowing that we all have bad days, sometimes say things we don't mean but get over it, feel happy again and apologise when we need to. After all that's all part of life.

  18. My Mum had a cigar and a G&T when we pushed her too far. We understood- I particularly understand now, I lock myself in the loo and turn the radio on full blast when it all gets too much. I only cry when Simon gets home, not by any conscious decision. I am sure my kids think I'm a loon but they don't seem overly bothered and to be honest I can't be anything other than I am. This is such a relentless, thankless job and I really don't believe any of us can do it any better. xxx

  19. Just laughed so hard I weeed a bit at the James Garfield story. Even Mike was completely mirthed, and he is rarely amused by women. Thanks for that.

  20. My friend, I have been trying to think of something to say all day but I don't know what would help. I cry often in front of the children because I am a bit of a sop and grief still haunts me. I hope you can add some more good days into the mix, I hope you can take some pressure off yourself, I hope it gets better. xx

  21. Well crying isn't as traumatizing as packing a suitcase and walking out the door...which my mother did when the 3 of us were 4, 7, and 9 years old. Now she didn't leave us - it was just a set-up. My dad walked her to the door and said, "Kids, you've been so bad that your mother's leaving - hug her goodbye." Well we of course started crying and then she showed us the suitcase was empty, after which there were weepy apologies (from us for our behavior) and hugs all around.

    I haven't gone THAT far, but when one of mine would get whiney I'd tell him to go to his room till he could talk like a normal person. I find that being a strict disciplinarian nips lots of things in the bud - check out John Rosemond's "New Parent Power" for ways to avoid killing your kids before they become productive and upstanding citizens.

  22. The thing about being a parent is that no one tells you how bloody hard it is. How lack of sleep, sometimes lack of money and small children who are attention monsters can turn YOU into a raving loony. I've been there, bought several of the t shirts and when we celebrate my daughter's 21st birthday next week I'll say a silent thank you for coming out the other side. It gets better, honestly - just not any time soon! xx

  23. When L was little I felt the same, it was never ending 24/7 non sleeping child, I was at home full time on my own and never saw another adult sometimes for weeks. To say I lost it a bit is an understatement.

    I cried *a lot*, I tried to do it in the bath, shower anywhere she wouldn't see me doing it. But occasionally she did see, and you know what she understood.

    She knew that Mummy was tired and stressed and she'd give me a break. Behaved better, occupied herself more and gave me a big cuddle which was sometimes all I needed - even when she was 2 she go that.

    Now she's 7 and one of the kindest children you could meet, so I think letting them see it occasionally doesn't hurt them, it means they see you as another human and they learn some empathy.

    I hope you get yourself a break and some 'me' time soon. Even if it's a couple hours - you need it to recharge x

  24. Part of being a parent I reckon - unless you're a soul-less robot who doesn't get overwhelmed, frustrated, sad, overtired and overworked at times... I've cried plenty of times in front of M - though he's only just started to notice! Lately I had a depressed sob and he was kinda confused, but later told me I'd been crying and stroked my face in a sad way...! I'm sorry for freaking him out but I'm glad he felt some sort of sympathy and love for me. Whenever my mum cried when we were kids I never felt damaged from it - just sad for her, and unable to understand sometimes why she was doing it. Now that I'm all growned up I realise that she had it DAMN tough a lot of the time and am more in awe of how she coped without completely falling to pieces.

    You are a frickin' wonderful mum, who has to cope with A LOT, and these early years of your kids' lives are tough, tough, tough. Cry if you need to, give them extra hugs and try to get a break. {{{{{{{Big squidgy hugs}}}}}}}

    I'm so sorry you're feeling crappy. Things will get better.

    Skip x

  25. Oh hon - poor you. I had postnatal depression with my LO and everything was in black and white for a long time.

    I cried a lot but normally hid it from him (and everyone - half the problem) - I believe it's healthy to cry in front of your children now though. They can see you're human and that you have feelings too. I think it helps them develop compassion.

    Your blog is such a refreshing insight into parenthood - the good, the bad and the ugly! And I love it (as do others, looking at all your followers and comments here...) because you're so honest.

    I really hope you're feeling a bit happier - looking back through your posts you have such fun with your little ones and they look so smiley and happy (see bubbles & cupcake post in particular).

    I wish I could say something reassuring - just know that you're not on your own and you will have a good day again. Love & hugs xox

  26. Well, I'm more of a yeller than a cryer, but I understand showing emotions in front of the kids that you don't want them to see. I feel bad about it, I do, but I also know that I am HUMAN.

    I generally have to take a step back and think, was it really that bad?? Are my kids horrible?? NO...generally, that is a no. It's just the constant not listening, making me repeat myself a gazillion times, that just breaks me.

    As they have gotten older they have gotten better. My daugher is almost 5 and my son is 6.5...17 months apart truly sucked when they couldn't play independently and were really needy. My favorite time of motherhood so far was when my son was 9 months old and I had all day nausea while pregnant. I was pretty much a worthless mother.

    We have to give ourselves a break. I'm pretty sure my kids know I love them and that we all have our bad days. The good Lord knows that they sure do! So give yourself some love. Don't get down and try to find some rainbows and butterflies in your harried day. I usually find them in the bottom of a nice glass of red wine at the end of the day. ;)

  27. I think it's normal to cry in front of your kids! Sometimes it just gets too overwhelming, and It's better to cry and let it out rather than bottle it up till you snap.

    My biggest worry is I'll turn out like my Mum, who could cry and even have asthma attacks on demand if I didn't do as she wanted and the amount of time I spent "all that was between her and the work house". ;)

  28. Tears have always come easy to me. My dad, whom I adore now but used to not get along with *at all,* used to call me a crybaby. Mom used to say she wished we could get through at least one meal without someone crying (and we all knew that someone was me... and that Dad started it).

    My folks never cried. I can still remember the first time I can recall seeing my Mom that devastated. My grandparents were in a terrible crash when I was in college, and I was there when the call came from my uncle. But even then I don't recall tears. My grandfather died, and at his funeral my young cousin was beside me. I knew she was watching me, and I felt I shouldn't cry. I didn't want to upset her.

    Now that I am older, I have seen my parents cry or tear up several times. I wish they would have let me see that when I was younger. Maybe then I wouldn't feel the need to hide in the shower when I need a good cry. I have cried in front of the girls, but I make sure we talk about it later.

    But admittedly, these days when everything falls apart I seem to become angry and snap at the girls. I make sure I apologize for being short with them (because I can remember with crystal clarity the 1 and only time my dad ever apologized to me, even though he would frequently take out his bad days on us... he was an angry man, famous for his ability to give the silent treatment).

    With my kids, I instituted a policy when Miss B was small (though it didn't get much use until Sister Goldenhair came along). Whenever the girls would become whiney, I would tell them that I didn't speak "Whine." And they were welcome to sit in their rooms/time out until they could talk in a normal voice. I'm still working on the snacking. My kids have hollow legs between meals.

    They are old enough now that when they fight, I make them hug until I tell them to stop. They are giggling in no time. (disclaimer: my kids bicker, they don't get into physical fights... the almost 5 year age difference might be a factor though).

    This is my wordy of saying, "Emote!" And take care of you.

  29. Hi,

    As an "all my triggers are activated at the moment" depressive, I'd just like to say it is sooo much healthier to cry than to get all disapproving, withdrawn & cold. Pat yourself on the back, I say, your blog proves that you are an ace mum. Not to mention gorgeous/thin and hilarious & a design genius. I know you have to feel it for yourself, but that it how you seem to me. Hope you feel proper better soon.

  30. I cry in front of my daughter - no choice, if I'm upset, I cry and can't stop it.

    I do try to reassure her and explain why I cry and that it's not her fault (because even if her behaviour triggered it, that's never the whole story).

    She seems to understand emotions quite well, she'll tell me when I'm angry or out of order, when I'm sad, when I'm happy. She'll criticise me for outbursts which are ott, and remind me to smile more. Similarly I acknowledge her feelings as often as I remember and hopefully that way we'll both be able/learn to empathise.

  31. I am very, very late to the comment party so take this for what it is worth.

    I'll just second all the "ok to cry in front of the kids" because I can't say it any better than it's been said.

    But I'll also add that I think you can also (very carefully) let them know that their behavior is upsetting you. Perhaps not in the crying moment since it's hard to moderate at those moments. But I don't see any problem with something like "I feel very frusrated when you X" or my new favorite "It really drains my energy when..."

    Not only does it help them learn to label their emotions, it also lets them know that hey - there's more than just you in this family.

    At least I hope it's ok, because I'm already doing it a little bit with Rylee. Maybe I'm damaging her before she's even two.

    Hang in there. You are a wonderful mother and bad days are the pits. Sometimes just surviving them with all the children alive and fed is victory.