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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Feel it, feel it

If you were hoping this post would be about Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch, I'm sorry to disappoint, but feel free to go feel the vibrations on your own time.

We spend a lot of time teaching our kids how to recognize their feelings when they're toddlers.  We play games so they can show us their happy or sad faces, and the ubiquitous "feelings" poster is in almost every pre-school classroom on the planet.  As kids get older, though, it seems that we are spending more time telling them not to have their feelings instead of teaching them HOW to express and deal with all of the emotions that come with being a human being. When they fall down, we shush them and tell them not to cry, and when they're sad, we tell them to smile and cheer up.

We have come a long way from pigeonholing people into behavior based on gender, but sometimes I fear that we haven't come far enough.  We are trying not to tell boys to be tough and girls to be angels, but we're still basically advising kids to stifle their feelings.  The other night, Dallas was feeling frustrated and upset about something that had overwhelmed him.  I was waiting for him to sort of settle himself down enough so we could talk about it, and in between sniffles and deep breaths, he said, "I feel like I'm just being a big baby."  Color me stunned because that isn't something I say to my kids or to anyone, for that matter. Having and expressing emotions doesn't make someone a baby; on the contrary, I think it shows great strength to open up and tell or show someone else how you're really feeling.  (On the other hand, what's so bad about being a baby?  Babies eat, sleep, and poop.  When babies cry, people tend to take care of their needs without question, and I think we could all use a little bit of care now and again.)  I don't know where Dallas heard that phrase "being a baby," but it kills me to think other kids are getting the same message and feeling the same way Dallas does.  I did the only thing I knew how to do which was tell him that emotions are part of life, and there was nothing wrong with crying to get those yucky feelings out of his body.  And, really, I don't know where Dallas heard that phrase - it could be anywhere - but I hate that it has embedded itself in his psyche.

Obviously, I am not condoning full-blown tantrums for people if they find out Starbucks has quit carrying the smoked butterscotch latte, but a few minutes of wallowing isn't going to hurt anyone.  I would rather teach my kids how to handle their disappointments and fears rather than not feeling them at all.  I don't want them to go through life as automatons, for Pete's sake.  I have told them that it's okay to be afraid, but I hope they always face their fears to try something new; that it's important to be grateful for everything they have, but they are also allowed to acknowledge that no one's life is ever a perfect fairy tale; that sometimes people hurt us, and it's up to us to decide how we allow others to treat us; and that it's important to be kind, but in the end, we have to be right with ourselves.

This is how I see it: I want my kids to feel and understand their own emotions so they can become caring, successful, and responsible adults.  It's almost impossible to teach empathy, but it is possible (and necessary) to teach compassion.  The seeds of mercy can't grow within us without some serious cultivation of our own hearts and those around us.  So laugh, cry, yell, cheer up, wind down, choke up, or goof off because that's how things go.  If you can't say something nice, come over to my house to vent: come over to crack up over something silly, to share a disappointment, to shed some tears, or to brag about something spectacular.  Just don't come over for a meal right now.  The kitchen is being remodeled, so we don't have much to offer other than some cereal and Wheat Thins.