Their Feelings Are Their Feelings

Some of the things your kids think are ridiculous–products of their imagination or their fears. Some of the things they like are hilarious and weird–the products of their own uniqueness, products of just not knowing better. Some of the feelings they have are not your fault–again, they have imaginations and fears. Some of their feelings are products of mistakes you’ve made, flaws you have.

But as we’ve talked about here time and again, what you have to figure out is how to respect this. How to understand this. Joan Didion’s daughter struggled to comprehend her adoption, her place in the world. She asked an overwhelming number of questions about it, she had all sorts of angst about what it meant to have been given up, what it meant to not be biologically related, and all the things that kids would struggle to come to terms with about such an emotionally overwhelming part of life. Didion in turn struggled with that struggle, with the fact that she couldn’t just magically make her daughter’s  pain go away. “Since I had no adequate answer to these questions,” she wrote in Blue Nights, “I refused to consider them.”

We wrote recently about an exchange between a mother and a daughter and the mother’s rejection of her daughter’s feelings about her childhood–a refusal to accept that she didn’t have the same fond memories about an experience they had shared. Didion, after she lost her own daughter, came to understand something that we need to understand right now–it doesn’t matter if we have answers to their questions, it doesn’t matter if we agree, all that matters is that they think it. “She considered them,” Didion writes about her daughter’s questions. “She lived with them.”

Their feelings are their feelings. We have to respect that. We have to validate that. We might struggle to resolve or address them…but denying their feelings doesn’t make them go away either. It only compounds the hurt or the fear. It adds resentment and uncertainty on top–a sense that the person they love most in the world doesn’t understand, won’t even try to understand, doubts them, fights with them about it.

And what is worse than that?

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