Growing up, my parents always made sure that my siblings and I had a safe, non-judgmental place to explore and express our feelings. This was due, largely in part, to my father’s work as a psychologist but also just because they were absolutely amazing. As a young child, an adolescent, and a moody teenager I definitely didn’t appreciate how emotionally open my family was and as an adult, I find myself super ashamed of that fact.
Maybe it’s just in my nature or maybe it’s due to some sort of unconscious rebellion, but I have never been particularly comfortable or good at expressing myself emotionally. While I have no issue showing appreciation and love to those I hold dear, I am often very internal with my feelings, both positive and negative. My Christmas morning excitement, even when huge, is often hidden beneath a small smile. The same way that my everyday fears and anxieties are often masked and handled completely inside my head. These traits are not ones that I am particularly proud of. Especially considering the fact that they have made it hard for others to truly get close to me.
Over time, my family learned to “accept” the fact that I showed my love with small gestures and preferred to receive it the same way. My husband, expressive and amazing as he is, was the first to start truly pulling me out of this. When we met at 19, I wasn’t sure how it was that I, as emotionally incompetent as I felt, had attracted a man who was so open and honest about his feelings. It seemed almost impossible that we could actually be compatible in the grand scheme of things.
My partner and I put a lot of time and effort into the expansion of my emotional vocabulary but it wasn’t until the birth of my son that I realized how much more work needed to be done.
I remember one day, mere months after his birth when my parents were visiting, watching my mother cuddle him in his nursery chair, cooing and talking and expressing how blessed she was to have a grandchild so beautiful. I was suddenly overcome with memories from my own childhood, of both of my parents announcing their love for us unabashedly. Of my father shouting “I love you’s” out of the car window as he dropped us off at school and of my mother requesting that we hold hands while in public well into my teens. As a young girl, already so internal, I found these things embarrassing, but I also came to understand that they shaped me. Not once in my life have I questioned the love my parents felt for me. Their openness and honesty ensured that I felt safe, happy, and secure in my place in the world as their daughter and as my own person.
In that moment, I knew that I wanted the same for my son. I wanted him to always be sure in the knowledge that his parents were there for him, that no matter his worries or fears, we would be there to help him fight on. I also knew that my wishes couldn’t be realized if I couldn’t adequately convey them to him.
My quest to become more emotionally open and vulnerable is far from over. I still have a tendency to internalize feelings that I perceive as “bad” and I still have to remind myself to call up my sister and explicitly tell her how proud I am of her amazing accomplishments. And I won’t lie, it is hard. Reversing a lifetime of set-in behaviors doesn’t happen overnight. But every time I see my son’s eyes light up when I give him a tickle and a declaration of love first thing in the morning I am overcome with joy at how much he has given me and filled with hope that he never has reason to doubt that.