My Little Bs Have the Big C

A Breast Cancer Blog For Young Women

Mommy Mondays: Do You Let Them See You Cry?



Let me tell you a little bit about the way I parent.  I talk about feelings.  A lot.  When my son, Oliver is laughing, I acknowledge that he is happy or that something is silly.  When he hits me, I tell him that I notice that he’s angry (although hitting is not allowed).  And when he cries, I hold him close and let him know that I know that he feels sad.  I never tell him not to cry.  I just ask him to let me know when he is done and that I’ll wait until he is.  Crying is a normal reaction to sadness, anger and frustration in our household.  It’s a human reaction and we treat it as such.

It’s been my position since the beginning of this whole cancer business to be as upfront and honest with Oliver as possible.  While he is too young to understand cancer and what it means, he perceptive and observant and knows instantly when something is different.  It’s amazing how he questions everything in his world, making sure it is all as it should be or he will find out the reason why it’s not.

When I had my mastectomy, I didn’t hide my wound or scar from him.  He watched me change my drains, clean my wounds, he has seen me in pain.  When chemo took my hair, I didn’t hide it with a hat, pretending nothing was different.  I slowly introduced my new look to him, letting him know that this was the new me, the new mommy for a while.  When I started wearing compression sleeve and bandaging my arm due to lymphedema, I let him know that I was having problems with my arm.  Honesty and openness have been my policy, while making sure that all information was developmentally appropriate.

I don’t know if I have always gotten it right.  What is the right way to explain the side effects of cancer to a toddler anyway?  I just know that I have always tried my best.  But the one area where I have faltered and questioned my choices is when I have cried.  Which has been a lot, especially lately.  For whatever reason, I have been okay with Oliver seeing my physical wounds but I feel the need to protect him from my emotional ones.  I don’t want him to see me cry.

There are times when Oliver has caught me crying.  He’ll come up to me and say, “Mommy, you are crying?”  This would be a perfect opportunity to let him know that mommies get sad too and cry sometimes.  That it’s ok and human.  But that’s not what I have done.  I quickly wipe my tears and swallow my sadness.  “No, mommy is not crying.  Mommy is happy!”  “You are happy?”  “Yes, you make me happy.”  And he does.  That’s not a lie.  But life has made it hard to smile in this last year.  I’ve had to cry a lot.

What am I afraid of?  Why can’t I cry in front of Oliver?  First of all, I don’t want to scare him.  I think that seeing a parent cry can be frightening for a child.  We are supposed to be a pillar of strength.  In control.  Crying can represent a break in that control, of things falling apart.  Secondly, sometimes I cry a lot.  I don’t want him to know me as someone who is sad all the time.  I don’t want him to begin blaming himself for my sadness.  But mostly I want to protect him.  I want to protect him from all that is evil and dark and broken in this world.  And right now, I am broken.  I’m slowly picking up the broken pieces of my life after a traumatizing year and gluing them back together into a new, imperfect me.  But as I glue those pieces back into place, you can still see the cracks from where I shattered.  It is from those cracks that I am vulnerable.

Is it wrong to let him see my vulnerabilities?  I believe in my heart that the answer is no.  I think it is important for Oliver to see that I am human.  I think it’s important to trust him with my feelings so that he knows that he isn’t alone in his.  I want him to always let me know what is on his mind but I think that trust comes with a mutual respect and sharing.  And yet….  And yet, I don’t know if I can do it.  I don’t know if I can share this crippling sadness, pain and fear with him.  I don’t want him to ever have to know.

Do you cry in front of your children?  Are there people you feel comfortable crying in front of and other you won’t let see you cry?

10 thoughts on “Mommy Mondays: Do You Let Them See You Cry?

  1. This is an excellent topic! Oh yes. This one hits home.

    First, I am sorry you are struggling with these emotions and decisions. You are his mama and you know best how to cope with the situation. Trust yourself.

    I’ve always been perceived as a strong person who never cries, kinda like a rock with no emotions. I admit I have a hard time showing my vulnerability to others, especially those I know. This is why I dealt with my cancer with only a few people, and only my guy saw me cry. Now, when it comes to children, I wouldn’t know how to act. I was raised by my grandma and she did not share everything with me. Today I understand why (this has to do with my biological mother and father). I found out the truth on my own. But Carrie, I was a little upset at her for not telling me the truth but I understand.

    Carrie, I am not sure how I would deal with my emotions if I had a child but I can tell you, now, I would be open with her/him. I think honesty is important as long as you know how to approach it (I may even reach out to child physiologists for help). Also, we live in a different time where children get exposed to so many things. (Has Oliver asked about Pinktober yet?) It’s better Oliver learns at home with you and his dad, just how I think. In my time, back in the 80’s, it would have been a bad idea to share too much info, I think. Because so much was considered a “mystery,” it would have been more traumatizing.

    I am sorry you’re experiencing the effects of post-treatments. For me, this was the time I realized what was happening, so it was hard. Still, I only allowed other patients to see it. But I have faith things will get better for you. We always adjust and do out best, just remember to trust yourself to do things right for you and for your child.

    Remember I am not too far from you! xoxo

    • Thank you, Rebecca. There are so many reasons I want to share my emotions with Oliver and so many reasons that I don’t. It’s a hard thing to do.
      Oliver has not asked about Pinktober. I’ve never mentioned the word to him or the significance of pink. We don’t even use the word “cancer” with him yet. I don’t think he’s ready for that either. But one day, one day sooner than I’m ready for, I’ll have to explain it all to him.

  2. I wanted to let you know that my girls see me cry all the time. I cry out of sadness and anger, but mostly out of frustration. I also cry from songs on the radio in the car. Lucy now makes fun of me for that. But I think it’s important because everyone gets sad and frustrated sometimes and it’s VERY important as a BOY that he knows that girls cry for different reasons. I say this because when I first met Mike, his view was that girls cried to manipulate. He learned a lot from me.

  3. My kids were actually young adults when I was diagnosed and I still struggled with this. It was and still is hard for me to let them see me vulnerable, to let them see my cry. I think allowing our children in, allowing them to see us when we are vulnerable is actually a good thing. But it’s still hard. One of those easier said than done things. Great topic. Great post. Thank you.

  4. Carrie, it sounds like you’re doing a great job under trying circumstances. I always practiced openness and honesty with my children. There is a fine line and each situation must be weighed for itself. We don’t want to burden our children with more than they can handle, of course, but I think if Oliver knows you’re sad or sees you cry, you can do exactly what you do. You obviously know how to handle these situations with sensitivity and openness and I believe it’s the better way to go.

    I didn’t have breast cancer when my children were young, but when my father died, with whom I was very close, my kids were 4 and 7. They knew I was sad and certainly it was talked about openly, but I do remember being in such grief and I felt so sorry for my kids because I imagined they wanted their old mommy back. I didn’t want to overburden them with my grief so I’d take them to the playground and do all the normal things I did with them, but emotionally I was in a state of shock and grief. I didn’t always talk about it, but if I cried in front of them, we could talk about it. I do remember hugging and kissing them a lot not only to assure them of my love, but they were such a comfort to me. I share all this because it’s not cancer, but it was a situation where I was emotionally not my normal self.

    Even if kids can’t articulate what they’re feeling, they often know when something is wrong. On the other hand, there’s something built into a healthy child where they’re just children and get wrapped up in playing and being kids, sometimes not absorbing what’s happening with adults. They know on an emotional level, but they don’t always understand. So as long as they’re not threatened, they’ll sometimes just brush things off and go back to their play. You don’t need to worry. You’re doing a great job and Oliver will be just fine.

  5. Carrie, It was so helpful for me (also a parent to young children and dealing with breast cancer and all the accompanying emotion) to read your post, because I can relate on many levels. I, too, choose to be open with my children- but as you say, with consideration to developmental appropriateness. Mostly what this means is that I answer my kids ‘ questions honestly but without offering more info than what they ask for. My son is older than yours- 10 today!!- and it’s particularly important to me that as a male in this culture, he is encouraged to feel and express his feelings. But I, too, worry at times about exposing my kids to too much of my own heartache. I definitely do cry in front of them sometimes, and I do share at times that I am sad, but I feel like I need/want to do so in small, mindful doses – meaning I sometimes put on false cheer. I definitely question myself at times in this arena, whether it be, for example, that my kids saw me cry and I worry that I should have shielded them from this; or that I pretended to be okay when really I felt anything but. I guess for me I try to maintain a balance of being genuine, truthful, open with my kids while also trying to protect them and create a sense of safety.

    • I know as a mom we must have similar feelings and challenges even though our children are different ages. It’s hard. Because I am so open and vulnerable usually but when it comes to my son I just want to shield him. I know you know what I mean.

  6. Pingback: Weekly Round Up: The Pink Elephant Edition | Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer

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