Everyone knows parents have their share of ups and downs, in a week, a day, and even an hour. Parenthood is a constant roller coaster of moments of pride, love, and happiness mixed with minutes of terror, stress, and anger. The chaos that comes with raising children is often discussed but easily dismissed for the overwhelming benefit of raising a family. Yes, kids are the worst! But they’re so much better than anything else that will ever come into your life. It makes little sense…until you become a parent yourself.
Among the many sacrifices parents, often mothers, make for their children is the ability to openly and truly grieve. We all know we give up our personal space, privacy, sleep, free time, warm meals, long showers, spontaneity, money, energy, and sanity for our children, but we also give up our freedom to express one of the most raw and overpowering emotions a person can experience: grief. We do the impossible…again and again and again.
You lose your job or the promotion you were depending on for income. Who’s going to pay the bills? What about school tuition? Her birthday is next month! He’s going through a growth spurt (again). Food, electricity, and water, where are they going to come from without a paycheck? What the hell are you going to do?
Your loved one passes away. Will you really never see her again? What are you going to do without her advice and strength? Who’s going to teach you how to knit? Where are you going to stay when you visit home? How will the babies ever know how incredibly important she was to you? To them?
Your marriage has ended. How did it come this far? Where’s the man you married? What about the vows you took? Who’s going to help you raise these children, take care of your home, and be by your side when you’re old? What will life be like after divorce? Will you ever be able to love again?
In times of struggle, the questions swirl and take you down a miserable spiral you can’t escape. The devastation hits you like a ton of bricks and, oftentimes, the aftermath is even worse. You fall to your knees. You gasp for breath! You hold your face in your hands, and you let the sorrow wash over you.
Unless the kids are around.
Because when you have babies watching, you can’t just let yourself go to the pits of despair. You have to be strong when all you feel is weak. You have to keep it together when you just want to fall apart. You have to be superhuman, and somehow, some way, you actually do it.
You’re their hero. You’re their fail safe. You’re the one who makes it all better. If they saw you crumble under the weight of your worries, would they continue to think you’re invincible? How strong does the superhero seem after you’ve found the kryptonite? Can Mommy really fight off the monsters under the bed, the thunder outside the window, and the ghosts in the hall, if she’s crying without breathing at the kitchen table? These aren’t the questions you want your kids asking. So, you suck it up, buttercup. You continue onward like the warrior of woe that you unknowingly signed up to be.
But what if they did see us cry? What then? Don’t we want our kids to grow up feeling safe expressing themselves? The girls and the boys? While our children’s presence can keep us from diving head first into depression (or worse), aren’t we also told not to bottle our feelings and that no good can come from repression? So why hide? If we teach our babes that grief is an acceptable response, maybe they’ll be better off for it. Maybe then kids on the playground will offer hugs instead of taunts to the little boy crying on the swings. Maybe then Facebook statuses that show the downside of her teenage life will be received with words of comfort instead of teasing remarks for being dramatic. Maybe then they won’t have to hide their tears from their own children someday like our mothers did for us. Now how’s that for something to think about?
Or maybe we wait to cry. After bedtime. Early in the morning. On date night. Or alone in a car in the grocery store parking lot while we pay sitters to play with the little ones. An expensive cry that takes no toll on our little loves but offers them no emotional growth either. Could the answer really be to keep grief a secret from them while letting it have its way with us?
Seems that’s just another question for mothers to ponder and, until there’s an answer, another burden for us to bear. The secrecy of grief, an oft forgotten sacrifice we make for our children. Just add it to the list! Mommy doesn’t need to eat hot meals, shower daily, read books for pleasure, move at a normal pace, sleep in, enjoy an uninterrupted adult conversation, or ever feel really sad. Well, not while the kids are around anyway.