Unsolicited tears.

Monday, May 16, 2016

This is the face of a mom (and daughter) who'd prefer your unsolicited encouragement before your unsolicited advice. Otherwise, you may receive our gift of tears.
I need your unsolicited encouragement over your unsolicited advice.

That’s what I wish I had said to the man. Why does it always take a week and a half to arrive at what you wish you had said?

It had started like this: my husband, two young children and I had just finished a good, but long, week at a summer family camp - the last installment of our many good, but long, summer activities. I was ready to jump back into the welcoming arms of the school year routine, sleep in my own bed, use my own bathroom, heck, even cook in my own kitchen again.

All the families boarded and were settling into seats on the ferry that would take us back to the mainland. We were all, perhaps, feeling the bittersweetness of leaving such a beloved place of rest where there was limited electricity and no cell phone service - a rare world of stillness and undistracted presence with each other and God. We would try to carry the beauty of that back to the mainland with us, for at least a few hours.

I was exhausted and sitting next to my husband as he held our baby son, our daughter slowly falling asleep between us. I wanted nothing more than to lay my head back and sleep as we traveled back toward home. A family nap time on the ferry sounded like a perfect way to make peace with the end of summer.

A man whose acquaintance I’d made that week smiled as he sat down next to me. His face had a kind but intent look. I smiled at him. And almost immediately I regretted it. I wonder if my smile sometimes makes people too comfortable, as if I am welcoming their presence and their words when all I intend to offer is a bit of kindness and then retreat back to my own thoughts.

“You have just the two kids, right?” he began.

I nodded and out slipped another smile. We took a few moments to make small talk about our families and work situations - he and his wife had two older kids, she worked as a professor at a university, he had run a business from home while caring for their children when they were younger.

“So, I wasn’t sure how to say this, but I have a book I wanted to recommend to you - I’ve written down the title here.” He handed me a slip of paper and continued, “My wife and I noticed that you and your husband are very patient parents - my wife heard you in the bathroom with your daughter the other day. Kids can be very strong willed.”

To be sure, the week was a challenge in many ways. My three year-old, who could get her pre-school degree in negotiating if that were possible, was out of her element in every way. We’d had at least one major meltdown that week that happened right in the middle of camp, in front of all the families gathered together for a picture. There’s nothing like an uncontrollable toddler to boost a mama’s confidence. It had been a week where everything was new: environment, food, people, sleeping arrangements. The children’s program director had been kind enough to acknowledge this fact to the whole group, and encouraged everyone not to fall into the trap of forgetting what so many changes all at once can do to young children, to not judge each other’s parenting. I remember wanting to run up and tackle her with a fellow mama-bear hug. She got it.
And yet, there I was at the end of that wonderful week, staring down at the scribble of a book title that had something to do with controlling the strong-willed child. I was in the middle of the one-sided conversation that most young parents dread: unsolicited parenting advice. It came thinly veiled in the form of a book recommendation sprinkled with a little life experience. I’m not against parenting advice, and I do believe he meant well, but I had not asked for this conversation, I barely knew this man, and I was tired. The worst part? I managed to hold back tears as he gave voice and validation to the doubts that fill my head on a daily basis. We were doing something wrong. We were messing this up.

I’m not usually a weeper, but looking back now, I wish that I had let those tears just flow. Instead, I sat there frozen, smiling, nodding, absorbing his words and sinking into myself. But, if you get my smile, it seems only fair that you get my tears, too. Why didn’t I show him my tears?

I want to model for my daughter and my son this idea that in addition to their smiles, giggles and squeals of delight there is also room for their tears, hurt and frustration. We don’t get to choose when our tears will come, or how the world will receive our tears, but I can’t think of a time when I’ve regretted coming close to my children in the middle of their weeping. After all, this is what God has done for me. Tears don’t drive God away - I am told that he keeps track of all my sorrows, collects all my tears in his bottle, records each one in his book.

A friend was once told that she had the “gift of tears” by a counselor. We still stigmatize crying and weeping in our culture as being symbolic of weakness (I’m always a little bummed when I hear children being told not to cry), but I love the way that this description turns that stigma on its head a bit. I’m often tempted to see tears as getting in the way of a difficult conversation instead of being representative of the deep impact of the conversation on my well-being. They can speak for me, they can help me understand myself, they can force me to admit to how much I may be hurting, as much as I’d like to just let things roll off my back.

Sir, I think I would have said, your ill-timed advice is hurting me. I don’t know you very well, and I know you don’t know me very well, but right now, in the trenches of motherhood, what I need the most from you is your unsolicited encouragement over your unsolicited advice.

Tears usually precede very truth-filled words, and so I wonder if it would have turned out differently that day if I hadn’t been afraid of letting them flow a little bit. If I hadn’t been afraid of making a bit of a scene, of being an adult woman crying tired, unsolicited tears to put a halt to unsolicited advice.

I wonder what might have turned out differently that day if I had received God’s good gift of tears.


  1. Love this.

    Also: that man. Ugh. Why.

    1. Thanks for reading, Suzy. And yes...why?

  2. Love this one! Well written. I cry easily and I try not to reject my you say, they're a gift too.

  3. Thanks so much, Katie! I'm still in a process of working on not rejecting my tears, as you can see. In a world where tears are seen as a weakness, it's hard to shift that paradigm to a place where you can see them as a gift (or even a strength!).

    (P.S. Good to see you on here! Thanks for commenting!)


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