Mummy, am I a crybaby?

This was what my 7 year old son asked me last night just before bedtime.  I paused for long enough (was it half a second or was it longer?) to realise that my answer was going to be really significant and that it better cut the mustard.

(To tell the truth I’m not totally sure I can do this story justice but bear with me.)

I think I said “I don’t think so” and as soon as it was out of my mouth I knew it wouldn’t do, so I followed it up with “I used to worry that you might be but not anymore.”  And then, “Do you think you’re a crybaby sweetheart?”

That’s when he told me that he knew he was a crybaby though he only just learned the word, because he cries at even the littlest things.

Staying (mostly) quiet and letting him get this out while at the same time not going into MY pain, was an act of empathy that I am really grateful I was able to manage.

I told him about how he was born like that.  How he has ALWAYS felt his feelings really deeply.  How he gets that from me.  How it’s actually a lovely thing even though it can really hurt at times.  How it’s unusual for a boy to be allowed to cry at his age and how his Daddy and I have worried a little about him being teased because of it but how we WANT him to grow up feeling his feelings and not have to learn how to feel them when he’s older.

I said other stuff too.  Like how it could be upsetting or embarrassing to be called a crybaby in school.  How other boys felt sad sometimes too, though they didn’t show it with tears but with teasing instead.  How he was becoming more and more resilient.

I think he found it helpful.  I’m sure that he felt heard and accepted and reassured.

We ended up sitting together on the sofa while he flicked through the opening pages of Raising Cain – Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson.  He read the bits I’d highlighted.

I was SO pleased I thought to show it to him.  I think it reassured him to read those snippets and see that I wasn’t just making up all the stuff I’d just told him about boys having feelings.  And about men having to go to psychologists when they’re grown up to try and find them again.

There are lots of children out there like my son who feel their feelings – ‘good’ and ‘bad’ – very intensely.  These are the spirited children.  They are sometimes more difficult to parent.

But there is nothing wrong with these children – the crybabies, the grumblers, the shouters, the tantrum-throwers.  The ones that smell a lemon from 100 yards and who can’t have labels left in their clothes.

Often what they need is empathy.  And acceptance.  And an appreciation of their unique gifts.  They need to be shown patience and kindness while they learn the things that come more easily to others.

My son is slowly learning that he doesn’t need to sweat the small stuff.  We’re not there yet.  But we’re getting there.  And I have every confidence that he will reach a place where he doesn’t need to cry in places where he would rather not.  But his capacity for empathy and compassion will remain undiminished.

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