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My Children Are My Emotional Life Raft— & That’s Okay.

Emotions are an essential part of the human experience. The levels of those emotions wax and wane like waves in the ocean. Sometimes those waves are gentle and other times some jerk speeds past in a jetboat and causes those waves to grow into something completely out of control. It’s temporary but for the time being you are left bobbing in the ocean just trying to keep your head above water.

I recently had a few jetboats speed through my life and leave me fighting some big waves. Emotional vulnerability is not something I am comfortable with.  Honestly, I’d rather walk the plank than allow others to witness any form of raw feelings. My typical professional and social interactions are controlled, organized, and I run the whole deal… you could say I run a pretty tight ship (I like metaphors and I’m just running with this one, stick with me here).

Today did not work out according to my typical plan. I felt exposed. I felt uncomfortable. I felt frustrated. I actually shed tears in front of people which was totally crushing. All of this lead to a general feeling of exhaustion. My little dingy of a boat was filling with water and I felt completely overwhelmed.

The day ended with the feigned support from people I have never met. I am not someone who falls for superficial niceties and I honestly feel more frustrated with the whole song and dance. Providing someone with fake support is like giving a drowning person a glass of water, pointless and hurtful. I drove home and over-analyzed every aspect of the day in my typical fashion.

Once I was safely in the driveway I took a deep breath and sobbed. Not pretty movie crying… loud, snot running, gasping sobbing. The tears came heavy and fast and the idea of needing a life preserver crossed my mind. It was a great release. What was less great was the pounding on the van door. There was my small daughter, eager to see me. I opened the door and she jumped into my arms. I held her and took some deep breaths attempting to control my tears. She stroked my face and made the same soothing sounds I make for her when she’s upset.

Kira Gilbertson

Admittedly, I was ashamed of putting my stress in her 4-year old heart but she was so comforting. My son quickly followed, squeezed my leg and said he was going to carry in my things for me. I thanked them both and went inside. The toddler initially ignored me but, after the excitement of my chocolate milk purchase wore off, she gave me some long, tight hugs. I walked into the living room to a children made bed on the couch and firm instructions to rest. Cuddles ensued and the stress of the day slowly melted.

As a complete surprise to myself, my children had become my life raft. They provided the emotional support and comfort I needed and helped to change my mind set from drowning to swimming. It wasn’t even 15 minutes before I was floating from their laughter, tight squeezes, and a few comical bodily functions (I do have a boy…).

My hope is that this is not a scary memory for my kids. I hope they remember my appreciation of their kindness and how their emotional intuitions were correct. I want to be a source of strength for my kids. Part of that is showing them it is ok to accept support when it’s needed.

There are days that are more emotionally taxing than others. We’ve all been in an emotionally fragile frame of mind from time to time. By disguising those emotions and experiences from our children we are taking away opportunities to teach them about the importance of empathy and how to ask for and accept help when they need it.

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