My middle child is the most emotionally expressive person I’ve ever met. In a lot of ways, it’s great; I always know where I stand with him and how he’s feeling at any given moment. His highs are high and his lows are low. He has a tendency to be a bit dramatic, but the kid is pretty self-aware. He not only feels everything, but he’s really great at communicating what he feels, as well. Honestly, I have no idea where he got that. His father and I are still huge works in progress when it comes to expressing emotion.
He very often gets his feelings hurt by his siblings (or his parents) and will let us know when are making him feel like we don’t care about him.
Last week I got the chance to substitute teach in my son’s classroom. Early in the day, as I gave their spelling test, my son started to cry. I asked him what was going on, but he wouldn’t tell me. We kept going with the test, he stopped crying, the day continued. When I asked him at the end of the day what had happened, he told me that he felt like I was nicer to the other kids in his class than I was to him. I asked him what I did or said that made him feel that way, and all he could tell me was that I wasn’t “welcoming” to him. I was confused, and tried to explain to him that I had tried my best to treat him just like every other student there. I told him that I couldn’t treat him like he was my favorite kid in the class, even though he was and is! I couldn’t treat him extra special just because I was his mom. I had to be his teacher.
I’m sure that’s confusing for a 6-year-old. His worlds had collided in a new way and he wasn’t sure how to handle it. His expectations for what it would be like to have mom at school were not met. He continued to belabor the point and started using the phrase “heartbroken” for how I made him feel. He was starting to really hurt my feelings. That’s his worst nightmare. He hates having his feelings hurt so much that he is very cautious about the feelings of others. When he continued to talk about it the next day during homework, I finally asked him to stop. We were both crying over the situation, we had both apologized, and it was time to move on.
What I learned from that experience last week, and what my son continues to teach me on a regular basis, is that it is so much better to communicate how we are feeling, instead of holding everything in. I’ve got years worth of practice of ignoring how I feel, downplaying how I feel, or just eating instead of feeling, and this child of mine is pushing me to something different. Something better.