A mother hugging her son


Let’s All Stop Shaming Moms for Showing Emotion

Jul 20, 2018

I remember the first time my mom cried in front of me — I mean really cried. When I think back, this was already after she'd been divorced, so it's entirely likely she cried in my presence earlier than I recall, but I remember the first time it frightened me.

The way I see it, showing kids a range of emotions ... must serve a healthy function or two, too.

I also remember the first time my crying freaked my daughter out. And, unfortunately, the most recent time. (Not to say that it hasn't been internalized and doesn't affect her in some way, but I'll note here that she says she doesn't remember the earlier instance.) I'm prone to depression and have reason to believe these episodes will continue throughout our lives.

Why the logging of the tears? Well, I was having a hard time recently and the general consensus around me seemed to be that my daughter should not be subjected to witnessing it. I'm not saying my kid needs to be around for the very worst of my moods — and sure, my own mother could have done more to limit her out-of-control emotional displays — but I'm not sold on the idea that a mom needs to have total emotional control to do right by her kid(s).

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I think there's a huge range between total restraint and complete chaos, and that the in-between area is really what we should be considering most. This brand of in-control, as I hear it described, seems robotic — another way mothers are discouraged from being people as well as parents.

It's our job to prepare our kids for things in life, and part of life is things not always going well and, for many of us, not always being able to be in complete control of our emotions.

The way I see it, showing kids a range of emotions — without crossing lines into traumatizing them or seeking support from them — must serve a healthy function or two, too. For one, it teaches kids that moms are imperfect, just like they are, that we don't always have all the answers and we are subject to frustration and disappointment. In that, it humanizes us. How likely are our kids to want to talk to us openly and be vulnerable with us if they think we can't relate, that somehow we're immune to emotional ebbs and flows?

All parents, but mothers in particular, face so much pressure to do things right. From the moment of pregnancy planning (if that's part of your story), right through to — well, longer than I've been a parent, for sure. And I say this as someone prone to reading the ingredients on the sunscreen bottle, who still offers only sugar-free juice (or water) at birthday parties: it's too much. The pressure to always be on and on top of every detail. To raise perfect people and to be perfect people. It's impossible.

This added not-bonus of having to repress our emotions because there's an idea that our expressing them will lead our kids to tantrums and meltdowns? I'm rejecting it. To me, it's a lead-by-example situation, and if we're not having tantrums or meltdowns, we're not condoning them either. Emotional range and occasional dysregulation are, in my mind, very different from outbursts and hysteria — and are things I'd personally prefer to see normalized.

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It's our job to prepare our kids for things in life, and part of life is things not always going well and, for many of us, not always being in complete control of our emotions. If the thinking is that we are competent enough to raise tiny humans into less tiny humans — and even have the capacity to do this to near-perfection — should we not also be considered competent enough to assess what is an appropriate display of emotions to have in front of our children? Or, even, to be able to mess up on occasion and do a good enough job otherwise that it won't have long-term effects on our children's behaviour?

I'm denouncing the prioritizing of robo-mom as superior to those of us who might be a bit more sensitive or have our emotions a little less organized — and embracing this as yet another of the messy parts of motherhood.

But not too messy — there's always crying in the shower for the very messy times.

Article Author Tara-Michelle Ziniuk
Tara-Michelle Ziniuk

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a writer and editor based in Toronto. She’s a queer single mom to a 7.5-year-old. She’s overshared about her daughter for Today’s Parent, Bunch Family, Baby Post and various other print and digital publications. She’s also a poet (her kid says “of sad books”) and book reviewer (for Publisher’s Weekly, The Canadian Children’s Book News and more). You can find her on Twitter @therealrealtmz.

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