Imperfect Mothers

Raising functional families, one mistake at a time

Tears of Change

Finding beauty and meaning in unexpected tears.

Have you ever gotten wonderfully choked up over something your child said or did, whether it was innocent, silly or profound? Of course you have; you’re a parent and this is a fringe benefit of raising kids. It could be as senseless as your son saying, “Mom, this purple yarn reminds me of spaghetti.” Or as stunning as your teen tossing a football into the air while reciting a soliloquy. And then there they are: the unexpected tears.

Stop reading here if you don’t want these lovely moments potentially ruined for you. Continue reading if you want to find even more beauty and truth in them. Here’s what I invite you to do: The next time your child’s words or actions make you tear up spontaneously, think about this: these unexpected tears might be telling you something about where you’ve been and where you are headed.

I came across this idea from a book called Whistling in the Dark by Frederick Buechner. In a chapter called, simply, “Tears” he offers the notion that tears can tell us a lot about ourselves, if we are willing to take notice. Here’s an excerpt:

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Tears: You never know what may cause them. The sight of the Atlantic Ocean can do it, a piece of music, … A pair of someone’s old shoes can do it… a horse cantering across a meadow, the high school basketball team running out onto the gym floor at the start of a game. You can never be sure. But of this you can be sure. Whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.

They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not God is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you have come from and is summoning you to where…you should go to next.

What an interesting concept, even if you don’t believe in God and want to substitute, universe or inner voice. It stopped me in my tracks because just that morning I had a moment of unexpected tears. My daughter Cricket had walked into the kitchen, cutting some paper with her red safety scissors. She said, “Mom, I want to go to St. J’s next year.” And just like that tears came to my eyes.

She went on to say, “All my friends are going there! I’ll miss them if we’re not at school together.”

I thought to myself, Isn’t that something. She’s growing up so fast. I figured that’s why I was crying—that she is able to express her feeling and wants to participate in decision-making. And all this would have been enough. But then Buechner’s book crossed my path, and I took another look at why I had cried so quickly.

The background to this is that my husband and I have been driving ourselves crazy deciding where we should send Cricket for first grade next year. I started researching elementary schools before she was even in preschool. We’ve been talking about the same thing for over a year: should we send her to the local public school? Should we move to a different school district? What about parochial or private? Leading inevitably to the belief that whatever we choose now will shape who she is to become. An awesome, weighty decision.

Or so I thought.

It’s clear to me now that these tears were telling me to slow down and not to try to control things too much. Which, as the quote says is the mystery of where I’ve been—always trying to control my environment and make the most perfect decisions. I’ve since tried to let go and realize that whatever decision we make is not going to make or break her life. It is important, but not so important a decision as to obsess over it. If we make a mistake, it can be unmade. Come to think of it, this type of letting go has been where I’ve been trying to get to for a very long time.

So, if it strikes your fancy, the next time you have those wonderful unexpected tears, think about this: What are they telling you about yourself? Where have you been? Where are you being directed to go?

Andrea Fox is a stay-at-home mother and widely published author of personal essays concerning the challenges and humor of parenting.

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