Why My Kids Have Never Seen Me Cry

by Amber Leventry
malerapaso / Getty

Today was a hard day. My anxiety was high and still is. My depression told me lies all day and is still whispering negative thoughts, forcing me to stand in the dimmest light I only reserve for myself. I was cranky and short tempered. I was not pleasant to be around. This knowledge added to the heaviness of my mood. By late afternoon I was just tired and sad.

I picked my oldest daughter up from a birthday party, and when we got home she raced to the park across the field to join her siblings and her other mama. I stayed at the house to start dinner. I wanted a hug from my daughter before she left, but I didn’t say anything. I was not happy, but she was.

As she ran from the porch, I ached to run to her, to scoop her up and apologize for being irritable all day. I wanted to tell her how sorry I was for being sad. But I knew she didn’t see the sadness. She will be eight in a few months and has never seen me cry. Based on previous conversations, I know she equates sadness with tears.

My daughter’s twin 5-year-old siblings have never seen me cry either. Until recently I could have told you the exact number of times I had cried and why. Since my oldest’s birth, the number was four. Two of those were on the days my kids were born, one was during the 2016 Summer Olympics, and the other was in my kitchen when my twins were a year old.

I was a full-time stay at home mom to my twin babies, and I was lost. I didn’t think I was doing anything well, especially fulfilling my roles as mother, spouse, and friend. But the person I was letting down the most was me. My mental health needs had been placed on the back burner. I felt so dried up in that moment that my body mercifully produced tears to soften the cracks.

Each episode of crying felt like a miracle—a release—but it never lasted long. Just the acknowledgment of this phenomenon was enough to scare it away. The moment I would finally tap into that vulnerable part of myself, I’d close that scary shit up—usually with gin. Instead of letting my feelings flow, I would drown them in booze. I didn’t recognize this link at the time, but my addiction was stunting the work I needed to do to get healthy. Still, I thought if I could cry, if I could surrender to one of those therapeutic crying sessions, I would feel better.

I would take long, hot showers and pray for the water to come from within. I would turn up the music in my ears to dangerous volumes in hopes that the other noise would give way so I could hear the thing causing my sadness. I would push my body while exercising, demanding the physical pain to break down the walls of emotional damage long enough to release more than sweat.

I wanted to cry. I just could not.

I have witnessed friends be moved to tears in moments of happiness, frustration, or sadness. I’ve watched their eyes get wet and wondered what was wrong with me. Why couldn’t I do that? Crying was something I willed, something I wanted to do in a healthy and productive way. But it was something I simply could not do.

I had plenty of cry-worthy moments, and I noted them. Depression, PTSD, and anxiety chip away at my self-worth. The guilt and shame of a spiraling alcohol addiction fed into my depression. I had lots of reasons to cry. But I never did. Not because I was strong, but because, it seemed, something in me was broken. Ultimately, I was weak.

One day my daughter said to me, “Mama, you are never sad because you never cry.”

Oh, Baby. Mama is sad a lot.

I tried to explain that just because it doesn’t look like I am sad, according to what she knows of the emotion, I am still capable of being unhappy. My children are too young for me to get into the minutiae of mental illness. But as they get older, I want to be able to show them the faces of depression and anxiety. I will help break down the stigma surrounding mental health issues.

They will need to understand that crying about not getting a juice box is a different kind of sad than what I experience. I also want to show them that I can cry. I know I can, because since sobriety has settled in, I have been raw. I have been available to more emotions and memories than I thought possible. Sobriety has changed me in unexpected ways.

One of those ways has been in the sweet release of tears. Not long ago, a few months shy of being a year sober, the changes that had shifted in me pushed a whole lot of bullshit to the surface. I didn’t just feel lost anymore. I finally felt like I had something to lose. I was working late one night, and without summoning up any particular thought, a powerful sadness ignited in my chest. My nose began to run and my eyes started to burn. My breath quickened. My cheeks were wet with hot tears. I was crying. Years of damming my emotions through numbing and self-harm had finally given way to a flood of healing.

I have cried more this week alone than I have in almost 15 years. I cried in therapy for the first time, too. I am still getting used to this new way of dealing with emotions—it feels like being out of control. But compared to what I was doing before to try to fix myself, this feels better. I haven’t cried in front of my kids yet, but I know I will. I want to. My newfound ability to find safety in vulnerability tells me I am not broken. My desire to find more of that with the people I love tells me I will be okay.