It’s impossible to ignore. I look over at her. I see her face, scrunched up with tears, hunched over and looking down at her lap.
She’s not okay. She’s not just crying for no reason, after all. That was the little girl who just burst into tears next to my son at the merry-go-round. She’s wearing shorts and skinned her knee when she fell.
It’s bleeding a little.
She’s sitting next her mom now, staring at her knee and crying in fear.
What if she’s afraid that she might have to go to the doctor she’s scared of and whose office smells weird? Or that her mommy will put that burning stuff on her knee?
Now she’s crying even harder.
“Stop your wailing, you’re FINE, for goodness sake. Look, everybody’s coming over here to see who’s making such a scene!”
her mom continues, stone-faced and looking around nervously. She’s speaking in an unnaturally loud voice and trying to hush her daughter as quickly as possible.
But her words of comfort have NO EFFECT AT ALL!
I feel a chill as if I’ve heard all this before. “Don’t cry. You’re okay!” My mom must have said the same thing when I was little and came running to her with bloody elbows and a bump on my head. All our moms did.
But now I’m the mama, and I see things from the other side.
I look at that mama, and I know exactly how she feels
She looks nervous. What must be going through her head? I try to put myself in her shoes. Maybe she’s kind of embarrassed by her daughter’s loud crying? She doesn’t like all the eyes on her from the children who have come over to watch. Does she feel uncomfortable? Maybe she doesn’t like being the center of attention. And now the whole playground is watching her and her screaming child!
So now she just wants her daughter to stop crying as soon as possible and everything will be fine again. She’ll go back to drinking her coffee and watching her little girl happily playing on the slide while mama enjoys a rare moment to herself.
She wants to kiss it better and make it like it never happened.
It’s just a skinned knee, after all. Plenty of those in her future...
That’s probably what her mom told her when she was little, too, right? We’ve got these responses incredibly deeply ingrained in us.
Plus, maybe she’s never experienced anything different, so she doesn’t know what words would work. And maybe she doesn’t want her daughter to be one of those kids that cries at the drop of a hat. But the crying still hasn’t stopped. Everyone’s watching.
“If you don’t stop this silliness, we are going home right now!”
Now the girl’s mom has switched to playing bad cop. It’s ridiculous to let one little fall ruin the whole morning. Surely the girl will come to her senses and stop crying now.
Even from where I’m sitting I can see it’s not a bad scrape. The little girl is inconsolable, though. This threat has upset her even more.
She doesn’t want to go home! She straightens up and swallows her tears. Her knee hurts and now she has to leave the park before she’s even gone on the big green slide?
That’s when it hits me with a shock. I can taste the bitterness of being misunderstood. Memories are bubbling up, bringing with them the long-ago pain of scraped elbows and stubbed toes.
I’m a little girl again, and my arm is bleeding. And I’m terrified:
Is it broken forever?
What if the blood never stops?
And it really, really hurts!
I’m so scared! Moooommyyyy!
The pain of my childish fears being misunderstood outweighs the pain of the injury itself. What would have helped me that day? To cry in the safety of loving arms and recover from the shock?
Yep, that’s it. Instead of telling me I had nothing to cry about, I so wish that someone had said:
“You’re bleeding, I see. Are you worried it might be serious? Let’s have a look. Okay, I can see it isn’t deep, just a scrape.
“Does it hurt? Come here and sit on my lap. You can cry as much as you need.
“Don’t worry, I’ll keep an eye on it, and if it keeps bleeding, we’ll get it taken care of quickly. You can count on me.”
Or they wouldn’t even have to say anything at all. Just hold me and let me cry. So I would know I was safe to feel my feelings and let them fade naturally.
Do you think our little ones might want the same when they’re sad? Simple reassurance.
Maybe we all need to hear that sometimes – even grown-up mamas who fall off a bike or cut themselves while chopping vegetables and are afraid they’ll have to go to the ER for stitches. Or they’re still upset about an argument with a friend the day before and worry that the friendship might not survive...
Sometimes we, too, need to cry when we’re in pain. Knowing that no one will blame us for it. Then lick our wounds, shake ourselves off and go on. But how many times have we heard this instead: “Oh, come on, don’t make a fuss... Don’t cry.”
I got distracted thinking about my childhood and how I felt, so I didn’t even notice that the mama and girl with the skinned knee left. I guess she kept crying, and they had to go home. So I think of them and hope they’re okay. It must have been hard for them both.
It was kind of hard for me even as an observer. I had to sit down that evening and write this all out for you. Because I have the feeling it’s not just me. I’d bet my boots
that you’ve heard the classic line (“What are you crying about? You’re fine!”) plenty of times, too.
People say it so often that you don’t even see at first how many times it’s been the cause of tears at being misunderstood. So here’s a virtual hug and kiss-it-better for everyone who hated hearing that line as a child.
If you want, mom and dad, you can be the ones to break the cycle of misunderstanding passed on from generation to generation. Break it and bury it deep underground. It doesn’t matter if you’ve said this very thing to your children a hundred times before. You can always change.
We’ll post another article about that soon. It’s by one of our Unparenting moms and talks about how to handle bumps and bruises and what she says to her son now instead of “don’t cry, you’re fine.”
So watch this space – we’ll post a new piece about Unparenting each Wednesday. :)
P.S. Maybe you feel like no matter how much you try to be understanding, your child is just a drama queen and gets worked up over nothing. You don’t want him (or her) wailing for hours about every little thing. Who would? Is the kid just testing you?
Come check out the Unparenting blog to find more subtle misunderstandings. You’ll learn a little more about what makes your kids tick. And you’ll find out they aren’t testing you. Maybe they feel the same as you – they want to work things out together, they just don’t know how.