I have a question about how much I have to hide my personal frustrations, annoyances, anger, call it what you want, from my kids. I'm not talking about anger management -- not talking about serious anger problems that spill over into abusive language or behavior -- I'm talking about ordinary kinds of things, like this week when I was frustrated that there was no school because of Sandy and I had to stay home for two days and I had so much work to do. I wanted to have it be a fun kind of day, and play board games with my daughters ( 7& 5) but, honestly, I was too frustrated with everything to be fun. The older one actually said, "Mom, what's your problem?" Should I have just been truthful and told her the storm was trying my patience? I think maybe by saying, Oh, nothing, that I made a mistake because I could tell she didn't believe me even though I thought I was somehow protecting her.
From: Sandy-ied-out, north of Boston
1. You're right, she probably didn't believe you. Kids engage in what's known as magical thinking. They are constantly trying to figure out the way things in their lives connect to each other. When they don't have concrete pr accurate information, they make up the facts and fit them into a story. Usually the story they create is way beyond reality, often more frightening or scary than the truth. What's more, because kids are so ego-centric, they often put themselves smack in the middle of the story. With your daughter, she might have been thinking, "Mom's unhappy. It's my fault. I was bad." You've just said that wasn't it at all, but unless she knows an age-appropriate version of the truth she will engage in magical thinking.
2. Just because you're a parent doesn't mean you aren't entitled to bad moments. Showing honest emotion, even when it's negative, is not only OK, it's important. Otherwise, how else will children learn to manage their own negative thoughts and feelings? That doesn't mean you can run amok. Here's the caveat: When you express an honest, negative feeling -- "Boy, I'm in such a bad mood from being stuck in the house!" -- what's most important is what you do afterwards. It's unhealthy for your kids if you wallow in it and can't function. But if you recover and move on -- "This is a good time to try some yoga. I'm gonna get out that book I got for Christmas last year. Let's try it together!" -- think of it as giving your child a gift.
How did you all cope with Sandy? We were lucky here in Newton (Ma) and never lost power. Would love to hear how some of you managed, especially if you were stuck at home for days with young children.