Recently, a friend of mine—let’s call her Tough Cookie—was given some bad cancer news.
This isn’t the first she’s heard of it.
There have been treatments.
She’s fought a great fight for years.
Held it together.
And as a nurse, she asks the right questions and pushes for difficult answers.
But she’s also the mother of two small children.
I was devastated for her.
In one of our email exchanges, she noted that “the pressure is unbelievable to feel well and act well around my kids when all I want to do is cry for my own mom.”
And I totally understood.
But it gave me pause for thought.
Obviously, we should proceed with caution when sharing difficult topics with our five year olds. They shouldn’t be worrying about cancer, death or global warming. And we can’t confuse them for an adult. Or expect some kind of empathetic response.
But being real…being authentic…is a great way to teach them about being human. Kids should know that people aren’t always in a good mood.
That they get sick.
That they get their feelings hurt.
That even Mommys and Daddys have bad days.
Because if you pretend too much, you are teaching them to pretend. To put on a mask. To be superhuman. To believe that they must always be “on.”
But it sounds crazy, doesn’t it? To be so real?
As parents, it’s not intuitive. It doesn’t feel right—at least, not to me.
Maybe because our kids believe in superheroes and Santa, we want them to believe in us too. Or maybe we just want to believe in ourselves.
While I feared stressing her out more, I gently passed on my thoughts to Tough Cookie. I wanted to give her permission to be real. To let her kids know she was human.
But I can’t pretend to know how she feels.
I don’t have cancer.
I’m just trying to figure out a sustainable place to parent.
Aren’t we all?
Author: Andrea Enright
Editor: Renée Picard / Assistant Editor: Ellie Cleary
Image: Andrea Enright; Ellen Schoenmaker