“Why did you make that sound Mama?” came the question from the back seat of the car as we were making our morning rounds to school and daycare dropoffs.
It caught me by surprise when I realized this little person was talking about my “sigh.” She had caught something and was puzzled by a reaction I had not put any thought into. I took the time to explain to her that I was just tired and knew it would be a long day. “That sound was kind of me thinking out loud,” I said. How do you really explain a sigh to a child?
My sensitive and sweet middle child was trying to learn how to interpret emotions and what caused them. Growing children are much like the seasons changing, sometimes you don’t notice when it happens. But here in the middle of the weekday commute, my little tot was making her new found emotional awareness well known to me.
After this little incident, I began noticing that the questions kept coming at my different reactions to things that week.
“Are you mad Mama? Why did you say it like that?”
“You broke that Mom? Does that make you sad?”
I was often caught off guard by this little voice with the questions and trying to explain my every emotion was a bit draining. But it tuned me into my own feelings and my responses to ordinary daily chores, conversations, and my interactions with the kids. It made me hyper aware of how my body language, my facial expressions, and tone of voice convey so much to these little learners and observers. And how I often let life stressors grind me down and how this affects my parenting.
One evening I was rushing through story time, tense and a little on edge, eagerly wanting to jump into finishing the laundry and lunches for the next day.
“Why are you going fast, Mama? You don’t want to read this book?”
The rushed words and annoyance in my voice made the little bookworms question whether I liked the booked they selected and perhaps whether I wanted to read to them at all. Every reaction and emotion I had, reflected on their faces. How did I not notice before the impact these little, often subconscious responses, have on them? It sure made me dial in to my own daily attitude and disposition. How can I change my day and theirs by having a better attitude? How can I change a moment by not only showing them a little grace, but also myself.
The week-long interrogations presented a good chance to share with them the normalcy of emotions as well, and that what I was experiencing was valid and ok. “Sometimes it’s ok to be mad and frustrated and let it out,” on the days that my voice raised. “When I’m tired, my voice sometimes sounds sad. I have a lot to do yet, and I really want to go to bed,” when they thought I wasn’t enjoying myself. The whole experience was a bit like a real life episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. But learning about feelings and emotions and how to interpret and appropriately display them, are fundamental to health and relationships.
Sometimes in young motherhood, it’s an accomplishment to just get through the day…our smiles are strained, our voices heavy. But be assured our audience takes notice of us. Our disposition, our eyebrow raises and eye rolls, our joy, anger and sadness and how we handle each, are all being imprinted on our children. I’m so glad I didn’t just brush the questions off or push the conversation away that week like I sometimes do when I’m busy. I’m so glad I took the time to answer the little inquires. It just may be that they taught me a great deal more than I taught them.
“When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.” -Fred Rogers