This morning, I took Charlotte to the library to get her out of the house. I have been feeling a bit guilty in that I don't take Charlotte out very much--we spend most of the time cleaning and organizing and getting ready for the baby. But, today I decided she needed to get out just with me to do something fun.
And she did have fun. So much so that she didn't want to leave when lunchtime came around. She resisted going home, so I had to pick her up, and take her to the car, which of course made her cry. On our way out of the library some random old man who I have never met smilingly told my little girl that if she didn't stop crying, he would have to give her a spanking. I was flabbergasted for so many reasons, not least of which was the complete and total inappropriateness of a stranger threatening my baby girl. I wish I had said something to the man, but I was so stunned and really just wanted to leave the library.
The incident has really got me thinking, however. Why is it that so many people's reaction to displays of emotion is to get really angry or uncomfortable? Why would someone think it appropriate to punish a child for being disappointed? I know the old man at the library is an extreme example of this, but actually the more I think of it, the more examples I come up with situations in which people reacted really negatively to other people's emotions. Here are some examples:
** A friend of mine who I really admire and respect gave me some parenting advice this Fall that made me uncomfortable. When Danny was scared about going to school and crying in the morning, she advised withholding a treat on the days he cried. Why would I punish Danny for being scared of school? And I didn't feel right about rewarding him for not crying, because wouldn't that just be teaching him to swallow his feelings?
** Just last week when I shared with some friends from church that I was pretty scared to go through labor again, most of the women (who had all had babies) totally mocked me and blew off my feelings. One even went so far as to share some birthing horror stories, in case my anxiety level wasn't quite high enough.
** My father, throughout my entire life almost always reacts in anger to people's unhappy emotions, especially if he somehow had any part in the person's emotions. His favorite saying to us growing up was "Bugs don't have feelings." Granted, I now seriously suspect him of having Asperger's or some other high functioning form of autism, (plus he is an alcoholic) but still it made growing up quite difficult to always be mocked for my feelings. I can't tell you how often I was called a crybaby as a kid.
And sadly, these are only a few of the examples I can think of right now, but I don't want to get into the others.
Why is it that some people cannot stand to hear about others' fears, frustrations, hurts without reacting negatively or blowing the person off? I know some people see displays of emotions as a a sign of weakness, but I actually believe the opposite. I think it takes enormous strength and courage to be vulnerable and share one's innermost feelings with another. I also think it is this type of sharing that takes a relationship to another level. My closest friends are those who have shared with me and who have listened as I have shared. On the other hand, I know several people who will never concede that they have difficulties, and it is these people who I just can't get close to. And who I will never share with.
As a mother, and especially as a mother of soon to be two boys, I worry about teaching my kids that their feelings are ok. I want them to know that it is ok to be scared, to worry about things, to have your feelings hurt. These are all normal and it is important for them to be able to talk to someone about them. This society really seems to look down on boys who share their emotions, which scares me because the emotions are there and will come out somehow. And if my dad is any indication, I think many people who try to ignore their feelings will manifest them in anger and possibly try drowning them in alcohol. It has taken me years to understand that the fact that I can cry and share my emotions doesn't make me a weakling.
It makes me think of a song I discovered years ago by Jewel called "I'm Sensitive." I have always liked it, especially the chorus that says, "Please be careful with me. I'm sensitive and I'd like to stay that way."