Parents

Why I Won't Censor My Children's Feelings

Sometimes my kids tell it like it is, and I wholeheartedly allow it.
04/14/2017 08:06am ET | Updated April 25, 2017
Photo Courtesy of Faithography, Hilton Head Island. All rights reserved

“Don’t let her say that!”

Hannah was being frank about her feelings about our family situation. It obviously bothered the listener. I don’t recall Hannah’s exact words, but they were not insults, were not made in an angry tirade, and included no cussing. It was just an honest assessment of our current situation.

Our situation isn’t always pretty. Hannah and Alex get the scraps of our parenting efforts leftover after Ben devours his feast. While Hannah is empathetic, thoughtful, kind and loyal, she’s also honest, and quite frankly, sometimes it outright stinks to have a sibling with enormous needs.

So I considered her statement and voiced my approval. She was right, after all.

I can’t fix the stress and strain in our family. It’s hard, not only as primary caregivers, but for children whose parents are burned out from the vigilance it takes to meet complex behavioral, developmental and medical needs. I cannot count the times we have been unable to do some totally normal thing because it’s impossible to juggle one more thing. Or the times that we promised something we ended up unable to deliver because a high-priority issue came up.

“If I shut them down, where would they go with their discontent? Isn’t it better for them to have a safe outlet?”

Sometimes Hannah and Alex take the filter off and tell it like it is. And I wholeheartedly allow it.

When kids are little we tell them to “use their words” to express frustrations, rather than acting out. When the older kids vent to me about the stress and disappointment of constantly being displaced to accommodate their brother, they’re using their words. Isn’t that what I taught them to do?

Sometimes their words sting. It’s difficult to accept that the reality of our family means that two out of three children usually get a crummy deal. I don’t like to hear my parenting failures spelled out in the vents of my kids, and sometimes they point out things that really sting.

But if I shut them down, where would they go with their discontent? Isn’t it better for them to have a safe outlet, a parent who adores both them and their complex sibling, to hear them out and bear witness to their hardships? If I censor them, will their vents build into resentment and bitterness that is buried instead of expressed? I’m afraid so, in fact I’m pretty certain.

I believe that counseling would be a better option, but let’s just add that to the list of things I’ve failed to accommodate for Alex and Hannah with because the need isn’t so overbearing that I’m forced to act.

I let them vent, because I need to vent too. I listen to them, because validation is my favorite thing, and I want to pay it forward. I don’t know how it feels to be Hannah or Alex, but I do want them to tell me!