It's ok to cry.
It was my daughter’s bed time and I could feel a buildup of tears making their way to my eyes. While my daughter sat next to me on my bed awaiting story time, the tears fell and quickly transformed quickly into hard, raspy sobs. Control was lost. I had given into this place of mourning. My two year old daughter was waiting for me to snuggle, read to her, and tuck her into bed. She was waiting for her routine of comfort and security. And, I couldn’t. I couldn’t be the emotionally stable parent she needed me to be in that moment. My strength disintegrated. My self-control vanished. I collapsed in front of my daughter.
My ex and I had been separated for four weeks. With the separation my sense of self, purpose, and certainty in this world all became rickety and weak. I managed getting through the day to day as the primary caretaker of my toddler by taking us on long drives so my daughter couldn’t see me quietly cry in the front seat. I became generous with kid tv time to allow myself time to stare out the window of my kitchen. By building in time for me to stare, think, and emotionally unravel I also created time I disconnected from my kid. Time for space. I knew I needed the time to fall apart in order to heal. But, the distance I created from her wracked me with guilt. This wasn’t the kind of parent I was before. This wasn’t the kind of parent I wanted to be.
My daughter’s response to my collapse at bedtime was tender and kind. She silently held my face in her small hands and wiped my tears. I could barely look at her. I felt ashamed at my inability to keep it all together for the sake of my kid. I felt guilty that her impulse was to care for me, the one who should be the nurturer. When my emotional storm subsided, I looked up and saw my daughter had put herself to sleep a few inches away from me on the bed. She made herself a nest of blankets and pillows. She found her own comfort since mine was not available. I felt a small wave of relief. I didn’t have to find the strength to read sweet bedtime stories or sing lullabies. And then the guilt and shame rose high. I couldn’t put my own child to bed, I was so lost in my own turmoil. I was unavailable.
Everyone knows, shit happens. And here’s the really tricky thing about shit happening. It happens when you have to get up early to let the dog out before your toddler wakes for the day when all you want to do is lie in bed and stare numb-struck at the ceiling. It happens when you have to feed your child half-decent meals, even though you have not eaten anything other than hummus and cake in weeks. It happens when you have to find ways to fill the days with your toddler when you are wholly unable to muster through the light-hearted play of a toddler because your heart is just too heavy.
Parenting books don’t discuss this. How to handle to the complete collapses that happen from time to time in life while you’re also trying to be a good parent. How do you deal with big loss when also keeping up with the daily demands of parenting. There’s no pinterest board for “how to get through personal devastation while parenting.” No instagram feed of “parents dealing with emotional turmoil while a toddler wants to play tea party.” The parenting sphere simply lacks this content. Therefore, it feels as if it doesn’t exist.
I didn’t get through this difficult time as a good parent. I didn't think I would. I was holding such an intense emotional experience that it was hard to maintain room for anything else. When I am brutally honest with myself, it was hard to make room for my daughter. For a few months, I wasn’t a fun parent. I didn’t play with my daughter. I couldn’t put on a happy, excited face and light-heartedly chat with my daughter about toddler things. I didn’t make things seem the exact same as they were before the separation.
The reality is we all fall apart sometimes. We do. Our kids do. And no one knows what to do or how to do any of it. It does feel important to keep it together for your kid, be present through emotional turmoil, and stay as stable as possible. And it also feels important to spend time exorcising your demons so they don’t haunt you later, take the time to lean into what you are experiencing, and invest in your healing. These two things, being stable and investing in your healing, are two very different things. For me, holding these two realities was messy, inconsistent, and it was the only real way to be.
My hope is that through all of the messiness, I taught something important to my daughter. I hope she knows it’s ok to fall apart. It’s ok to feel, be angry, and mourn. I hope she knows that it’s ok to attend to her own pain and healing when she faces her own shadows and monsters. That by leaning into what she is feeling is all part of how to keep going, how to keep moving forward.
I hope she knows it’s ok to cry.