Parents, Stop Being Ashamed To Cry In Front Of Your Kids

by Melissa L. Fenton
Marjan_Apostolovic / Getty Images

I’m a crier.

Whenever I experience a set of heavy emotions, or have a sad reaction to something and it moves me to tears, I rarely hold back. I was never one to pause and think that crying in front of people might not be the proper thing to do, or that I needed to be strong and always keep it together. Showing emotions freely, especially crying, was never an issue for me.

Maybe the reason I am a crier is because I come from a long line of criers. I regularly saw both my mother and father cry, as it was never something they went to do in private. Whether is was from a sappy TV commercial, or something more serious like the death of a family member, or even just the stresses of raising children and paying bills, if life was sucker-punching them in the gut, their emotional reaction to that was never held inside or hidden from their children.

Of course, witnessing that kind of raw emotion and sadness from your parents is something young children may not be ready for, or even know how to process. But as I grew older, I was able to understand and see that my parents’ vulnerability wasn’t a terrible, sad, or depressing thing. It wasn’t a sign of instability, but rather, it was a sign that my parents were human.

Yes, it would make me sad to see my mother moved to tears, and to freely cry in front of her kids, but it also taught me about her resilience. I did see her in very dark places, but then I also saw her rise above it and dust off her bootstraps so to speak. After the crying, I got to witness her punch back at life.

The first time I felt myself completely overwhelmed with motherhood, and had children old enough to understand my emotions and see what I was dealing with, I hesitated to cry in front of them. Would they think it was all their fault? Would they think they were the sole reason I was crying? Would my sadness spill over to them, making them emotionally fragile and unable to cope as they grow up and life gets harder? Do I look like a failure to them?

Then I remembered my parents, and let the tear floodgates open. I don’t hide my joy, happiness, and belly laughs from kids, so why would I hide my sadness?

Would my kids be traumatized by seeing me cry? Not in the least, and even parenting experts back me up on this. Nancy Buck, founder of the website Peaceful Parenting agrees, saying, “Would it make sense for parents to hide their laughter from their children? The same answer applies to both laughter and tears.”

I’ve learned through the years how to talk to my kids about my emotions, and what is necessary to tell them (and not tell them) about what it means when I cry. They don’t need to know everything, but they do need to know that crying is a perfectly normal human reaction to many things — both the very wonderful and the very awful. There is no need to hide that fact, or make it seem like people who cry are weak and emotionally frail.

Mothers need to stop being ashamed of their weaknesses. There is no shame in feeling.

According to Jessica Campbell, LCSW, there are actually right and wrong ways to handle yourself when emotions take over, and you find yourself crying in front of your kids. “Tell them what is happening, reassure them that there are no ramifications that will destabilize their lives, and hug them,” she says. “It is important for parents to let their children know that their parents will keep them safe even if they are feeling sad now.”

If you are experiencing more severe depressive episodes and other symptoms, and find yourself crying in front of your kids more often than not, please see a doctor to discuss treatment options and mental health/wellness therapies. While periodic crying is natural and normal, a constant feeling of dread, and the inability to handle even the smallest of mothering tasks on a daily basis, may be a symptom of undiagnosed depression or other anxiety disorder. Please see your doctor at the first sign of such depressive symptoms, because self care and mental well-being is absolutely essential.

Now that my children are older, I still cry in front of them, but now I’m able to more openly discuss what is really going on in my life because they can understand it. They can understand the difficulties of life, and I hope that, in having them see the normal stresses of being an adult and how it can affect people, they will grow into more empathetic and compassionate people.