Donna Smaldone
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Thursday / March 08 / 2012

When your kids call you on your sadness

Boulder at Rockwell Falls in Hadley, New York
Boulder at Rockwell Falls in Hadley, New York

What’s wrong, Mom?” Aaaaahhh, a question with which I’m all too familiar. Perhaps I’ve become more sensitive to the inquiry since I started dealing with depression. But even before I came to fisticuffs with the illness, I was reticent to be fully vulnerable with my babes. But why?

Does anyone else struggle with this? In a time when children want nothing more than to be heard, understood, and included, why do we push them away with regards to the depths of our own emotions during difficult times?

As I consider all the perceptive times my children queried about what was bothering me, I realize my penchant was to put on a brave face in some sort of veiled attempt to protect them. But protect them from what?

Pretending “nothing’s wrong” simply doesn’t work with those who love you most, no matter how old they are. Kids are simply way too perceptive.

By proclaiming “nothing’s wrong”, we instill in our children:

  • You should push raw emotions aside. Translation: suck it up… fake it if you have to.
  • You should share with me and I will always be here to help bandage your metaphoric skinned knees. However, I don’t trust you enough to share my feelings with you.
  • Do what I say and not what I do. (ouch)
  • If something in life causes you pain and you respond by being upset, saddened, or disappointed — there must be something wrong with you.

I’ve learned to share more of what’s really going on in my life with my children (read: I’ve forced myself because I believe it will pay dividends for their futures). As challenging as it’s been to be vulnerable with the ones I raised, I’ve also found it to be a lot more freeing than I’d imagined.

Don’t get me wrong — it hasn’t been easy. And truthfully, I still find myself wanting them to live without worry for me. But as they’ve explained to me, they care for me just as much as I care for them.

I’ve learned I don’t need to be a solid rock for my kids. [PS… they know I’m not anyway.] Why did I ever think I was fooling them? Rather, I need to be a rock like the one you see in the picture above from Rockwell Falls in Hadley, New York — one lined with crevices, deep and shallow, put there by the variety of life, surrounded by other rocks of varying sizes, and the effects of plant life — both living and dead.

By sharing my own times of struggling for breath under rushing waters, I’ve been able to legitimately bestow strength, confidence, and readiness in my children to face their own rivers of uncertainty.

I will add the caveat here that our children are always our children and we should not burden them with all our drama. They aren’t pocket-sized Dr. Phils. They are little, mid-sized, or grown-up human beings — just like us. They don’t want to hear our ails every single time they talk with us. They simply want honesty… to know we’re human — just like them.

6 responses to “When your kids call you on your sadness”

  1. Julie says:

    Great post, Donna! Another thing I have learned is that sometimes, when I am not being honest with my children, they think that THEY have done something wrong, or something to upset me… so if for no other reason… be honest with them so that they don’t feel that it is their fault. Kids are so perceptive… it seems that even when my kids were really young, they knew just when to crawl into Mom’s lap for a snuggle… which is exactly what I need sometimes! 🙂
    Love you!!!

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Ahhh, yes… the knowing snuggles. I LOVE those. There is simply nothing else in the world that compares. Thanks for sharing, Julie.

      Love,
      Donna

  2. Frank Kenny says:

    Hi Donna. Great post. My parents protected us from everything. Only thing was, we found out anyway. Now there was a secret that we didn’t share and it created a bit of separation. I came across what I considered massive family history but never brought it up because they should have shared it first. Crazy things we do!

    Be well,

    Frank

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Hi, Frank. Thank you for sharing your story. It is indeed interesting how as parents, our tendency is to think, “if we don’t tell them — they won’t know”, when precisely the opposite is typically the truth (at least at some level). Children are perceptive and can sense when things aren’t right, even if they’re never really sure what or why. The thing we need to work not to miss is this: by sharing with our children, we help shape and mold and teach how to process.

      Love,
      Donna

  3. Dawn says:

    Oh what we can learn from our children if we are only open to it. It is amazing how much comfort I have received from Maggie as I have grieved the loss of her sister these past three years. The sadness may be mine but she has her’s as well and no matter how much I want to protect her from it I have learned that I am only doing her a great disservice if I don’t share, teaching her to hold it in and pretend. Pretending is good but so much better if you save it for the fun stuff, share the tough stuff, even with your kids, as you said they know it anyway. I am SURE I made the best decision sharing my sadness with Maggie and letting her know she can always share hers with me and again, it is amazing the comfort I have received from her even though she’s only 8 she is wise beyond her years!!

    • Donna Smaldone says:

      Very well said, Dawn. I am also sure you made the best decision, and the right one not only for Maggie, but for you, too. Thank you for sharing here with us.

      Love,
      Donna

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