The Crying Game: Mommy Tears in Front of the Kids?

And a rock feels no pain. And an island never cries.

-Simon and Garfunkel

The other day I needed to have a big cry – the kind that leaves your nose red and eyes swollen. My mother-in-law, who is 85, is gravely ill in Chicago. We’d just gotten more bad news about her condition.

But could I get it in while the kids were asleep?

It’s a dilemma familiar to many midlife moms, who often face losing the older generation while the younger one is still at home. You need to cry – wail, really – but don’t want to do it around the kids. Then when you’re alone, you’re not in the mood.

Gosh, this is almost as hard as finding time to have sex.

Timing Tears with Small Children

We need to cry. It can be good for your health, even lower blood pressure. Every mom knows how quickly a big wail can heal a child’s boo-boos. I’ve always told my daughters that there’s nothing wrong with crying.

Yet I haven’t shed many tears in front of them. (This does not count crying over sad animal stories on TV. They know I’m a sap, but that’s different.) In the past, it just hasn’t felt right or necessary.

My children were two and five when my father died. They didn’t know him well. For them the hard part was getting a handle on death. If it could happen to Grandpa, what about Mom and Dad?

Sobbing didn’t seem wise in that situation. So I stayed strong, assuring them that Grandpa Mo was fine, eating ice cream in heaven. (This made perfect sense to us and made me feel better too.) Then I tried to cry after they went to bed, though more often I sniffled over sad songs on the way to the school pickup.

Pass the Kleenex

But what suits one stage doesn’t suit another. Now 11 and 14, my girls are old enough to deal with reality. And unlike before, they know this grandparent well. So I’ve kept them informed of Grandma’s condition, which has deteriorated rapidly since she visited us over the holidays (a miracle visit if there ever was one.) When my tsunami of tears hit the other day, it felt right to let them roll, not just for me but for them.

So I sobbed. I wailed. I let it all hang out. They weren’t in the room but knew what had happened when I emerged eyes swollen and blubbery. “We all get to have the feelings we have around here,” I explained. “I’m sad. I love her too.”

You forget sometimes as a mom how great a good cry can be. My sobfest left me feeling more grounded and accepting of our impending loss. The girls took it in stride. So often the things you think will ruffle kids don’t.

And maybe it will even prove beneficial. By expressing my feelings first, perhaps I’ve made it easier for my daughters to deal with theirs when reality hits and Grandma passes away. There’s something to be said for seeing mom cry and then feel better.

There will be more tears in the days to come. That is how it should be. Grieving is a process we need to go through.

As long as I don’t enter the middle school with mascara running down my face, it will be okay.


Do you cry in front of your children? How have you helped them deal with the loss of a grandparent or loved one? Please comment below.


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  • Jan Udlock

    January 25, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    I'm so sorry to hear about your mother-in-law. I think you're wise to share your sad feelings with your family because culturally we aren't good […] Read MoreI'm so sorry to hear about your mother-in-law. I think you're wise to share your sad feelings with your family because culturally we aren't good about handling sad thoughts and feelings. Read Less

    • JenniferHull
      to Jan Udlock

      January 26, 2012 at 1:39 am

      Thanks, Jan. It's nice to be a blogger and be able to put these feelings on paper - very therapeutic! I am working on another […] Read MoreThanks, Jan. It's nice to be a blogger and be able to put these feelings on paper - very therapeutic! I am working on another post on 5 lessons I learned from my mother-in-law about parenting so stay tuned. Read Less

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About Jennifer

A former journalist for The Wall Street Journal and Time, Jennifer is the award-winning author of Beyond One: Growing a Family and Getting a Life and pens the MidAge Mom blog.

She’s profiled exceptional women from the Middle East to Latin America. Widely published, her essays have been included in two anthologies.

Jennifer is also a frequent radio and TV guest. Full Bio

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"Hull is the kind of woman many moms long to be friends with. . ." -The Cleveland Plain Dealer.


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