The car is our place. Many of our most poignant family memories are set in my blue, messy, high-mileage Toyota Highlander — it is where the magic happens. While in transit, we’ve had seated dance parties, lots of laughs, and our fair share of conflicts.
In a way, my car has become our safe place; we all feel protected in our assigned seats, and something about the comfort of the car — sitting there, staring out the window — allows us to open up and be just a bit more vulnerable.
My oldest daughter, 14, recently started crying in her designated spot, the passenger seat. The cause of the tears escapes me, but the image of her sitting in that seat is glued to my memory. She shrunk down, scooching her bottom to the far end of the seat so that her head was as low as it could possibly be. She pulled up her t-shirt to cover her mouth and leaned against the door.
Even in her safest place, she was doing everything she could to hide her tears. As I looked at her, tears slowly began to form in my eyes. Why in the world does she feel the need to hide her tears and cover her emotions? Where did she learn that tears are to be covered, cries are to be quieted, and sad faces should be hidden from plain view?
I was furious. I vowed from that minute on I would do everything within my power to teach my children that crying — or any emotion — is OK to feel and express. No one has the right to judge your tears, and I will be damned If my daughter feels the need to suppress this most natural, cathartic, and healing act.
Later, I embarked upon what I dubbed “Operation Tears Flow.” I began the conversation when the mood was light — in the car, of course. I pointed out my observations from the previous crying episode, and I questioned why she felt the need to hide her face.
She said she believes crying is a sign of weakness. I did my best to offer an alternate perspective on crying, explaining that it releases toxins from the body and helps with emotional stress. It brings awareness to those around you about your emotional state and allows them to offer you comfort or space. It brings closure: When the tears stop, you feel better and experience a sense of release and serenity.
I continued to drill home these points in the coming weeks. My daughter didn’t necessarily take to my beliefs, but I was doing all I could to provide her with an alternative paradigm.
Fast forward a few months. My younger daughter, age 10, was competing in a soccer tournament. The girls played their butts off in all three games, but were just one goal short of advancing to the finals. The entire weekend was intense — both physically and emotionally — and the team was devastated.
When the girls learned that they were not playing in the championship game, tears flowed uncontrollably. The tears were contagious — it was raw, authentic, I-don’t-have-to-hide-or-explain-my tears-crying at its finest.
My daughter walked over to me with tear-streaked cheeks, and put her arms around me, and I immediately asked her, “Why are you crying?” — I could hardly believe myself. There I was, the creator of Operation Tears Flow, and I was sending the message to my daughter that her tears were unnecessary.
I realized that my initial reaction was selfish — I wasn’t sure how to comfort her in this situation. I was sad and disappointed for her, sure. But this was new territory for me — she’d never been much of a crier, and I wanted to stop the tears because I did not know how to take them away. But then I quickly remembered my oldest daughter, and reminded myself that the tears needed to flow, and that comfort comes in allowing, not stopping, them.
So I embraced my daughter’s tears. And as her tears fell, I took comfort in knowing we were headed straight to our safe place: the Toyota Highlander. The perfect place to continue to fully embrace and accept the experience of a soccer tournament well-played.