Can encouraging emotional intelligence in our sons be as easy as just telling them the truth all the time? It can! First, we have to train ourselves to see what our own truths are. It’s not that hard, you can learn to do it in the space of one breath.
Last month, it was rifle hunting season here in Wisconsin which means I was basically a single mom that week, which is hard. However, I accept that it’s a special week and exceptions should be made to the “We need to share equally in the raising of this child” rule. After all, most of our meat for the year comes from those woods.
If it had been just that one week I could have handled it, but that week came after months of bow hunting season.
The difference between bow season and rifle season is that during bow season, we see Papa after work during the week, at least. Still, it was months of me not having the relief of another parent around most weekends, months of my son not having enough rough-housing time with Papa, months of not enough emotional support for my son and myself. It’s just different when there’s another person in the house. We have more fun, life feels easier.
So, in the middle of the second day of rifle season, my son asked me:
“Why are you grumpy all the time?” Which totally sidelined me, as his innocent questions often do. Luckily it startled my ego just enough that I paused for a long breath and then the truth shone out like a gem, so I grabbed it and eloquently admitted to my son:
“Uhhhh…well, I guess because I need more parenting support and I’m not getting it. It’s hard being the only parent all the time. I know Papa has this special hunting week, but I need more Papa time too, I guess.”
My son digested this information and then we moved on with our day. It might not seem like much, but when this moment is added to all the truthful moments over the course of my son’s childhood, then I will be left with an emotionally intelligent man who is able to identify the real reasons behind his emotions instead of the superficial ones.
The key to this process is giving yourself the space of that breath before you answer and then just say whatever comes to you. Don’t let your inner critic have a chance to moderate anything, just let it out. If I hadn’t taken that moment to think about what I was really angry about, I might have snapped back “Because you don’t pick up your toys!” or “Because you never let me hear myself think!” or “Because you never listen to me!” And I’m so glad I didn’t say any of those.
That would have turned it into a teaching moment of the worst kind. A moment when his worst fears were confirmed: I am so grumpy all the time because he can never do anything right. Which over time would have become so many unnecessary layers of self-hatred for him unpack and clear out later with his therapist.
I’m not perfect and I don’t always remember to take that breath, but I do make it a habit of telling my son the truth about what’s going on. Even when there are other adults who will be offended by what I say. If my brother-in-law tries to manipulate my son into giving him hugs by saying that he won’t ever bring toys over, I pull my son to me and explain that he is being manipulated and that is never ok. Then I tell him why. Because my brother-in-law was manipulated by people when he was little and he thinks that’s how to get people to do what he wants. My brother-in-law was being a jerk, he can deal with it, but my son shouldn’t have to deal with it. The more emotional truths we teach our sons now, the more layers of protection and confidence they will carry out into the world.
So practice more and more just being truthful with your kids, and take that breath before you answer. You don’t have to worry what your kids will think. They aren’t judging you, they’re honestly curious and they love you more than any other person in this world. Being truthful with your kids will give you more healing than you can imagine, even as it prevents them from being injured.
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