By Lauren Stephens, Children’s Advocate at Safe Harbor
In the children’s program at the shelter, we recently had two sisters, “Hannah” and “Sarah”, who had come to Safe Harbor with their mother after fleeing a dangerous domestic violence situation in their home. These two girls had not yet been given the opportunity to heal or to fully understand what happened with their father due to other situations that occurred in their transition. These two girls are beautiful examples of the differences that exist within the dynamic of sisters. They look so much alike externally, and even after going through identical traumatic situations, they both have learned to handle this trauma in completely different ways.
One day, Hannah was playing with a Jacob’s Ladder that I have in my office; I have found if you occupy a child’s hands, their ability to feel their emotions expands greatly. As Hannah played with the Jacob’s Ladder, she said, “Can I ask you a question?” I responded, “You can ask me anything you want.” She then replied, with her head low, hands still busy, “Is it okay if I want to cry all the time?” I responded, saying, “It is completely okay to want to cry, and it is okay to cry. Crying is your body’s way of letting something go. The tears you cry is your body’s way of showing you that it is letting go of what makes you sad.”
At that point, she put down the Jacob’s ladder, looked up, tears filled in her eyes, and she cried. I motioned to her mom to let her cry. Hannah cried, wiped her eyes with her arm and looked up at me again. I then asked her, “Do you feel better?” She responded with, “Yeah, I feel better.” Her sister then asked, “But, doesn’t crying make you a baby?” I said, “It absolutely does not make you a baby. Babies cry when they need everything done for them, because babies cannot talk yet.” They both sat in the club chair together in my office, nodding as I talked. I continued, saying, “Do you remember when we talked yesterday about biting?” Both nodded, and Sarah said, “Babies and dogs bite because they cannot talk; big kids can talk so they shouldn’t bite.” Their mom said, “That is exactly correct, Sarah, good job.” I then explained, “Babies cry for everything because they cannot talk. But big kids, teenagers, adults, grandparents…everybody cries when words are not enough to make them feel better. So, it is okay to cry, no matter how young or old you are.”
When a mother seeks services at Safe Harbor, she often wants to know, “Is my child okay?” My answer to them is always the same. “While you are here, you are healing. They are healing, too. You are making sure they are okay.”