Parenting is full of emotion fueled moments, when we realize our children are growing up and stepping a little further into the world. These moments remind us that we cannot control our kids or their experiences.
Two weeks ago our four year old sunshine girl climbed the stairs of a school bus for the first time. Unexpected mom-emotions threatened to overtake me as my mind raced with thoughts of all she would experience – good and bad – while away from me.
She’s growing up.
She rocked 3’s preschool and has been away from me for countless bible studies, Sunday school, and more. But as I watched her climb onto that big school bus wyearing that giant-flamingo backpack, she looked so small.
Isn’t that my baby up there?
She didn’t hesitate as she turned back, grinning with sparkling eyes as she waved goodbye. If she didn’t hesitate, why was I?
I stood, choked up and snapping pictures. I waved furiously with a smile plastered to my face as the bus drove away.
The bus rounded the corner. The only evidence it had been there at all was the plume of exhaust and my husband, mom and I gazing at an empty street.
Sunshine girl was on her way to school with a bus load of new friends. Without me.
Year by year, our children will spend more time at school and activities, with people other than us. They gather life-skills and knowledge and are slowly equipped to become independent, functioning adults.
Independent. Of us.
And what of us, their parents? Parenting changes. Once their ‘whole world’ and providers of everything they need – we’re gradually needed less and less.
We proudly cheer them on, celebrating new freedoms and opportunities while acknowledging that there is less we can protect them from. We’re grateful they don’t grow up overnight, even if looking back, it feels like it did.
And this is all right and good. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Our emotions are real and powerful. And sometimes the emotion creeps up out of nowhere and threaten to knock us off our feet.
We need to adapt and learn to not only accept but embrace these moments and the emotion they stir up.
Your emotions are yours. They don’t belong to your neighbor, friend, or that mom over there that you don’t even know.
Stop comparing. Every parent feels and processes emotion differently. Whatever you feel as your child climbs onto the school bus is ok.
You don’t have to apologize for crying, even if you’re the only mom ugly-crying on the curb as the bus drives away.
Quit worrying about what everyone else is doing and give yourself permission to feel it all.
So now we admit we have these emotions and we’re not worried about what everyone else is doing. Now what?
We love our children. So it makes sense that our emotions can be fierce. Letting go and watching our children step out into the world is hard. And exciting. And scary.
Stifling emotions never really works. They just bubble out later in another way or at someone else, with increased intensity.
Feel something? Own it.
So what if you’re an ugly-crying mess at the bus stop? Or if you’re the only dry-eyed mom in the crowd? What happens if summer was so long and tiring that a part of you feels like celebrating and maybe a twinge guilty about that (or maybe you feel no guilt)? Or if you’re suddenly crying in Target 3 hours later because you just miss them? So what?
What if your kids see you? While we do need to have wisdom and discernment about how and what we share with our children, it is ok for them to see you express what you feel.
In these milestone moments, watching you feel and process emotions in a healthy way gives your children permission to feel and process their own.
Do your emotions surprise you? Days before school started, I expected to cry at the bus stop. Then, that morning as we stood waiting for the bus I felt only excitement. I was happy and exited – not sad at all!
Then she took those first steps up and WHAM!
When emotions surprise me, the best way to work through them is to process them. Feel them. Think through them. Talk about them.
This does require time and energy but is too important to pass up.
- Go to God – Night or day, God is always available. Our loving Father loves to comfort His children. No matter the emotion, He already knows. When it comes to emotions I feel as a parent, it is such a comfort to know that God created our children and loves them even more than than I can. He listens and provides peace and comfort beyond our understanding. Try it! Pray through emotions and spend some time reading His word. He won’t leave you hanging.
- Talk to a Friend – One of the reasons we need community is to process real-life with people who are willing to be authentic. We need to know we’re not alone and to be encouraged by other parents. Be honest. Cry if you feel like it. Speaking how we feel out loud is powerful.
- Write – When home with kids all day, I can’t always process emotions out-loud with another adult. Journaling or blogging about what I’m feeling helps me find clarity and understand what I am feeling and WHY.
One way to take the edge off of our emotions of sadness, longing or fear is to celebrate milestones – even if just official days like the first/last day of school and birthdays.
That said, we don’t need to celebrate everything. Celebrate events that are significant to your family and priorities.
Celebrating puts the joy back into even the most bittersweet milestone.
Celebrate with a meal, a sporting event or activity, a gift, a handwritten card, or an intentional conversation. Celebrate to remind your children that you’re cheering them on and proud of them.
Finally, no matter how emotional you feel, at some point, you need to step out of your own head and step into the time and place you’re in.
I spent a couple hours dwelling in my own swimming emotions and thoughts before doing anything productive with them. Once I began to process them, I was able to step back into the day and be ready and excited to hear all about that first day of school. If I’d kept it all in, I’m not sure I would have been any good to anybody – just a puddle of tears and self-pity.
Be present with those right in front of you. Don’t let your emotions put you in a funk that steals quality time from you and your family.