As I type this, Tommy is in timeout for hitting his brother.
He’s six, so I don’t think he’s going to turn into a bank robber just because he hit his brother. But in our house, actions have consequences. (Or at least I try to make it that way. I’m no perfect parent and I am not necessarily consistent with enforcing consequences. I’m just doing my best, like all single moms. But I digress.)
My kids know that hitting is not okay, and an acceptable defense is not “but I was mad at him!” When they use this line of reasoning (which is common), I say, “it’s okay to feel angry. It’s not okay to hit.”
I think I learned that in a book or something. I don’t know. It’s not like you pop out a baby and then instantly know how to parent. But I like this type of discipline because it is about actions, rather than feelings. The goal with parenting like this is to show my kids that there are certain things they cannot do, but they are still allowed to feel a broad range of emotions.
I was thinking about how my emotions have evolved over the past few years when I was running the other day. I started to think about what was important for me to be writing about right now, especially in the context of my current emotional state. There are many things I could write about – single parenting as a widow during a global pandemic provides a lot of content. And yet, I’ve been realizing lately that while my readers appreciate the stories I tell about my family, there are many people who come to my blog who care little about my specific story. Rather, they want to hear about my pain and struggle.
And they don’t necessarily want to hear any sort of happy ending.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure my readers are happy to hear when I feel a sense of accomplishment in parenting or teaching or life. I’m sure they are glad that I’ve found a wonderful man with whom I can share my future. But I think that many widows (and others who’ve experienced great loss) actually need (yes, need) to hear about my pain, past and present. They need to hear about it not because they wish great sadness upon me, but because they want to know that they aren’t alone.
I know this because they tell me. They write to me about the posts that are the most heart-wrenching and they say, “thank you for writing this.”
But how can words that are so sad also be comforting?
I think we learn at a young age to control our feelings. Yes, it may be sad when someone dies, and it’s acceptable for a widow or a grieving parent to cry for a little while. But at some point, the world is ready for you to move on. Did you know that when my dad was in medical school, they taught the doctors that grief that lastest more than six weeks was considered problematic and outside of the norm?
I hadn’t even gone back to regular showering at six weeks.
I think we’ve gotten more understanding since the 1970s, but it still seems like we say to people who are grieving, “you need to feel better, and you need to do it sooner than you are doing it right now.” We might not say it directly, but we (as a society) seem to still convey this feeling to many of the widows who write me. “Thank you for showing me that my feelings aren’t crazy,” is a frequent comment I see on my blog.
Because here’s the thing: you’re not crazy. You’re grieving. It’s different.
I’m not going to encourage screaming at your children or throwing things at the wall so hard that they break (even though I’ll admit I’ve done both of these things.) But it is okay to feel sad, to curse the universe and to sob at inappropriate times.
It’s okay to feel big emotions, I tell my kids, even if I think they are overreacting. For us adults, I think it’s a lesson we need to hear again: it’s okay to feel wildly strong emotions, especially when something terrible has happened.
Losing someone you love should make you feel really, really sad. And feeling that sadness is normal. Even if it lasts for a really, really long time.
Big feelings can be scary, both to ourselves and to the people around us. But they shouldn’t make anyone feel crazy.
We should be allowed to feel all the feelings of grief when we lose someone we love.
Because you’re not crazy. You’re grieving.
Image Credit: Stefanie Harrington Photography.