Years ago, a very wise woman explained to me that within the human experience, while our circumstances may vary, our feelings are universal. Essentially, there is a relatively finite set of emotions that we all feel at some point or another. While we may certainly think that we are alone in our feelings, the truth is, we are mostly likely feeling things that many other people feel as well. It’s not necessarily the feelings that isolate us, it’s that we don’t always talk about the feelings or share our experiences.
One thing that scares me terribly is the thought of my children feeling isolated. I don’t want them to ever feel like they are alone in the world having feelings that no one else has or feels. I know they will experience difficulty and ultimately feel really big, really hard feelings and my goal is to be there to help them through that. But most importantly, they need to know that we all share similar feelings. I’m not sure how else they will know this information, so I’ve decided it’s my job to tell them.
My daughter recently bravely asked me if I had ever felt a certain way. While I welcomed the dialogue, the question hung with me for days. I realized that this was my opportunity to create an honesty with my children that shows them my real experiences and my real feelings. I could choose to parent from a distance, perched high above as a 42-year-old, self-actualized adult, with a PhD and great career. I could.
I could also show them that the path I traveled to get here was full of disappointment, mistakes, fear, and uncertainty. That same path was also filled with joy, laughter, success, and love. I have felt all of the feelings.
Having someone to look up to is a wonderful thing, and they need to know that life is beautiful but also that it can also be messy. More than anything, I want them to know they are not alone in their travels. I don’t want my children to look up to me and think that somehow my life happened overnight.
So, I told my daughter about the time when I was nine and didn’t feel like participating in dance class. I guess I also felt like pushing a few boundaries because not only did I not participate but I also disrespectfully sassed my dance instructor. I told my daughter how I felt emboldened at the time but that quickly turned to shame and guilt, how I later apologized, and spent a week punished in my room. It’s normal to want to see what it feels like to break the rules.
I have also told her about the time when my friend started her period and I was so jealous I could barely talk with her about it. I listened to her story over and over but inside I wanted to punch her in the throat. To ease my jealousy, I took several pantie liners from my mother’s drawer and wore them to school despite not needing them at all. Somehow it made me feel better. Jealousy is real and it happens to all of us. Also, people sometimes do weird things and that’s okay.
I told both of my children about the time I agreed to kiss a boy in the back of the school yard when I was way too young to be doing anything of the sort. How I really, really liked this boy. I told them how mortified I was when some friends gathered around us and agreed to cover their eyes but didn’t. Instead they watched it all and laughed. Love can make you do stupid things.
I will also tell them both how I was the first one to say ‘I love you’ to their father. Love can make you do smart things, too.
I will tell them both about what it felt like to be left to eat lunch alone at school. I will also tell them what it felt like to stay silent in the group that left someone else eat lunch alone at school. Social pressures are very real and can be very powerful.
I will tell them about the things I didn’t do because I was too afraid. I will tell them how I didn’t take the class, didn’t make the call, or didn’t attend the event. I will also tell them about all of the things I did anyway, even though I was afraid. I will tell them how I did make the call, reached out, went on the audition, wrote the story, and submitted the article.
I will tell them how I tried.
I will tell them how fear is an incredibly powerful emotion and every single one of us feels it. Fear can either hold us back or catapult us forward. Feel the fear and do it anyway. (Unless you are about to do something immoral, illegal, or just plain stupid – in those cases listen to the fear and don’t do it.)
I will tell them about heartache and heart break. I will tell them about the times I failed. I will tell them about the times I succeeded. I will tell them about the joy, excitement, and love I have experienced along the way. I will explicitly tell them that love is actually an action, not just a feeling.
If all this talking helps my children feel less alone and less isolated, or if it helps them see that we are all very connected in our humanness, then I will tell them. Every in, every out, every bumble, stumble, or laugh. I will tell them.