Here’s why we must teach our children to be honest about how they feel, not squelching emotions and denying the truth. When kids grow up they must use this ability to survive the holidays. Take a look at what I mean:
I went back into scared kid mode this Thanksgiving! It happened, fittingly, when my last baby tooth broke. Yes, I still have one baby tooth that never came out, and the day after Thanksgiving the hors d’ouvres did it in. I have been dreading this my whole adult life, avoiding the inevitable.
There are many turns in this story but the end result is that I was unnerved by both this experience and the ensuing laughing and joking about my tooth problem by the gathered family. I left the room angrily telling people to stop talking to me like this. I went up to my room and looked in the mirror. I cried. I felt awful. But eventually I went back downstairs.
By the time I returned to the group people were mad and leaving! I had ruined what had been up until my tooth broke, about the most fun time I’ve had with family ever. We’d been to a terrific show that had us all laughing and howling with delight. And we were happy to be together, as always.
The little kid in me was a mess, though. I had acted out of the fear of the dental work to come and the embarrassment of a missing tooth (right in front) and who knows what else. And I had ruined everything. People were mad.
I pleaded with my sister-in-law not to leave but she said I had been rude and they had to go. I was shocked. I had no idea my feelings could have this effect. Thankfully, I blurted out the truth. I felt afraid of dental work and the embarrassment of a missing tooth. That I had been dreading it my whole life. That I didn’t mean to snap at everyone or leave the group angrily. That it was just me being scared. Upset by the joking. Sorry everybody, I said. It isn’t you, it is me being afraid.
That changed everything. Coats came off, folks would put the dinner together for me. I was told to go upstairs and recover, then get down here and join in the group. And by the way, we love you.
What??? This never happens. People understanding? My little kid mode swears that adults don’t understand, or say they love me. That’s the experience my little self had. People didn’t understand and people didn’t say they loved me.
So, this Thanksgiving weekend, after I’d screwed up pretty bad, I risked telling the truth. Being vulnerable to the rejection I am most familiar with, at least, that is when I am being scared and acting like a child. I was taught through years of training that my problems didn’t matter, my fears were unwarranted and wrong. I was taught to reject my own feelings as invalid and unimportant, and it has taken a lifetime to get that straightened out.
As miserable as this situation was, it worked out well because I told the truth about how I was feeling.
I aim to teach all my kids to do the same.