Make Space for Feelings
One evening I was preparing dinner. I was fighting against time as usual as I threw in various ingredients and placed the used dishes into the dishwasher. I was doing a dance of getting the food on the table just in time. I loved the focus and the time constraint. I was happy that this was the only task I had to worry about. Nothing could get in the way until I heard my seven year old daughter, Rihab, stomp her feet and scream out in anguish.
“What’s wrong?” I yell out.
“Haya destroyed my lego castle. I’m so angry. It took me three days to make and she ruined it”. Rihab called out from the bedroom.
Rihab stomped over to the kitchen and tears were flowing out. I could see she was in so much pain. My first instinct was to step in and pacify her emotions. I wanted to say that Haya is only two years old and she didn’t mean to destroy her lego castle. As a Mother, I wanted to shield her from the painful experience of having all her hard work be obliterated into pieces. I embraced Rihab and connected with my inner child. What would I want when I find out my sibling just ruined something I worked so hard on and destroyed all my efforts?
“Rihab, I know you feel angry. It must feel so painful. I know you worked so hard to put that lego castle together and Haya destroyed it in an instant.” I said as I let Rihab’s tears flow on my shoulder.
“I hate her so much. I can’t believe she did that.” Rihab said.
I wanted to jump in and tell her that hate is a strong word. It’s not good to hate your little sister. In the spirit of understanding and making space for her to feel her emotions, I stayed quiet and tuned in.
“I wish she was never born. It was better when I was the only child. You and Baba gave me all the attention and now you have to look after them. Rania is alright but Haya is just so annoying.” Rihab continued to sob.
The words hit my heart. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Maybe now is the time to step in to my classic Motherhood role and fight for my younger kids? I wanted to defend the younger kids and myself. No! I stopped myself.
“Rihab. I’m sorry you feel that way. Is there any way I can help?” I said from a place of compassion.
“I don’t know. This lego set is going to take me a million years now. It’s all messed up. The pieces are all jumbled up. It’s going to take ages.” Rihab said with folded arms.
“Would you like for me to help you rebuild this?” I offered.
“It’s not possible, Mama. I can’t believe Haya did that. I don’t ever want to speak to her again.” Rihab stomped two times.
“What if you bring the lego pieces here in the kitchen? I can help you rebuild it if you want and you can tell me more about how you feel?” I offered Rihab a solution.
Rihab sobbed profusely and brought her lego pieces to the kitchen table. I continued to make dinner and let her talk more about her feelings. As she talked, she started to rebuild the castle and did not ask for my help. At points, I was shocked at what she expressed. I had no idea she was holding so much in her heart. Yet again I wanted to jump in and make her see from my point of view. I honored the voice that had told me to make space for her and stuck it out. I noticed the sobs dimmed and a curious voice emerged.
“Mama, this is actually fun. Rebuilding the castle.” Rihab stated in a more calm tone.
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah. It’s not so bad. It’s about half way done. I’m doing it more quicker than the first time.” Rihab noted.
“Well, that’s great. I’m happy you were able to resolve that all on your own.” I said.
“Yeah. I’m happy too.” Rihab’s scowl had turned into a smile.
“I’m proud of you, Rihab.” I said with a relief.
“Look, Mama. I’m about to be done. Can you help me find a pink block that looks like this one?” Rihab held up a teeny lego piece.
“Sure!” I came over to the kitchen table after I let the dinner simmer. It would be done after five minutes.
As I searched for the pink lego block, I couldn’t help it and asked, “What do you think of Haya?”
“Haya’s OK. She’s annoying but she’s not so bad.” Rihab answered.
My mother heart was relieved to hear that my children will get along. Rihab finished her lego castle and we placed it high up on a shelf to keep it safe from future accidents. I’ll remember this magical connection that happened on a very normal Wednesday. It took a few hours to lean in and listen to Rihab vent about Haya. It was difficult for me at times to hear all the anger. At the same time, I felt happy that she felt safe to share these deep feelings with me. Surprisingly, this action of making space took the least amount of effort. I was not working to guide her or tell her what she should be feeling or how she should be reacting. I was a witness, who honored her emotions, and at certain times reflected what she felt.
Through this experience, I let Rihab know it was OK to feel anger and to express it in a healthy way. I did not know how it would all end. I trusted that she would work it out on her own. Leaning into this trust gave her the resources to trust herself. The other option would have been to dismiss her emotions and to tell her to numb her anger. Be the bigger sister and just understand. That would have been my go-to choice to resolve this situation. I’m grateful that I tried a different way and it resulted in a powerful connection that will have positive results in Rihab’s character development. I’m proud of myself as a Mom just as I am proud of Rihab for feeling through her difficult emotions of anger. It was a team effort of growing together.
How about you? What would you have done in my place? Where can you make a safe space for yourself and others to feel emotions?