217. “I Didn’t Even Cry”

I don’t cry much, even when crying is precisely what I feel like doing. I don’t remember exactly how I learned not to cry when I felt like crying. I remember kids who did cry – especially boys who did cry – being ostracized by peers. I didn’t want that. I think the zeitgeist of the 1950’s also got my parents to discourage their sons from crying, although the ban still hangs in there in many families, and is not limited to boys as much as it used to be.
I think it was my loss. The few times I’ve been able to eke out a few tears, and the even fewer times I’ve really had good cries, I’ve felt cleansed by the experience. There are many ways women are oppressed by our culture, but one way men are oppressed is the ban on male tears. Instead of crying, we hold it in, or use words that may express our pain, anger, or sadness, but imprecisely, and not as effectively.
As I teach young children, I try to counteract this cultural attitude that discourages crying. Occasionally, in a school, I see a child crying, and I give him/her as much support as I can. I try to protect the child from the teasing I remember so well. I try to get her/him to feel good about the tears. When I hear a child say, “…and I didn’t even cry!”, with a proud tone of voice, two of my approaches clash. I want to give the child credit for successfully facing adversity, but I also want to be sure the child knows that crying is often a good way to cope. So I try not to interfere with the pride the child feels, but I also try to leave crying as an option.
There are some children who cry quite a lot. I focus mostly on the opposite extreme, but I know this can be a case of too much of a good thing. I think excessive crying can be detrimental to a child’s emotional health; it’s good to have friends, and too much crying can keep potential friends away.
And if crying accomplishes a child’s goals, perhaps it can become a tool. Some people are able to cry at will, and if the tears work for them, they cry, not as an emotional outlet, but as a means to an end. This can accomplish short-term goals, but in the long run, it can also turn people away.
So we have to think carefully about children’s tears. We have to consider crying case by case: to what degree should we face social reality and help children learn to control their crying? Are tears their way of getting what they want? Some tears, though they can annoy people and turn them away, are often the best way to cope with feelings. And so falls yet another chance to have a rule-of-thumb.

Comments are closed.