As a parent, we teach our children many things, but sometimes it’s the things they teach us that are really profound. I don’t mean how to function despite sleep deprivation, how to go to the bathroom with an audience, or the power of counting to three, I’m talking about how to express and manage emotions. For me, becoming a parent has significantly raised my emotional IQ and I’m so grateful.
Growing up, and still to this day, my family does not talk about feelings. In fact, we go out of our way to avoid any discussion, expression, or resemblance of feelings or truth. Everything is kept very surface and cordial so as not to ruffle any feathers. I learned at a very young age to suppress my feelings, they were neither important nor consequential, and usually just got me a tongue lashing, or worse, a guilt trip. But, as we all now know, if you keep your feelings bottled up, one day you will explode. So I spent many years in therapy, learning how to process my feelings. Thousands of dollars later, and now an adult, I was still largely incapable of honestly expressing myself. I would recoil in the face of honest conversations, especially if there might be any type of confrontation or uncomfortableness involved. I didn’t dare speak my truth, for fear of what others might say or how they might react.
As with many things from my childhood, I decided I wanted to raise my son differently. I wanted him to be able to talk to me honestly and openly, without fear of how I might react. I wanted him to be able to express his feelings with ease. And with his personality, which is as strong and stubborn as his momma’s, I knew it would be important for him to be able to express those big emotions I held in for so long. There was a catch though. How could I ask him to do this without being open and honest myself? How could I show him how to verbalize and share his feelings if I couldn’t do the same? And how could I expect him to manage those big emotions that arise if I didn’t have the tools to teach him?
So, I made a conscious decision to change. To make my relationship with my son different than any relationship I’d ever had in my life. I would no longer bite my tongue and smile, or hold it in and explode, and I wouldn’t expect him to either. Whether we are happy, sad, excited, angry, or any emotion in between, we say how we’re feeling. We are honest with each other. We apologize when we’re wrong. I take the time to actively listen and acknowledge my son when he’s telling me how he feels and, remarkably, even at six years old, he often does the same for me. We’ve both worked hard to be able to connect the appropriate words with our emotions, which, as simple as it sounds, is sometimes the hardest part.
Because I’ve been able to take a step back, think about what is making me feel a certain way, and verbalize it, instead of shutting down or reacting, my son can also explain to me when he’s feeling lonely, annoyed, frustrated, sad, or anything else. I am able to positively acknowledge his feelings and we discuss them. There is no tiptoeing around each other. It seems like the most basic concept, but it is truly unlike any relationship I’ve ever had. And with those open expressions of big negative emotions, we both also openly express our big positive emotions. I tell my son all the great things about himself, how much I love him, how he’s the most important person in the world to me and I believe he feels that and, most importantly, believes it. In turn, he writes me love notes, draws me pictures, and says the sweetest things that fill my heart with joy.
Now, let’s paint the full picture, our house is not full of rainbows and butterflies. There are times when each of us mismanages our emotions. There are plenty of moments of overwhelming frustration from each of us. He is, after all, his mother’s son. And as much as we are alike, there are times when we really annoy each other – especially as we have embarked on our virtual school journey. There are plenty of times when each of us needs to take a few deep breaths and some space. But the fact that we’re able to recognize that that’s what we need, is an accomplishment in itself. I will forever be grateful for the emotional education my son has, and is, providing me. I can only hope that he grows up to need much less counseling than I did and we can both translate our emotional intelligence into meaningful communication in all other parts of our lives.