Friday, March 21, 2008

It's OK to Cry

This morning, I was attempting to push C and S on the incredibly tall swings at the playground across the street from our home. We were all bundled in our winter coats, hats and mittens which was a huge change from 48 hours ago when we were running around Sarasota, FL in t-shirts, shorts and Crocs with no socks. Yesterday, we had a travel recovery day, hanging around the house, reading, doing puzzles, and scattering every Lego piece we own all over the floor-- where they currently still lie, waiting to bite an unsuspecting barefoot and leave a bruise that lasts for at least a week.

P and I knew that we needed to get the guys out of the house for a run-around early on today. We had so enjoyed all our outdoor time the past week, re-energizing the solar panels in our brains, that we began those dormant discussions about chucking it all and figuring out a way to live on 'our' island in Thailand. We recognized that we all did too much sitting inside these past months even though our winter in CT was incredibly mild in comparison to life in Maine. In FL, we logged in hours at various playgrounds, the beach, a friend's pool, and just walking along the waterfront, stopping so S could climb trees. It was good being outside and today, despite the searing wind and protests from the guys, we bundled up and walked, scootered, and were pushed on a tricycle with a back bar (respectively) to the park. After a few loops on the play equipment, C decided he wanted to swing. Eventually, F and S followed (only after S had a solid 15 minutes chatting up the grandma of the only other kid out playing).

The 'big kid' swings are separated from the baby swings. Normally, F can go on a non-bucket-type swing, but the ones in this park are so high off the ground, he is far better off on the baby ones-- that is after we've won the struggle getting his sneakers through the leg holes. When F, S and I reached the swing area, it was necessary to split up so I sent S off to join C and his dad across the way while I heaved F up into the black rubber. Within moments, S came careening back asking if I would push him on the big swings so I called out to P to confirm the trade. He nodded his assent and while we passed, crossing the muddy divide between the two sets of swings, he said, "C is being really demanding about the right way to push him."

I helped S up onto the swing next to his brother, gave him a few pushes to start him off, and moved over to increase C's height and swing speed. No sooner did my hands touch his back, he began to complain and cry. He wanted dad to push him. I wasn't pushing him hard enough. I wasn't pushing him high enough. I pushed S before I pushed him. Couldn't I just adjust my right hand three centimeters higher, where my left should so clearly be lower by two? Why wasn't I doing it right? The tears fell while the complaints rained.

We've heard a lot along these lines lately and my patience for this demanding and whining behavior has all but pushed me over the edge. To be fair, for the first six months we moved to CT, C was a superstar. While his twin was lashing out in anger daily, making P and me question all of our parenting skills, and F was busy just being a two-year-old, C was quick to listen, to assist, to hug. A couple of months ago, S finally turned the corner-- and it now seems like it is C's turn to fall apart. When I can think compassionately, I realize that this falling must be rough on him. I try to tolerate/ignore some of the complaints, the rude talk. I try to give him extra cuddles when the crying starts, make room on my lap to listen intently when he explains his latest ideas, invite him up to our bed for increased reading together time, bend the 'eat all your fruit' rule at meals, lift his shirt and run my nails along his soft skin when he asks, 'Backscratch me,' even if he doesn't always say please.

This morning at the playground, with the re-introduction of cold wind that makes my eyes tear and nose run, I was not thinking compassionately. All I was thinking was This kid is a pain in the ass, and his crying and demands are making him really unlikable. I barked at him to stop crying. I told him-- yet again-- that he cannot cry over every little thing that disappoints him. He cannot cry over every little thing that does not go his way. He needs to learn to get over it. Finally, if I am not pushing him properly, I guess he'll just have to find a new set of parents who will push him correctly to his proper specifications.

Suddenly a small voice came from the neighboring swing, "But it's OK to cry," S said.

I shut up. For a moment. Then I gulped and agreed, "Well, yes, it is OK to cry. I cry. Dad cries. We all cry. We cry when we are hurt or sad. But, we can't cry over every little disappointment in life. There are times we need to skip the tears and find another way to express our frustration."

There is a balance P and I have been trying to achieve when talking with our boys about crying. We do want them to know that it is OK to cry-- well, some of the time. We don't believe and are trying not to perpetuate the whole 'boys don't cry' thing. We want our guys to be able to recognize and express their emotions. We just don't want them to be uh, crybabies. If we had daughters, we would hold them to the same standard. Wouldn't we? In that moment, S mimicked back to me something P and I had said numerous times and obviously, he had heard us. It is OK to cry.

The two boys then went on to list numerous times that they saw me cry. The time the lamp hit me in the mouth. When I banged my head on the car door. When I talked about my father who had recently died.

C then recalled, "You cried that time in Maine when I didn't want to go into McDonald's." What? Wait? What time? We hardly went to McDonald's-- not because of the childhood obesity epidemic, not because I watched Supersize Me and was sufficiently grossed out by the Big Mac's well-documented, adverse health effects, not because I am so opposed to that corporation's evil marketing to kids. Really, we rarely went to McDonald's because simply, the boys did not eat the food there. I would like to say this is due to their sophisticated palate or a taste for fresher and healthier fare. The truth, however, is that they are extremely picky eaters and don't eat much, including McDonald's. At times, I've wished they would eat McDonald's but I digress here....

I asked C for details about this last-mentioned incident and he went on to recount something that was clear in his mind, but I had so clearly forgotten. After he talked, I still didn't have a good sense of what had happened nor could I remember anything about this happening, but I did not doubt his memory at all. He has an amazing memory and if he said I cried when I tried to get him into McDonald's when he didn't want to go, I am sure I did. Yes, parenting frustration has made me cry on a few *cough* occasions. That time, I must have actually cried in frustration in front of him, instead of in the shower or behind the closed door of our bedroom. He remembered. I am guessing he may also well remember all the times I berate him for crying so much.

So how do you acknowledge their feelings, support their expression, honor their sense of injustice, and respect their sensitive nature that is an integral part of them, while still teaching resiliency and encouraging flexibility and adaptability? Aren't there times when it is not OK to cry?


Jennifer said...

Maybe what you and C are both struggling with, individually and with each other, is how to get everything right or just so. Seems like you both have high standards (both for your own selves and for others) and have to learn how to cope with the feelings that come up. My guess is that C. cries a lot because he hasn't developed any other way yet, and because he feels things so intensely. His dad was a pretty sensitive little dude, and now that sensitivity is part of what makes him such a great guy. I think resiliency develops from feeling understood and knowing that you can handle life. It takes a lot of practice to get there and some little ones need more reassurance than others. Then they grow up and pass that gift on.

Anonymous said...

I have struggled with this lately. It is the whine-crying just to get his way that makes me nuts. NUTS! So, I try to validate crying for real reasons when it happens. And I talk about why that is a real time to cry. I try not to say "Do not cry" (although I often fail), instead saying "Ask me using your words."

Terra said...

This brings back memories of my no-nonsense old school dad saying, "Keep crying - and I'll really give you something to cry about" when he felt we we crying one of the "whiny cries" which of course referrred to a spanking. heheheheh

I think jennifer is right - you both take your parenting really seriously and have high standards. You are really reflecting on your pratices and experiences.