Since you didn't have good role modeling, listening compassionately to your children's emotional pain is a skill you'll need to develop with time and practice. If you keep shutting down their feelings, though, you won't have the opportunity to improve. Therefore, you need to recognize your own discomfort but control it so you can focus on them.
As daughters of emotionally absent mothers, dealing with our children's inner world can create anxiety for us. We feel ill-equipped. Their intense negative emotions can make us feel shaky at a time when they need us to be their rocks.
This happened to me recently when my teenage son said that he felt overwhelmed because his new job was nerve-racking. I immediately got anxious with pessimistic thoughts taking over: What if he quits his job because it's too hard? What if he gets fired? What if I have to tell friends and family that he's no longer employed? I'll feel like a failure as a mother!
I went to the same self-absorbed place that my mom always had when I was a kid. She had always focused on how my feelings were upsetting to her, making me feel guilty. I realized at a young age that she was not a safe place to go with any emotion other than the sunny ones. Our relationship, as a result, was superficial and stilted and still is today.
After my initial reaction, though, I recognized that my anxiety was taking over and I started to relax, breath, and listen. I was able to let my son open up about his job frustrations without inserting myself, without lecturing, and without interrupting. I was able to operate out of compassion and not fear.
Bishop T.D. Jakes said: “Be what you are missing to yourself.” I've made these words my mantra as the daughter of an emotionally absent mother. Since I missed out on a close, loving relationship with my mom, I take great care to nurture myself. I spend time in nature, journal every day, practice yoga, meditate, and enjoy a rich spiritual life. By investing in myself, I have the love, patience, and understanding to embrace my children's emotions in all their complexity.
Once you make yourself a priority, you'll have so much more to offer your children. When you're relaxed and at peace, you'll be able to acknowledge their feelings and not dismiss them.