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Sometimes a parent may be feeling sad (for whatever reason) and needs to cry.

Is it harmful, or could it even be good, to cry sometimes in front of your children? What does research say?

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7 Answers 7

up vote 19 down vote accepted

There's a lot of research about fighting in front of your children, but I couldn't find anything particular to crying. I think in general expressing emotions is a good thing. I've even found it useful at times to exaggerate my emotion to kids too young to pick up on subtle facial cues. It helps teach them to act with empathy. For example, a two year-old is less likely to hit you when he clearly sees it makes you sad.

However, there are situations where it's inadvisable, such as:

  • The child lacks the experience to understand the implications. If you're upset because of an argument with your spouse, he won't understand what that means for his own situation.
  • You are "unloading" on your child to help yourself feel better. They lack the emotional capacity to help you bear your burdens. That role should be reserved for your spouse, or if you are single, another adult. "I had a bad day at work, can you leave me alone for a while?" is okay. An hour-long outburst about your boss isn't.
  • You are unable or unwilling to provide an adequate explanation. Without an explanation, kids naturally assume it is their fault, even if you explicitly say otherwise.
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As a child I always found it reassuring to know my parents were mortal and capable of sadness like me. I think something that contributed to my development was when mom and dad would explain what they were crying about when they saw my concern.

It also helps children recognize for themselves when something is making them sad, and that is why they are crying.

http://www.child-encyclopedia.com/pages/PDF/Emotions_ANGmcP.pdf

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I have not found any research on this. However, Mary Beth Sammons has published guidelines for this, a boiled down version of a Circle of Moms online discussion. I don't think it is conclusive or scientific enough, but it's the best I could find.

It is argued that crying could be good; if kids never see you cry they may grow up thinking their own need to cry is unacceptable. However, it is noted that it should be explained to the child that it isn't his/her fault, and meltdowns should always be avoided.

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Parents crying in front of children can serve useful purposes and can encourage teaching moments. If a loved one has passed on, or perhaps something tragic has occurred - or even just a struggle from a hard day, crying not only allows the parent the opportunity to let out some difficult emotions that they may be struggling with - but also allows the child to understand and see that Mom and/or Dad have bad days too - and have to cope with emotions.

An important part of the process is ensuring to explain why you are crying. For example, the child may not understand that crying because you dropped a hammer on your foot is different than crying because of a touching moment in a movie. Allowing them to both see and hear what is happening will help them to relate to others as well.

The only time this could be a more sensitive situation is if the parents are fighting, shouting - or if abuse is happening (verbal, emotional or physical). Crying can lead them to be afraid in this case. Nonetheless, if it occurs, it is even more important to talk to the children and help them understand (in their terms) what it happening.

While I do not have any academic evidence to backup my answer, I am a parent of 4 children and I have been able see my own results. My children are naturally curious as to why I am crying - but they understand once I take a moment to explain.

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I think you shouldn't hide your emotions. Then kids will see that you trust them, that's why you can show your feelings, and they will trust you too.

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a lot of kids feel think that adults/parents never cry, but when they do it makes them scared, they feel like they are not safe. it makes them want to cry too. but as they grow older they will know that parents/ adults really do cry and its ok if they do.

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2  
Welcome to the site Chana! Thanks for your input. Do you have any evidence, study or personal experience to help us understand from where your information stems? –  balanced mama Nov 10 '13 at 23:39

It's a two-year-old question, but a couple of thoughts:

I don't see anything categorically wrong with a parent crying in front of a child ... but I think you need to be careful that you do not burden a child with adult concerns. If grandpa just died, I think it's quite appropriate for parent and child to cry together. We can't hide the fact that grandpa died from the child, nor should we discourage sadness over such an event. But if you're frustrated because you can't pay the credit card bill, I don't think that's something to discuss with a small child. It's your job as a parent to protect them from that sort of thing.

Another issue is what you are teaching your child about how to react to problems. When is it appropriate to cry? If you are in physical pain or someone close has died, crying is appropriate. If you just lost a board game, screaming and crying may not be the example you want to set. And I'm sure some will say I'm being sexist for saying this, but I think that cases where it's appropriate for a man to cry are much more limited than those where a woman can cry.

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"Is it harmful, or could it even be good, to cry sometimes in front of your children?" The OP sounds thoughtful. This answer is not thoughtful: "If you just lost a board game, screaming and crying may not be the example you want to set." It's fairly rude, actually. The OP also asked, "What does research say?" This could be a useful answer if it addressed either of these questions respectfully. Your answer also makes a lot of assumptions. –  anongoodnurse Aug 17 at 17:51
    
"May not be the example you want to set" was a deliberate understatement to make the point. I'm sorry if you're not familiar with this rhetorical technique. Yes, I could have given a less extreme example, but then it might have become debatable. I'm not sure what you meant by "a lot of assumptions". I made statements of opinion about appropriate based on personal experience and my idea of common sense, which I think describes about 80% of the posts on this site. –  Jay Aug 17 at 21:22
    
More than 80% of the opinions stated on this site are thoughtful and polite. Less than 20% are hyperbolic or sarcastic, and I'd guess fewer than 5% are downright rude. And those tend to get downvoted, flagged and commented upon, and ultimately removed. Why do you assume I'm less familiar with literary devices than you are? I assure you, I'm not. That doesn't mean I believe there is never an inappropriate time to use them. –  anongoodnurse Aug 17 at 21:44
    
Well, I don't want to get into an argument. I don't see how my statement could be construed as rude to the poster. I didn't say that THEY were screaming and crying when they lost a board game. That was a hypothetical example. You seem to be taking my hypothetical as an accusation. Is that what you meant by "assumptions", that you think I am assuming that this is how the OP behaves? I don't see how my post could reasonably be interpreted to say that, but if that's how it came across, let me clarify immediately: That was a hypothetical case. I'm not suggesting the OP did anything of the kind. –  Jay Aug 17 at 21:53
    
Why don't you take this to meta? Then the community can weigh in, and you'll hear from more than just me. –  anongoodnurse Aug 17 at 22:21

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