I have always been a ‘strong person’.
I have always seen this as a positive quality.
Recently I find myself questioning what this actually means. Am I really that strong? Is it really such a positive trait?
Physically, I am definitely strong. I ride a cargo bike, often loaded with two not-so-small children and all the stuff which seems to be required when leaving the house with two children. Not to mention that the three year old is currently refusing to go anywhere on the bike unless she is carrying several stones from the driveway.
But physical strength is not really what I mean by a strong person.
I have a strong character. I have a good idea of what I am and what I am not. On the whole, I am happy with who I am. The things I do, I do for myself and my family. I don’t do things ‘for show’. My husband has a similar outlook which made for a wonderful wedding day. We kept all the bits of a wedding which we liked and skipped all the bits that we didn’t. It was very much ‘our day’ and we both loved it.
But strength of character isn’t entirely it either.
I am a strong person because I am balanced and stable and not easily overwhelmed by emotions and that means I can be emotionally strong for others.
I think that is a big part of what people mean when they describe me as ‘strong’.
But it’s not true.
But it’s not real.
But I am not even sure it is possible.
The same as everyone, I am balanced and stable sometimes and unbalanced and chaotic others. I do get overwhelmed by emotions. I get overwhelmed by my emotions. I get overwhelmed by the emotions of others that I love, especially my children.
But I don’t often show it.
I have mentioned my parents’ divorce before. It was a time of huge emotions. Huge emotions for me. Huge emotions for the people I loved the most. The kind of huge emotions which can leave you struggling to see anything positive in life.
It was the time when I learned to be emotionally strong for others.
It was the time when I learnt to detach myself from my own emotions in order to deal with other peoples’.
More than twenty years later, I am realising that this is not a positive quality.
More than twenty years later, I am realising that I still have not re-connected with my own emotions.
I realise that I have not just detached myself from the emotions I felt more than twenty years ago. I have perfected the art of squashing any emotions which threaten to overwhelm me.
I think about this now because I think about my children.
I think about their emotional life.
Young childrens’ emotions are so out in the open. They haven’t yet learnt to worry about how their displays of emotion impact on others. They feel extremes of emotions over the most seemingly trivial issues. They display every emotion they have.
As a stay at home mum I deal with my childrens’ emotions all the time. As frustrating as that can be, I love that they wear their hearts on their sleeves. It means that I can know every part of them. It means that I can really connect with them.
But can they really connect with me?
Should I show my emotions to them like they show their emotions to me?
My immediate answer is no. I know how it feels to see your mum crying and trust me, it feels horrible.
But does that mean I should never cry in front of my children? If so then I have failed.
Like any mother, I do not want to see my children in distress. But we cannot protect our children from everything and they will inevitably feel distress in their lives. So I want them to learn how to cope through distress.
I want my children to know that it is ok to feel whatever they are feeling. I want them to know that they do not have to control their emotions, they just have to control how they act on those feelings. I want them to know that I will do what I can to help them when they do not like how they are feeling.
I tell them this now. Usually along the lines of “It is ok to feel angry, it is not ok to hit your sister/brother”. I show them by accepting their anger and giving them a cuddle (on the days when I get it right).
So maybe it is ok to cry in front of our children. To cry and to tell them “I feel sad”. To show them that the world doesn’t end when we feel sad. To show them what a difference they can make to somebody who feels sad with the healing power of a cuddle.