“Don’t cry, you’re not a baby, are you?” These words, possibly not verbatim, were uttered to my child on his second day of preschool/day care here in Eindhoven. BY. A. TEACHER. He revealed this to me on our walk to the park after work today as he mentioned he was sad because mommy and daddy weren’t at preschool with him.
What was supposed to be a casual and exciting conversation about how his day went turned into a counterbalance lesson and comfort and support talk. About how everyone feels sad and sometimes people cry when they’re sad and that’s okay. About how mommy and daddy will always come back for him after preschool. About how sometimes thinking of happy thoughts (like being with mommy and daddy) helps us feel better. About how if a teacher tells him this again that he should say that “daddy said it’s okay to cry.”
It took me a few hours, a bike ride, and a generous slice of cake to get past the anguish and sadness I felt for him. As I mentioned in my last post, the kid is doing heroic things all while trying to evolve and mature. Feelings are powerful, overwhelming, and scary, and being in a completely foreign environment with your primary sources of comfort and security removed only amplifies those feelings. Not that I need to validate what he was feeling in any way, but holy shit of course there would be tears!!
As for the teacher, I’m still livid. If we were back at home I’d be camped out in front of the office overnight, primed for a Wolverine-style discussion with the staff as soon as the clock ticked 8:01. But I’m not at home. I’m in a foreign country where I don’t completely understand the culture, language, teaching methods, or societal norms. So unfortunately I have to settle for damage control which, ultimately, will probably happen more often than being able to change the system. And I know the teacher was trying to comfort a scared and upset child who doesn’t know him/her, doesn’t speak the language, and hasn’t adapted to this new environment. But still, I’m livid.
How many times is this exact same message carried to our children? Suck it up, buttercup. Boys don’t cry. It’s not that bad. It could be worse. Quit being a baby. You’re a big boy now. I’ll give you something to cry about. All of these, all of these are creating unhealthy expectations of emotional control and suppression. Everyone has a right to their own feelings sans judgement from others, especially when they are only three years old. And if there’s one thing I know for a fact, it’s that emotional suppression causes scars and dysfunction that are extremely difficult to overcome and heal.
We can do better. We will do better. And we’ll cry if we want to.