This is something I have been thinking about a lot lately, but I’ve yet to come up with an answer, or formulate an argument, so I am writing here as a way of exploring the issue and how I feel about. So I apologise in advance if the post gets a little fragmented – it’s me thinking out loud.
So my question really is how much emotional vulnerability is it ok to show in front of your children? As a single parent, a mother from the age of 17, I have become an expert at suppressing my emotions to always appear positive and in control. This comes I think not only from taking on responsibilities so young, but also from my relationship with my family.
I’m sure my mother will forgive me for saying that being a parent coincided with a difficult period in her life, a tearful period, in which emotional vulnerability featured highly. Because of this, I think I learnt to be sensitive about how I behaved and the things I said, not wanting to upset anyone or make anyone cry. I have taken this forward into my adult life and am still very anti-confrontation. If I can act in a way to minimise upsetting someone else then I will.
This of course comes at a price. I have always known this on a personal level – people see me as hugely positive and confident, difficult to upset, detached even. One long term boyfriend actually told me I was cold hearted. The danger with this is that people don’t worry about upsetting you. They think the positive exterior means I don’t worry about things, that I am a tough cookie. But this is not true. I am just an expert in the brave face, practised at making the best of things and seeming to shrug off criticism or rejection.
I have always known this sometimes hard exterior has an effect on my relationships with men, but recently I have begun to wonder how it affects my relationships with my children. Bee told me recently that I am annoyingly cheery, that she sees me cry so rarely that it scares her when I do. So how does this make her feel about me and, more importantly, about herself? Does she think I don’t care? Or will she think that letting down your guard, being prepared to open yourself up emotionally, and admitting to feeling sad sometimes are weaknesses?
I’m on my own as a parent. I don’t have anyone to offload negative feelings to on a day to day basis, and I am loathe to become the teary parent that my children are constantly afraid of upsetting. I am also very aware that it would be all too easy as a single mum to use an older child as an emotional crutch, and I really don’t want my children to feel in anyway responsible for me. But then maybe I should accept that family members do have a responsibility to look out for each other. This is hard for me though. My tough teenage mum shell doesn’t want to rely on anyone for anything. Dependence feels like a weakness. I need to be able to look after myself.
I am starting to wonder though if showing a bit more vulnerability sometimes and asking for help more often might actually endear me to people more. I’m sure it must be hard for friends and partners to feel useful and needed if I appear so capable. And maybe it would show Bee that actually it is quite normal to often feel lonely, bored, fed up and sad. We are all human after all, but perhaps I don’t show it as much as I could.
I’d be really interested to know what other people think about this. Do you cry in front of your children or do you believe in putting on a happy face at all times? Have the relationships in your childhood shaped the way you parent? How as a parent can you show vulnerability at the same time as being the person who provides security? Answers on a postcard please…
Photo credit: Cesar S