As a mental health counselor, I hear a lot about feelings at my job. I don’t always take the time in my regular life to sit with feelings and process them in a way that is meaningful. The other day, I had that opportunity…
Last week I was out all day doing all the things. I was racing around Central planning for John’s 8th birthday, planning for a weekend event, and answering work emails in between. At the end of the day, I was exhausted and my phone was nearly dead. I decided that on my way home, I would stop at a restaurant that I knew would charge my phone, get a quick bite to eat, and read a bit of my book before getting home to the kids.
But, that’s when I got flooded with texts from the kids asking if they could have candy and play Xbox. At first I was irritated. They know the rule on school days and why do I have to micromanage their every move? But then again, who I was to point fingers when I was allowing myself such a moment of solitude, on a school day no less. Eventually, John called me in tears.
“I just feel like today was really hard”
“What was so hard about it?” I said, the irritation right out in front.
“I know, I shouldn’t complain.”
“John, tell me what’s going on.”
His voice was squeaky and filled with tears, “I just have so much work to catch up on and it just feels like a lot. My teacher is trying to squeeze in everything that we missed earlier this month.”
The Hong Kong Education Bureau, under the advice of health experts, recently closed all primary schools to prevent a flu outbreak when there was evidence to suggest it could spread dangerously. The only problem was that they closed school right before Chinese New Year break, which meant the kids were out of school for most of February and they won’t be making the days up.
“Life is just really hard sometimes” he said.
Trying to keep things in perspective in light of all that is happening around the world and realizing that my son’s life is far from truly hard, I decided to acknowledge his feelings. I stayed on the phone with him while he vented his frustrations about having to make up work in second grade. He has always been a worrier and lately he worries about his progress in school.
“Yes. Life IS hard sometimes. Sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it’s really hard.” I paused as I thought about what I’ve asked him to do in the last year; to move across the world and start at a new school, to make new friends and keep the old, to find comfort in a strange and different place. I wondered for a second how deeply aware his statements really were and how maybe they told a bigger story. We hung up and I asked for the bill. About 4 minutes later, he called back.
“Mom, will you stay on the phone with me a bit longer? It feels good to talk.” I listened as I heard him emphasize the word feel and answered, “Yes. Of course, yes.”
I realized something in that moment. He didn’t need solutions from me on how to feel better. He didn’t even need me in the same room. He needed me to sit with his feelings for a moment and acknowledge that even though his life is good, it is still hard sometimes.