By Erin Wyble Newcomb (Recycled from April/May 2015, Edition 25)
Illustrated by Annie Dwyer Internicola
Confession: I am embarrassing to take to most movies. I’m a crier, but not a wipe-a-stray-tear-away kind of crier. I weep. I am the kind of crier who sobs so loudly that I make other people cry—or stare. In this way, my husband and I are an opposites-attract couple, and after 14 years together, I can probably count on less than one hand the times I’ve seen him cry. Even then, he was subtle.
Our differences are reflected in our children. So last spring, when we had to euthanize my beloved 17-year-old cat, our younger daughter wept with me and our older daughter stood, stoically silent, next to her father. That’s a dramatic example, but these dynamics play out in everyday interactions as well. Our younger child squeals with glee as she bounces in the ocean’s waves; she still cries almost every night at bedtime from being overwhelmed by the day’s emotions and the prospect of missing the rest of us during the night. Our elder child has a certain smile that tells us when she’s delighted, and she withdraws into a book when she’s overcome with sadness or frustration. It’s not that any one of us feels more deeply than the others, but that we express ourselves differently.
In the summer of 2014, for instance, when some dear friends of our family moved, a loss that followed only a few months after losing my feline companion. When our friends moved, some of us cried about it, and I found myself feeling sad for weeks afterward. I am still sad about it! It took me a little while to name the cause of my lethargy and to give myself permission to feel sad about our losses. I want my children to understand that being happy all the time is not realistic, nor does it necessarily lead to a meaningful life. The tremendous joy those friends brought to our lives deserves the honor of mourning. It’s not happy, but it’s true.
The truth of our emotional lives is often complicated, and parenting requires us to teach our children to maneuver through our relationships with maturity and grace. It means that living and loving inevitably lead to loss—sometime or other. That’s one of the first, most poignant, and most beautiful lessons we learn with our pets.
My husband and I always try to let our children hear us resolve our disagreements, especially if they’ve heard us argue. It’s essential for them to understand that we can disagree while still loving each other, that we can disagree while still treating each other with respect. It’s equally important for them to hear us own our errors and apologize sincerely. When I needed a quiet workspace to write this piece, both of my children were frustrated about being asked to move their game into the playroom. I understood their annoyance at being interrupted but expressed my need for a peaceful space to do my job. We were all mildly irritated, and we all had to cope. Much of the time, I adjust my work around them and their needs—so our interactions are a series of compromises. This time, it was their turn to give. That’s relationships.
I express my feelings and my needs clearly with my children because I want them to do the same—with me and their father, with each other, and with others. Owning our emotions (however dramatic or reserved) is a critical component of self-knowledge and emotional maturity. It’s critical to healthy relationships throughout our lives, even as it requires give-and-take on a day-to-day basis. It’s work, but it’s worth it. That, too, is relationships. █