The other night at a much needed girls night out, around the hibatchi grill, one mom brought up this idea that the mother is the center, the glue, the strength of the family. “I don’t know. I cry a lot.” Another friend, mom to a 4-year- old and 9- month- old, responded. “Tears are not weakness.” My own mom answered. Her response stayed with me through the night and over the next several weeks.
I used to think my mother’s tears were weakness. She would cry over movies, cry when she was happy, cry when my dad would lose his cool and unleash the twin dragons of anger and blame. I used to want her to respond with harsh words and a loud voice to my father’s rages. Where was her backbone? Why did she put up with it? I thought then.
After I was married, my husband and I would have some terrible fights. I would match him decibel for decibel, harsh word for harsh word, thinking I was staying strong and standing up for myself, but it never made things better. No one ever won. We both lost. Then, when our kids came along, we were all losing. They were learning to use words as weapons. They were learning that might was right. They were learning the wrong way to express emotion. They were learning that the golden rule was just a saying. We both began to realize that we needed to find ways to fight fairly and to express ourselves better. We are still working on it.
Some days – I still rage, I still yell, I still lose control, but I don’t feel strong; I feel weak, spent, drained, and guilty. I know now that when everyone is yelling, everyone is hurting, and when there is no calm center, there is no strength. I know now that when I lose control and yell at my children and my husband, or throw my son’s plastic piggy bank against the wall, it will take all of my strength to pick up the pieces, to apologize, to try harder next time.
Now I can see the strength in a calm center, the strength in a quiet voice, the strength in a deep breath, the strength in releasing emotion through tears. I can see the ways that my mother’s calmness was the saving grace of our family. I look back on those hard times, and I admire her strength, her ability to stay calm in the face of overwhelming emotion, her ability to keep her voice steady and her soul centered even in the midst of tears.
I want to be that strong for my own children. I want to be the cool cloth that soothes the fever. I want to be the eye in the center of their childhood storms. I want to be the anchor in the raging sea of adolescence that is soon to come.