If I've done one thing right as a mother, it's been telling my kids that it's okay to feel however you feel. We talk about feelings constantly in our house, and my kids are encouraged to express how they feel whenever the impulse arises.
Which is basically all the fucking time.
But whatevs, it's how we do around here.
My husband and I spend quite a bit of time guiding the kids toward modes of expression that don't hurt other people physically or emotionally, and we make it clear that while they're allowed to scream and yell about how angry or sad they are about a rule or decision we've made, they can't always do those things in the same room as us; we can tolerate high-pitched screaming in close proximity for only so long.
Just this morning, Isla pitched a truly epic fit because I wouldn't let her get school lunch. "I KNOW WHY I CAN'T HAVE IT!" she screamed. "BECAUSE YOU DON'T LIKE THE FARMS WHERE THE CHICKEN COMES FROM!"
"Yes. You're right. It's okay that you're mad. You can get as mad as you want. I'm proud of you for showing me how you feel."
She proceeded to jump up and down, screech until my eardrums said, "Hey, SHUT IT," and then rolled around on the floor begging and kicking and screaming for chicken nuggets.
This went on for so very, very long.
Finally, I offered, "If I showed you videos of where the chicken live, you'd have nightmares. That's how bad their lives are."
"I wanna see!" enthused Osiah, who, at 4.5 years old, enjoys watching snakes eat rats on YouTube.
Bringing a bit of real into things is, again, how we do up in here, and my girl quieted a bit, pondering the deeper implications of why I might not want her to eat the government-issued chicken nuggets. (Note: I've let her eat these very nuggets many times before. But we're trying to live more consciously these days, which isn't always more convenient, especially when tantrums result.) (Another note: I didn't show them.)
By pick-up this afternoon, all was well. "Did you do okay at lunch, honey?" I asked gently.
"I felt a little jealous when I saw the other kids eating their chicken nuggets," she said. And that was that; she ran off to play Push-Each-Other-Over with her brother.
My kids have a clear concept of The Golden Middle, the piece of divinity I believe sits inside of every person, waiting to shine (scroll down to number 5 in the linked post to read more). We talk, together, about what we can do to help dig for others, and about what we can do to stop dirt from collecting on our own Golden Middles.
Moreover, I believe with utter confidence that, in the majority of circumstances, a kid that feels good emotionally will behave well. I've used this idea as a compass with my children, taking note of the direction of their moods and actions; when I feel out of control as a mother, my children act like they're living without the comfort of sturdy boundaries - because, in those moments, they are. When I can get really Zen with it, when the tantrums don't fluster me and the "You're the worst Mama EVER!"s zing their way across the kitchen without stinging a bit, they see that all is well and tend to act that way soon after experimenting with hating me.
The other night, Isla told me about how a girl named Molly (not her real name, obvs), a fellow first-grader, had brought her to tears with her words. More had gone on later at recess, and my girl was confused by the whole scene. We talked about why people sometimes act like Molly acted. I told her stories from my own childhood, when, in fifth and sixth and seventh grades, I was Molly. "I didn't feel good a lot of the time, and I thought that I'd feel better if I made other people feel bad, too."
"But it didn't work?" she asked.
"No. It didn't work."
Without knowing much about Molly's life or circumstances, we spoke in generalizations. We talked about how, a lot of the time, people that feel bad on the inside act icky on the outside. We talked about how it's possible that Molly senses that Isla usually feels good on the inside, and how that could make someone jealous.
We talked about the stuff of life.
"Mama, do I need to change things about me because Molly's mean to me?"
I kept my gasp under wraps and held my daughter's face in my hands. "Never, ever change who you are because it makes someone else uncomfortable. If you feel icky on the inside? Then you make a change. But when you don't have dirt on your Golden? And you're acting in a loving way? That never needs to change."
She smiled, relieved.
We have a responsibility. We owe it not only to our kids, but to the fabric of our quilted-together communities to teach our young people how to process their feelings - how to sit with discomfort, how to express it, and how to move on from it.
And that has to start with us, the adults in their lives. Because our children? They see like we do, they act like we do, and they say like we do. If we're living muted, plugged emotional lives, they will too. It's up to us - because we are the ones with the current shot at parenting - to set a new standard, to create new expectations.
Instead of telling our children to ignore bad behavior in others, instead of telling them to just get over the chicken nuggets already, we've got to encourage them to tell us how they feel.
Even if how they feel is inconvenient and stomp-y and shriek-y.
Because we're not just raising kids here - we're bringing forth the next generation of adults.
And I want to live among the feelers.