I must admit that having four kids has turned me into a rather uncompassionate parent. You don’t have time to negotiate with a tantrum thrower. You do a quick scan to check their general vitals – he has to be breathing to make that sound – and then you move on.
It’s not that I’m heartless. In fact, I’m a GREAT crier myself. I’m moved to tears over Qantas commercials and certain renditions of “Hopelessly Devoted to You”. I have even been known to cry at work during particularly touching client presentations.
Clearly, I believe it’s ok to show emotion. There are too many adults walking around with emotional constipation. You’ve seen them. They go around like zombies, unmoved by puppy videos and Ed Sheeran songs. They sit in traffic with deadpan eyes; one bug splat on the windscreen away from exploding into a suburban rampage.
I’ve always encouraged a healthy level of self expression at home, without tolerating sulkiness. I won’t tell a child to stop crying. I’ll ask him WHY he’s crying instead. If the reason is free from self pity, bad attitude or selfishness… then I’ll just hand him a tissue and let him wail away.
We were talking about this over dinner last night. The topic came up during a review of the movie Red Dog that we watched recently. Everyone cried. Everyone except my second child- a hard core little kid with serious potential for mafia leadership.
I get that not everybody needs to cry. But the child was bragging that he hadn’t even felt sad. Like feeling nothing were a strength. Not in my house, boy. I rose up from the table and called everyone over to the sink. I opened the tap and said, “It doesn’t matter how tough you are. Life’s going to throw things at you. Sometimes it will only be a trickle, and sometimes you will feel like you might drown.” I adjusted the water flow accordingly.
I reached into the cupboard and scratched around for the colander. I put it under the flowing water and explained how some people go through life with very little emotional capacity. They allow everything to affect them. Even the small things go right through them and come out the other side as anger or pain. It’s messy.
Next, I reached for a jug and placed it under the tap. As it filled up slowly, we discussed another kind of person. The type who internalises everything, considering it a strength to withhold emotion. Except sooner or later, when they are able to take no more, it will all spill out. We watched the water spill over in a gush.
I asked one of them to hand me a school water bottle. After a watery demonstration, we established that the flow control on the lid allowed us to decide how much water goes in, and how much water comes out. The water still flows; but only because we choose.
The food was going cold on the table, so I wrapped up with something I’ve said to them before and will say to them again:
Don’t be scared of ‘feelings’. Just make sure you are in control of your emotions, and that your emotions are not in control of you.