I’ve always been a person that is quick to cry. Stuart Shanker and Susan Hopkins taught me that crying is a stress response. This is something that I wish that I knew and understood when I was growing up. Maybe it would have helped me see my own tears differently. At the time, and for many years later, I saw crying as a weakness. I saw it as something to fix. Something to change about me. It’s only recently that I’ve started to wonder if I might have been wrong.
As always, much of my thinking — and change in thinking — comes from watching kids. I cannot tell you the number of times that I’ve said to students before, “Use your words.” I’ve even made the mistake of trying to tell children this when they’ve been in the midst of a meltdown. Live and learn! Now I wait out the tears. I try later to give them the words that maybe they didn’t have before, for if they had the words, wouldn’t they use them? And I attempt to do what my teaching partner, Paula, is so great at doing and works almost immediately: I offer a hug. It never fails to amaze me how even children crying angry tears, often crave the safety and support that comes from that physical touch. Some, even in the midst of heaving sobs, will stop and ask for a hug. No matter what I’m feeling at the time, I will always oblige. It’s incredible how often this hug calms them as well as me.
I share this thinking, as I regularly viewed these crying episodes from kids, as something that I needed to stop as soon as possible. Was this partially due to my own crying experiences? Did I find the need to hide children’s tears as much as I needed to hide my own? Maybe. I’ve worked so hard at trying to control my emotions.
- I pre-plan what I’m going to say to others.
- I have practice conversations with my friends and family members first to try to reduce emotional responses later.
- I anticipate questions and comments, and I think about how I might respond to them.
- I bring along a water bottle, knowing that I can suck back some tears when I feel them coming.
Almost always though, the tears still come. My face gets hot. My chest goes red. I can feel the lump form in my throat. I know. Sometimes I just let them flow. I often try to ignore that they’re there, especially in the midst of the crying. And then when I leave the conversation, I so wish that I could have made it through without the waterworks.
Lately though, I’ve been thinking about my “professional tears.” I realized something important. I cry because I care … A LOT. Almost every emotional response comes because …
- I want more for a child.
- I’m worried about a child.
- I wonder what else we can do to support a child.
Maybe instead of quieting these emotions, I need to embrace them. I still don’t want to become a snivelling mess, but I also don’t want to lose this heart in teaching. Is this what makes me human? Are emotions bad if they keep us focused on what’s important? Growing up with a nonverbal learning disability, I became accustomed to my emotional responses, and as an adult, I know that they continue to be a reality for me. Maybe those few tears though are what makes me “Aviva,” and maybe that’s okay.
There is a book called “which way shall I go”. I bawl every time I read it. Even so, it is so worth reading that I still read it. We can’t deny grief or stress. I love what you said about waiting…then asking for words.
Thanks for sharing this, Eileen! I need to check out this book. I’m curious now. What a great line about not being able to “deny grief or stress.” So true! Why are so many of us conditioned then to reduce or suppress tears?
Oh Aviva, this is a post I can completely relate to! When you wrote “I saw crying as a weakness. I saw it as something to fix. Something to change about me.” I felt like I could have written those words. I cry when I am upset, or angry, or sad. If I’m trying to have a “rational discussion” and my emotion “creeps in”, it chokes the words I have, and it makes the other person I’m speaking to (I’m guessing) feel awkward, or like they’ve “won the debate”, or like my heart trumps my head.
Your “hug response” makes so much sense, although I have to let slip that someone related to our union told us to avoid all physical contact with our students, including zipping up their coats. Needless to say, I had to disagree and ignore that advice. You’re so right that we need time to calm down before we can “use our words” (since that takes a different area of the brain that is simply unreachable at the time of emotional upheaval).
And then there’s a new dimension that I’m becoming more aware of that I really need to address and reflect on – “white women tears”, crying as a female weapon, that tears can be used as a way to shut down conversations or difficult challenges or avoid our culpability and responsibility.
How are you going to embrace these emotions, like you say in your initial post? Because I wouldn’t mind learning how I could too.
Thanks for your comment, Diana, and for sharing your experiences with crying too. I’ve never really seen crying as “winning” before. In fact, I often see it as “losing.” I don’t know if it’s because I’m relating to professional tears here versus personal ones. Would I view it differently, if these personal emotional responses were the focus of my reflection? You’re giving me a lot to think about here.
Embracing these emotions are not easy, and this is some very new thinking for me. Here is what I do know.
1) While I still almost always cry despite many attempts not to, my tears are often more conservative than they were in the past. I can continue with the conversation now, in which I couldn’t have, even just a few years ago. The tears don’t stop the discussion, and this I appreciate.
2) I don’t apologize for crying anymore. I used to, but I realize now why I cry. If it’s a passionate response then I try to remind myself why I’m passionate. I think it’s this passion that makes me, me.
3) Just like I often prepare for a conversation, I often reflect on it afterwards. Instead of just focussing on the tears, I try to focus on the rest of the discussion. What worked? What didn’t? I try not to let the crying be the only focus of my reflection. Not sure if this means that I’m embracing the emotion, or just realizing it that it’s part of who I am.
As for the hugging, I vacillated on including that in this post. I understand that everybody has to do what’s right for him/her. As much as I might offer a hug, I understand those that don’t. That said, I always offer a hug. I might open my arms up in the air, but then I ask if this is what the child wants. I think it’s important to let a child choose. As adults, don’t we sometimes also want to hug?
Thanks for continuing this discussion!
I cry during read aloud all the time! And I often cry during assemblies (Terry Fox!!) It’s always been something that has happened. My students are often in tears with me, especially during a really good book! But if I’m crying the worst thing someone can do is hug me. Then I’ll really cry!!
Thanks for sharing this, Lisa! I love that you also cry with your students. This shows that we all have a variety of emotions. And your comment about hugs makes me think of Self-Reg: what calms one person may dysregulate another. This is another reason that I open my arms and offer a hug, but respect the choice a student makes. A hug isn’t for everyone!
How I love this post… could relate to so much of it. I cried in front of the manager of the early childhood centre where I work a couple of weeks ago and she hugged me and told me not to be ashamed of my tears because they were a sign of my passion and desire to do a great job. I was so relieved and saw my tears in a much more positive light.
Thanks for sharing this story, Christina! I’ve never heard these words before, but I think that they can be so very true. What a wonderful way to support you and your tears at the time. I wonder if this is a message that needs to be shared more widely, for as these comments show, none of us are alone when it comes to crying.
I do notice though that it’s only women, so far, that have shared these stories of crying. What about men? If they don’t cry, then why? There are definitely a lot of very passionate males out there, so I’m curious how they communicate this passion. Are there also women that don’t cry, and why? My curiosity is now peaked on the other side of this topic.
I rarely cried as a child. Unless, of course, there was something truly physically or emotionally painful, for which I am grateful and blessed that there were few incidents in either category during my childhood and youth. Also, I was not prone to tantrums. Until my Dear Mom passed away in May of 2017, I rarely cried as an adult. But, in the days leading to and following her death, I cried almost daily. My Dear Mom’s death left a mom-sized crater in my heart. Her loss was truly devastating. During that year of grieving, I occasionally cried in the presence of one other person, someone with whom I felt emotionally safe and comfortable. My Dear Mom said once that sometimes one simply needs to cry, and without justification. Personally, I find it soothing, cleansing, and a way to re-set my emotions. Personally, I don’t cry when I am angry; rather, I cry in response to deep, emotional pain. A good post. It made me think and reflect. As a result of the loss of my Dear Mom, I now respond differently to the tears of others, including my students. The crying of others really didn’t impact me much prior. But, I do recall an incident, more than ten years ago, at a conference – the NAIS People of Color Conference – in Seattle, WA, where a White woman who I didn’t know reacted to the public berating she received from the presenter by crying. The presenter, who is a person of color – I don’t know whether she is full Black, or biracial – was less than empathetic to this White woman. To my surprise, no White person went over to this White woman to offer support and comfort. As I was getting ready to leave, I stopped and looked at her, and when I saw that nobody was going to offer support, I went over to her, and spoke with her for a few minutes. She was very grateful. I knew I had done the right thing. Her tears truly impacted me.
Thanks for sharing these stories! So very sorry to hear about the passing of your mom. My dad passed away about 1 1/2 years ago, and I know that I cry a little more now because of him. You also bring up a great point about tears and empathy. I wonder how many of us need that human connection when we’re feeling so sad. Does this make both people feel better (even if in different ways)? I tend to cry the most when I’m sad, but sometimes angry. This makes me think about some of Stuart Shanker’s work on emotions, and just how complicated emotions can be. Are sadness and anger connected to some degree? Sometimes I wonder. Thanks for adding to this discussion!
Oh, Aviva. I teared up in the post, and then the responses got me, too.
As a young adult, I sparred verbally with my dad. A lot. And I hated the fact that even when I was desperately trying to be rational, I would go through all those physiological pieces and cry. It was horrendous for him, and it would shut down our attempts to hear one another. I so wish I had had the language to tell him to just ignore the tears, as I am now able to do with my spouse, when the same thing happens. (It helps that my spouse is a brilliant listener).
I’m so glad Diana brought up “white woman tears”. It’s what I always think of in that Jeanne Bekker/Bully Black faceoff on Canada Reads. Having a person I am talking to understand that they are not responsible for my tears, I am, is really important to me…..I will and do, take it to the altar, and my tears are not a sign that I am looking to end the conversation. Please cope and carry on.
Thank you so much. It has to be okay to cry – with each other, I think, even more than with our students. Find your safe humans, and let them be there for you and you for them.
And I so apologize to all the children (including my own) to whom I ever said “don’t cry”. Especially the boys.
Thanks Lisa for such a lovely comment! I couldn’t agree with you more. When I used to get really upset and cry, that was always the end of the conversation. Always. I walked away, someone else walked away, but the talking ended. It doesn’t anymore. I ignore the tears, and often, others do too. Yes, I cry in the workplace, and I’ve probably cried (at least once) in front of every administrator I’ve ever worked with. Some pull out the Kleenex box and gently slide it over. Some ignore them. I think it depends on how all encompassing the tears are, and over the years, I have gotten better overall at making them a little less all encompassing. Maybe I’ve just learned how to self-regulate:
1) How to breathe through the tears.
2) How to take a sip of water because it calms me.
3) How to lower the tone of my voice, as it makes me feel better.
I’ve also learned how to read the adult in front of me. If that person seems empathetic, is still being receptive to the discussion, and isn’t bothered by the tears, I try to convince myself that everything is okay. I’m not always proud of the crying, but I understand that it’s a part of me, and I appreciate how it’s no longer ending conversations.
I feel fortunate to be surrounded by many “safe humans,” who accept me for me, tears and all! In the end, I have to wonder if I’m the one that’s bothered the most by the crying. But I still wouldn’t encourage anyone anymore to hold those tears in, as hiding emotions doesn’t solve problems or change feelings. There’s something to be said for letting them out, and as these comments show, I guess that I’m not alone in doing so.