There have been many times during this process of separation and divorce that I have wanted to explain things to Madi but I can’t. There are things that are too far beyond her ability to comprehend and process. Sometimes she asks me the hard questions …
“why can’t you and daddy live together again?”
“why did we have to move from our old house?”
“why do I have to leave you?”
And my heart feels like it’s dying a little every time.
I don’t always have the words that she needs. I know that she will understand someday when she is older but I don’t want to bank on that and wish her life away. In these moments, all I can do is hold her close and validate her feelings. I let her know that it’s ok to be sad, that I feel sad too. I let her know that she is so very loved by so many people and that we will get through this together. Of course I wish I could erase the hard times in her life altogether.
I don’t have all the “right answers” or a magical fix, but what I do have is the ability to give my daughter a safe and secure place to land. Sometimes this is as simple as cuddles on the couch while we watch a favorite movie, other times it means being ok with “not ok” behavior. It can be easy to forget that children have bad days too. Often it seems that our adult expectation is for children to “behave” with little consideration as to how they may be feeling. I know that when I am having an especially rough day, I just want someone to understand that, be ok with it, and maybe give me a hug. Why should I expect any different from my child?
As adults, we won’t always have someone there to give us support when we need it. As a mom, I am able to give my daughter the support she needs. Often this requires letting go of my expectations of her behavior and allowing her to express her emotions in whatever way she may need to. On days where I am at my best, this is easy. On days when I am struggling myself, this can be especially challenging.
In her article on teaching children emotional intelligence, Dr. Laura Markham talks about allowing for emotion while still limiting potentially harmful actions. She states, “while you limit behavior, your child is allowed to have, and to express, all her emotions, and that includes feelings of disappointment or anger in response to your limits. Children need to “show” us how they feel and have us “hear” them, so meltdowns are nature’s release valve for children’s emotions. Instead of banishing your child to her room to get herself under control (which gives her the message that she’s all alone with those big, scary feelings), hold her, or stay near and connected with your soothing voice: “You are so mad and sad right now. That’s ok, Sweetie, I am right here, you are safe.”
When it comes to our children, the goal should always be for connection. When we tell our children to suppress their thoughts and feelings, we are creating isolation and shutting down meaningful communication and connection. “Children WANT to have happy, warm interactions with their parents. They want to be good people. Misbehavior comes from overwhelming feelings or unmet needs. If you don’t address the feelings and needs, they’ll just burst out later, causing other problem behavior (Markham, 2016).”Our children deserve to be seen and heard. Their thoughts, feeling, and emotions are valid and deserve respect.
There are various ways that I make a purposeful commitment to be there for Madi when she is having a rough time. I never isolate her in the midst of her emotional outbursts. Even if she runs away and slams the door on me, I go after her. However, I respect that she may need personal space. Sometimes I sit and quietly wait until she is ready to come to me and other times I am able to pick her up and hold her until she calms down.There are times during conversation, she may share a negative interaction she had during the day. I make sure to acknowledge her feelings about the situation, validate her right to speak up for herself and still encourage her to be kind in spite of what other people may say or do. She’s a little girl with big feeling and it’s my job as her mom to help her sort them out.
When we take the time to connect with our children, to validate their feelings and give them a safe place to land, we are creating emotionally intelligent children. There is less of a need for children to act out when their emotional needs are being met. Of course just like us, children are human and will make mistakes. However, the way in which we respond to their mistakes will determine the value of lesson that they learn.