Emotions are a complicated thing. We all have them, we recognize them in each other, and yet they remain relative and subjective. No matter our basis of empathy or the pulls of sympathy, we can never truly know exactly what it is that another person is feeling. We can only relate to the labels that we have all agreed on.
Considering that, when discussing emotions with my kids I always attempt to dig deeper, not to hear “I’m sad” and quickly diagnose it, write it off, or try to fix it, but to find out exactly what “sad” means. How does it affect this action or that thought, where did it come from, what, if anything can be done? While said “fix” is something of a default setting for parents—we see our children experiencing something other than joy and we almost immediately want to change their dial to sunshine and smiles—it is important to let kids ride it out.
Children need to find their own comfort level when exploring the depths of their own emotions. Yes, it is wonderful to make ourselves available to listen, advise, nod and hug, but I believe we do them a disservice by pushing them quickly through the process. Much like doing too much of your child’s homework does little to help them learn the subject matter at hand, so too does the underplaying of emotion have negative effects upon their growth as a person. Granted, there are warning signs that should not be ignored, and sometimes it is hard to stomach the overly dramatic reaches of yet another “most important thing ever,” but that’s just it — whether it’s a cry for attention or a lack of perspective, their emotional actions and reactions are based on something, and that is important enough to give our time and perhaps a shoulder to rest upon.
I hope that allowing my boys the room to know the limits and reasons of their own emotional state, especially while my wife and I are readily available as sounding board or safety net, will serve them greatly as they age. I hope it provides studies in comparison and contrast, and a better understanding of what it is that affects us all and how we are all connected by similar worries, fears, love and happiness while also allowing them to recognize that we all decipher and digest said emotions in our own way.
Like I said, emotions are complicated, and all I can do as a father is give my boys the space they need and someone that they can talk to with the hope that doing so will help them develop a deep comfort in their own skin and, with that, the healthy grace of emotional well-being. The beauty of that is that it’s a two-way street. We all walk away a better version of ourselves, even if it isn’t readily apparent. After all, growth isn’t always obvious to the growing.