Trying to Hold Back the Flood

Sometimes we get to enter worlds that are new to us, but were there all along. Your kid is into marching band and you enter a world of band camps and classes, competitions and supplies. You sorta knew there might be something like it, but you don’t know about the depth or intricacies of this world until you are thrust into it. I love this about life. I love that there are more worlds of professionals and passion and interest than I could ever learn about. It’s a great thing about being with kids that they sometimes take you into these worlds and can be the leaders of your journeys there.
Sometimes we have to enter worlds that are new to us, but were there are along. You see disasters on TV, hear about FEMA in the news, and know such things exist. Then the flood comes. You are thrust into a world of insurance adjusters and structural engineers and Chinook helicopters. With deep gratitude to all of the people who make this world their home, and reach out to us unhappy visitors, you would rather never know the truth. It is a hard thing about being with kids, harder than just doing your own suffering, trying to be the ramparts against the rising sadness, trying to shelter then against the storm of worry. You can’t though. You just can’t.
I don’t know much about how much parents should tell their kids when bad stuff has happened. It seems like a very personal choice having to do with individual temperaments, situations and beliefs. Ethically, I think the parameters are something like this: avoid telling your child outright lies, but there is not an obligation to disclose everything if being circumspect is in the best interest of the child. You might lie a little about what has happened or what might happen. You cannot, however, lie to your children about one thing: how you are feeling.
When I say “you cannot lie about how you are feeling” I do not mean that you ought not to lie about how you are feeling. I mean you literally cannot. Children, including very young babies, can sense emotion. We are wired to be able to tell how another human is doing by looking at their expression, their movements, their tone of voice. Since your child knows when you are sad and stressed, only bad things happen when you try to lie about it. The child is confused at best. She is just learning to put a word to the emotions she feels and intuits in others. If you tell her that her perception is incorrect, that data is only going to mess up her developing ability to name emotions and have empathy with others. Lying about how you feel can also cause your child to feel that there is something wrong with him. If he is feeling this yucky feeling in his belly and everyone else seems to be perfectly happy, there must be something wrong with him. Children may get the message that negative emotions are just a function of their immaturity, a weakness to be outgrown. What a relief for children to learn that adults are sometimes scared or angry or worried. Children’s brains (like all of ours) seek to make sense of things, and when a trusted adult is dishonest about big feelings a child will often imagine a scenario worse than the truth. Mommy has red eyes and a frown and her body is slumpy, but she tells me she is not sad. It must be she is sad about something so horrible that she can’t tell me. Maybe ¬¬¬-__________ (fill in with child’s worse-case scenario.).
It is hard at the best of times to know how strong the fortifications should be between own emotional lives and our children’s (at least it is for me). In times of crisis, this, like everything, gets harder. We cannot be a wall that keeps out all bad stuff. We can strive, though, to be an example of a genuine human being, loving our kids with strength and walking forward into new worlds together.

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