As the child of 1970s’ era second wave feminist parents, Free to Be You and Me was part of the soundtrack of my childhood. My mother especially seemed to take one song to heart “It’s Alright to Cry,” sung of course by football legend Rosie Grier. Rosie’s point was mainly aimed at young boys who may have been taught that it wasn’t manly to cry.
But, my mother, not a boy, took it as her own personal anthem. She cried, screamed, yelled and carried on at impressive levels over pretty much anything. After all, as Rosie said “Crying lets the mad out of you,” and for whatever reason, my mother had a lot of mad to let out.
Personally, I always admired the Southern/Waspy repression of my friends’ families. Oh what joy it must be to receive an icy glare and a thin-lipped grimace in response to a mistake instead of hysterics worthy of a soap opera actress. Oh how I longed for the quiet, non-talking dinners that today’s parenting experts say lead to eating disorders. I’ve got news for you, eating in the middle of a tornado, also not so good for healthy eating habits.
All of this is why I find my daughter’s current phase so difficult to handle. These days M will cry at the drop of a hat, or rather, the drop of a candy bracelet. She’ll cry if you tell her that her brother gets to pick a TV episode first, that her father is teaching that night, that she has to share a balloon, or that we’re out of watermelon. Mainly, she’ll cry if you tell her, “no,” or tell her that her previous behavior is unacceptable.
My first instinct when the waterworks start is to retreat to my childhood and run into my closet to hide from the noise. I do not miss much about my childhood, but oh how I miss that sunny yellow walk-in-closet. Sitting on a shelf, surrounded by prairie skirts and cowboy shirts (remember, I said 1970s) is the safest, most peaceful place I know. Occasionally, on trips home I still try to find a few minutes to stand in the middle of the closet (now filled with my mother’s off-season purses and shoes) and breathe. My second instinct is to retreat to my teenage years and grab a cigarette, or a warm body. But, I’ve outgrown those behaviors too, for different reasons.
To be fair to my daughter, she has yet to reach my mother’s heights of hysteria. She can usually be calmed down fairly quickly. Within the limits of seven-year-old logic, she probably believes she has a reason to cry. But, oh my god, how freaking annoying is it?
My mother is no longer quite as hysterical as she used to be. Part of me wonders if she was so quick to cry in her twenties and thirties because she had been repressed as a child. My mother was the oldest of four. Her father was a former street kid turned career Marine, gone through most of her early childhood. Her mother was a former rich girl who suffered from post-partum depression and loved to be taken care of. My guess is there wasn’t a lot of room for my mother to have normal little girl tears. Perhaps she stifled them as a child, and then found the stresses of raising her own children to be too much?
I know that because my mother used up the family’s allotment of crying time, there wasn’t much room for me to cry as a child. Maybe something similar happened to my mother.
So, I want my daughter to have the room to express herself, to feel bad and to tell me that she feels bad. I want to be a source of strength and support for her. I don’t want to dismiss genuine tears or upset, but I also don’t want to raise a crybaby. I don’t want to raise a child who uses her tears to manipulate others. I don’t want to raise a child who feels her own need to express her disappointment or hurt takes precedence over the needs of everyone else around her. I don’t want to raise a child incapable of getting up, dusting herself off and moving on.
I hope that M actually IS trying to be manipulative. I hope that she’s trying to figure out if tears are an effective way to get what she wants, and that she’s learning that they aren’t. I hope that this is a phase and that I’m not about to spend more years dodging the tears of a highly volatile person.
I love my daughter. I want her to be herself. I’d just appreciate it if the self she was cried a little less.