"Why is he proud of me?"
"Because you were brave in the airplane." Deb said.
"Would he have been proud of me if I cried?" Emma asked.
Deb then put her on the phone with me.
"I would have been proud of you if you cried." I said.
"Why?" She asked.
"For expressing your feelings." I said.
She seemed satisfied with that and passed the phone back to Deb. I have been thinking about that conversation since. It made me think of something Alan Watts said in The Book on the taboo against knowing who you are: “Other people teach us who we are. Their attitudes to us are the mirror in which we learn to see ourselves, but the mirror is distorted. We are, perhaps, rather dimly aware of the immense power of our social environment.”
We celebrate bravery in our society and parents are always telling their kids not to cry. They learn as a result to suppress feelings of sadness, fear and vulnerability because the big people can't handle them. Since most kids want to please their big people, they internalize the messages they receive from them.
My daughter could have easily just smiled and thanked me for telling her I was proud of her, but I am so grateful that she asked me why and if I would have been proud if she had cried. It's a reminder that we are sending these messages all of the time, often without thinking much about them. But they have a big impact.
It also made me think about how important it is to redefine bravery in our culture. Feeling your feelings. Embracing your vulnerability. Expressing yourself. Leaning in to all that we don't know and cannot control. This is bravery. Thank you my Emma Lu for reminding me of that.
If you haven’t already read the book, it’s a great place to start - Relationship Reboot: Break free from the bad habits in your relationship.
David B. Younger, Ph.D. is the creator of Love After Kids, for couples that have grown apart since having children. He is a clinical psychologist and couples therapist with a web-based private practice and lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, 14-year-old son, 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old toy poodle.