It’s Okay to Cry: Navigating Strong Emotions with Kids


It's Okay to Cry: Navigating Strong Emotions with Kids | Duluth Moms Blog

Last June we lost my grandma to bile duct cancer. She had been sick for over two years and she fought as much as she could but we all knew that it was time. We knew it was coming and I had prepared my older two children, then 12 and 10, that she was going to pass away soon. They weren’t complete strangers to death, a family friend has passed away a few years before, and though they didn’t go to the funeral, they understood death.

When my grandma did pass away we went to the funeral. I was incredibly sad because as I sat there I thought about all of the things that made her special to me. It was her JELLO jigglers prepared for every holiday, her deviled eggs, the static clings she put on her windows for Christmas, her cookie trays, her needlepoint, her and my grandpa taking my kids to movies. I was really going to feel her absence in my life but truthfully, I didn’t think about what a loss it was going to be for my kids.

Don’t Cry

It didn’t even hit me until we left the cemetery and my daughter asked, “Are we really just leaving Grandma here?” I remember thinking how strong my kids were because I was a mess. They cried and I rubbed their backs while saying, “It’s okay, don’t cry”. They didn’t want to see Grandma in the casket and I didn’t push them. I knew from my work with seniors that we all grieve differently and loss is different for everyone.

Imagine my surprise when just a week or two later we learned that my grandpa had stage four pancreatic cancer. If there was ever a man I never imagined would die, it was my grandpa. He was a big, strong, virile man. He was a proud Korean and Vietnam veteran. He was a gentle giant with a great sense of humor. He really enjoyed my kids and my kids loved him. They would make him cards for Veterans Day and he always let them spend all of his change on vending machine toys at the theater. I’m still not sure if his death being so quick was a blessing or a curse. I’m so glad he didn’t have to suffer longer than he did but I really wanted more time.

I was at a concert with my daughter when I got the text from my dad that Grandpa had passed away and both of us felt a weird relief, but we also cried. My children handled his funeral much differently than they did my grandmother’s funeral.

They cried. They cried hard, and I’m talking sobbing. They wanted to see Grandpa and so I walked up there and I know people say it but I was most struck by his hands and I remember thinking it’s so weird because I somehow thought they would look differently, but those were the hands I remember warmly hugging me after every gathering. My son in particular, was so overcome with emotion that I had to help walk him back to his seat. People were saying, “It’s okay, don’t cry” so automatically and we were all just trying to get through the awful day. At the cemetery they played Taps and I don’t care where I am, when I hear it, I’m I turn into a blubbering mess. I mean, play it on YouTube right now and I’ll instantly burst into tears.

A Change of Heart

But that was when I realized I was surrounded by men who didn’t want to cry. Some did, of course, because it was a horribly sad moment, but watching them gather themselves quickly and put on a brave face really struck me. I thought about it the entire three hour drive home.

That night, I heard my son crying in his room and I felt like that was a pivotal moment–not just for me as a mom, but for him as a person. He was trying to be so quiet in his room and it really bothered me. I went in there and said, “Hey buddy, it’s okay to cry. It’s really okay to cry. There is nothing wrong with crying and being sad. Please don’t ever bottle those feelings up.” And we hugged. And we cried together.

I realized that while funerals are terribly sad and we learn about death and how to move past it by living our lives a little bit differently with people gone, we also learn about emotions. I don’t know at what point in society did we decide that crying and expressing emotions isn’t masculine, but I wish we would move beyond it. I think we have a lot of men that could have benefited by having a good cry once in a while. I hate seeing little boys be teased for getting upset.

It's Okay to Cry: Navigating Strong Emotions with Kids | Duluth Moms Blog

Let Kids Express Their Emotions

When you tell a child to not cry, you’re telling them that the way they feel isn’t valid. That they make other people uncomfortable with their emotions and that it’s their problem to deal with. Emotions are big deal and if we don’t cry them out they might come out in rage. Maybe even violence. It’s our job as parents to acknowledge big emotions and teach our children healthy ways to dealing with them.

It’s been almost a year since my grandpa passed away and in that year we’ve made some big changes. I check in with the kids every couple of days to see how they are doing. School, friends, themselves, and us as a family… I want to know what’s going on–good or bad–and how they feel about it. I’ve always been a hands-on mom with this stuff but I will tell you since giving both of my children permission to feel emotions and talk about them, our discussions have been so great.

We have talked not just about them but also struggles they see their friends having. How I talk to them about this transfers to how they talk to their friends about things and their friends, in turn, tell them things that are upsetting to them and now I can help my children problem solve. I know that my children trust me with big things and that has been such a great thing as we transition into the teenage years.