We live in a world where the adage “don’t cry over spilled milk” is well-known and religiously lived by. Put on your pretty smile, hold back those tears, and make sure the world knows that your life is perfect. Whether it be Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram we all put forth these beautiful perfect lives for everyone to ooohh and aaahh over while we hide the truth behind closed doors.
We stuff our feelings, and then feel guilty for ever feeling them in the first place. Well I’m here to give you permission to cry over spilled milk, especially when it is the third cup to be spilled during one meal. Sometimes life is hard and the little things are the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Sometimes a good cry, a listening ear, and an understanding shoulder are exactly what we need.
You see I used to be a chronic stuffer of feelings. I was always cheerful. I was fine. Other people mattered. I didn’t. If my husband wanted to take a family trip to Home Depot, but I was exhausted, I put on my smile and gritted my teeth and was miserable for the next two hours. He never knew. He thought I was enjoying it as much as he was. When he wanted to invite friends over at the last-minute instead of telling him “I’ve had a long hard day and don’t want to entertain” I would simply ask “What should I make for dinner?” When people asked me for favors I always said yes, ALWAYS, even if it was terribly inconvenient or completely ruined my plans. I was building up mountains of resentments every time my needs went unmet, and my poor husband had no idea. He was completely blindsided when I would explode once in a blue moon and just overflow with everything that I had been stuffing down for months, including things that weren’t even remotely his fault. Unspoken expectations are premeditated resentments, and boy did I have a lot of them!
As my frustration and complete burnout from the daily duties of being a mom would overwhelm me I would turn inward. I would eat myself up with mom guilt because I shouldn’t feel this way. The world tells us that we chose this and should love every moment because they grow so fast. I love my kids dearly, and I will do anything for them, but I don’t love changing the 6th poopy diaper for the day, wiping up the tenth cup of spilled milk, dealing with the 1-year-old who once again bit his brother, or having to help referee the three thousandth fight. Instead of getting it out and letting it go I was letting it build up into a boiling pit of lava in my gut. Then a simple whine would set me off and I would be roaring at the children that they must hate me to treat me so horribly and shut myself in my room for a few hours.
Stuffing emotions isn’t healthy. It isn’t right. I don’t care what society says. Life is hard, spilled milk sucks, and it’s ok to cry about it! I have made a commitment to myself to be honest. Now this doesn’t mean I whine and complain all the time and turn into a negative Nelly. That isn’t healthy either. What it means is when my husband proposes a family trip to Home Depot I say “Hun I’m really just too tired and need a break right now.” When I’m having a bad day with the kids I talk to my mom or good friends about my frustrations. I attend a weekly women’s group where we focus on how to truly address and heal our feelings as well as just share with each other and get everything out in the open. I’ve attended Emotionally Focused Therapy sessions with my husband so that we could learn to connect intimately about our feelings without feeling threatened or defensive. I’ve started being honest with my kids and calmly telling them how much their actions hurt my feelings and asking them respectfully to do something different. When people at church or the grocery store ask me how I’m feeling instead of saying “Wonderful!” with a huge smile I give myself permission to say “tired, but doing ok.” When a friend asks me to babysit and it’s just not a good day I’ve learned to say “I’m sorry, but I’ve got other plans.”
I’m not perfect, I still catch myself stuffing and then exploding. I’m a work in progress, but that’s ok. I can feel my emotional health getting better. I don’t have anywhere near as many resentments towards my husband or others because I don’t have as many unspoken expectations. I’m learning to let go of the mom guilt over not being perfectly cheerful all the time and accept my own full range of emotions. This gives me the power to be more accepting of the emotions of others, especially my own children. I’m learning to accept and even ask for help BEFORE I get burned out and want to explode.
It’s OK to cry over spilled milk. It’s ok to feel. It’s ok to expect love and understanding when we are struggling. It’s ok to seek out help and support because life is hard. You don’t have to do this alone.
What are you doing to create healthy emotional boundaries in your life? Have you been guilty of chronic emotional stuffing like me? What can we do as a society to make emotions more acceptable?