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Why I Let the Kids See Me Cry: Redefining My Definition of Strength

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What does it mean to be absolutely and unstintingly vulnerable? Are we born with the desire to be so open or does it grow as time goes on? I ask this because, to be quite frank, I don't know what it's like for others. For me, it's how I've always been: to know Nicole is to know all of me, there's little I don't leave on the table to know for those that have entered my life.

I've always struggled with how open to be in my writing, as we know the internet can be a beast of its own. And yet, it is at most vulnerable moments that I feel my words express themselves so clearly. There are definitely those who feel uncomfortable with raw and emotional confessions and true vulnerability. Often those people even choose to prey upon someone's vulnerable thoughts and feelings that are shared and the internet becomes a whole new platform at which those that choose to prey can hide behind. They use others open position to their own advantage, belittling them for their openness or taking advantage of what they've shared to benefit themselves somehow.

We take this risk when we choose to be vulnerable. We learn very quickly who is safe to be our authentic selves around (and maybe sometimes it's takes multiple bouts of mistrust to learn for certain who is safe and who is not) but nevertheless, I choose to continue to express my vulnerability because I know it is my healthiest and most rewarding state of being. I know it not only benefits myself, but those around me who are willing to be self reflective and grow. And so I continue to push forward through the other moments of realization of mistrust and pain of some, because I recognize the blessing of vulnerability from myself and others I have learned to trust.
Vulnerability has often been seen as a sign of weakness, and I've always been told to be "strong"- but what does that look like, as a woman, as a mother? Does it mean I shield my children from seeing my raw emotions? Does it mean when I feel the well of sorrow or the agony of turmoil arise, I just hide it behind a smile so they won't know?

A few weeks ago, I broke down in tears over life "stuff"-the content of which is unimportant, and yet what resulted were simply thoughts about what I was letting my children see in me. My mind raced to the place of the advice I had been given many times before "Be strong. Hold yourself together. Don't let them see your pain." But something about that felt so off....It felt wrong to shield them from seeing their mother like that. Of course I didn't want to worry their little hearts about the stuff of adulthood- but the thought that struck me the most was this: can empathy exist without context? I realized in that moment: of course it can. And my children have taught me that.

"Is your brain telling you you're sad, mom?"

"It is buddy. It's feeling sad and overwhelmed. I think I just need to write and think. Maybe have some alone time."

We had been studying the brain and how it affects our emotions, and Haden was applying what he had learned. We talked about coping mechanisms to when we feel overwhelmed- I had shared with him earlier that day that writing helps me and he said he feels better when he plays with his stuffed animals. Little did I know, I was learning right alongside him.

He ran from the room and brought me back two teddy bears and a note "I love you, mom!"

What will my kids think as they continue to experience those hard feelings themselves-that they are alone or wrong in expressing them? That they must hide them like I thought I should?

How do I deal with my big emotions? What are the tools that I use? What will they see me doing when I experience those feelings? They might see me writing, or taking a hot shower, or cleaning...they might hear me ask to be alone. They might learn and understand what it's like to comfort someone whose hurting- to lean into the pain instead of fleeing from it. They might grow up not feeling awkward or fearful to see someone cry. They might learn what it is to embrace someone without knowing the right words to say, and that silence can often be exactly what a person needs.

He snuggled up to me later that night and whispered to me, in his raspy 6 year old sleepy voice "Whenever you feel bad, I'm going to come make you feel better. Because you've spent all my life helping me and I want to help you too."

And so, I made a promise to them.

I will be strong for you. But I'll use my ever evolving definition- strength to me is vulnerability, its honesty, it's authenticity. It's choosing empathy and compassion and love. Strength resides where all these things meet, and you will see me striving daily to reside in that place.


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