My friend Heather talks a lot about her heart gut.

Maybe it’s because I have so much in common with Heather that I know exactly what she’s talking about when she speaks of her heart gut or maybe it’s something we all understand but on very different levels.

The author of one of my favorite books speaks of a heart gut in much more clinical terms (he’s a Harvard psychology professor) but it’s the same idea. And he says that one of the worst things we can do as parents is undermine a child’s heart gut.

It is natural as parents to want to protect our kids from the ugly and the sad and the scary. But there are also ways to explain the ugly, sad and scary in a way that will not only develop their compassion and understanding, but also develop their heart gut.

Addie has a well formed heart gut. Whether it’s from being trapped inside my broken body at such an awful time or being with me through every treacherous step of my depression, the little kid is smart and in tune with what’s going on around her. The last few weeks have been no exception.

I have cried over the past few weeks. A lot.

Out of frustration, exhaustion, happiness and sometimes simply because it just seems like the only thing left to do.

Of course Addie asks why I’m crying, and while it’s tempting to hide and say that I’m not, I’m just going to the bathroom for a really long time or I have something in my eye…I don’t. I tell her why I’m crying. I explain to her the difference between a sad cry and a happy cry. And most of all I tell her it’s okay to cry, and that there are times when you are so tired it really is the only thing left to do short of pass out.

There have been times in our marriage that Cody has been tending to me when I’m not at my best. Addie comes in and asks what’s wrong. Cody will tell her “nothing” or “mom’s fine” and ask her to go out and play. He’s only trying to protect her from the scary and sad. Addie always catches my eye before leaving the room and gives me this look like “I know you’re not fine and I love you very very much but I’m going to listen to dad.” I always attempt a smile at her, or at least give her a look to acknowledge that her heart gut is right and to never stop trusting it.

Slip n' Slide

And even more importantly, that I will be okay. Promise.

Do you listen to your heart gut? Do you encourage your kids to do the same?


  1. I love you (and Heather) and I believe so strongly in that heart-gut. I love that you are an example of the kind of parent I should be. I have hidden my tears before and know I shouldn’t – This reminds me why. Addie’s smile – her heart gut – right there on her face? THAT is why…. thank you. xoox

  2. PB and Jazz says:

    I do listen to my heart gut. My kids do too, especially my daughter. In my house, I have a rule. You may not say there is nothing wrong if there is but you may say, “I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

    My kids are older so I do try to give a one word answer to the feeling I am having and allow them to hug me. Especially my boys, they are 19 and 17, I figure it is good training for later.

  3. LOVE this post. Thanks so much for sharing it! My kids heart guts got wrenched out of their chests when my husband died when they were itty bitty little munchkins who should not have had to experience such pain. I can honestly give thanks for that now because it instilled a compassion and empathy in them that nothing else could have. Some day Addie will thank you dearly for teaching her that emotions are ok and that expressing them is the healthiest thing there is. Thanks for being such a great mom!

  4. Absolutely. And I am so glad you do.

    Growing up, it was not like that for me. I don’t want my kids to have to learn late.

  5. Amazing. Wise. You are teaching her not to be afraid of emotions, whether good or bad.

  6. I don’t listen to my heart gut often enough – too often, I question it and doubt it and dismiss its messages to me. Thank you for instilling this skill in Addie. <3

  7. I’m having a dark time, and that picture of Addie reminded me of joy. Thank you.

  8. Beautifully and honestly written, this is a very powerful message. I know this must help lots of people. We shouldn’t have to hide when something inside us, something intangible, if stretched beyond our capacity.

    Love to you and Addie and your whole lovely family.

  9. Such a wise post. I don’t have children yet, but the future hubby and I were talking about this just the other day. (not as eloquently as you…but yes)

    Kids know when something’s wrong. When we tell them that the feeling that they’re having isn’t what they thought it was, I feel like, in a sense, we are continually telling them not to trust the feelings that they’re having as being real.

  10. Emily P says:

    This was such a beautiful and sweet post. I want to save this and reread to remind myself to be open and honest with my kids and not shut them down.
    I think kids are extremely intuitive and that’s a great quality that should be encouraged not discouraged
    This post was wonderful, and honestly made me cry to read 🙂

  11. Hmmmm, well, I am a cryer. It’s just my nature to cry. When I’m happy. When I’m sad. I try not to do it too often in front of my kiddos as I don’t want to confuse him.

    But he’s of the age now that he knows something is off with me and will come running to my aid. He’s always been a little more sensitive. I can just feel it.

    I think it is so important to remind kids that it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to FEEL! And not to wish their feelings away or ask them to stop feeling because that does not validate them as a human being. And we all want to be validated, don’t we? Even if we’re 3-years-old.

  12. Empathy is becoming more and more rare. It’s up to us as parents of the children to whom it comes naturally to foster it.

    mrshiggison Reply:

    @SciFi Dad, I completely agree with this statement. Empathy IS becoming rare. Well said.

  13. She has such a sparkle. (So you do.)

  14. J from Ireland says:

    LOve and hugs to you. You have me crying again with your words.

  15. My son is only 2 and he is very receptive to my moods. Some days I can only do one thing and that’s to cry. My son always rushes to my rescue. I lie and tell him my back is sore or something like that. But I think they know.
    Sending you love and hugs and tissues and a shoulder to lean on if you need it.
    Much love.

  16. I’m sitting here crying at my desk at work reading this. My 9yr old and I have that same eye contact at points, and I hope she knows I too will be ok. Thank you Casey for another beautiful post. Xoxo

  17. I get the feeling that Addie is going to grow into the very self same kind of special person her Mom is – my Heart Gut tells me so.

  18. mrshiggison says:

    I just love this.
    My oldest daughter is the same- so very sensitive to what is actually happening around her, wanting to make it right again. You’re right, my instinct is to fib & say it’s fine. But since I know she knows it’s not, and since I want to raise the compassionate girl she really wants to be, I give her the hard of it in a soft way. I think she takes the truth better anyway, it makes her less nervous. And that makes me so proud.

  19. Great post! I have the same connection with my now 12 year old and while I am always open and honest with him, it can be hard to find kid words for adult situations and kids don’t need to know ALL of the details of the adult situation. I do answer every question that he asks me, and as he is getting older, and his questions are requiring more detail, it is hard to find the balance of what I want him to know about my inner issues/struggles or what ever issue us at hand, and what he should know, given that he is a 12 year old boy. I grew up with no info, knowledge or dialogue and I want to be sure he doesn’t grow up the same, but at the same time, there is a thing as “too much”.

  20. My three year old came in to find me crying a few days ago. Now, I’m a crier. I cry at Sears commercials. I cry when I’m happy or sad or frustrated or tired. But my little girl came in, saw me crying, hugged me tight, patted my back and said “It’s okay Mommy, I miss my brothers too.”

    She was spot on. I was crying because there was no adoption progress and I was tired of having an empty bedroom where two little boys should be sleeping.

    I trust my instincts wholly and I hope my daughters will grow up to do the same.

  21. I love this so much.

  22. “This too shall pass” = the one [true] hope and help for your heart gut.

  23. Adore both you and Heather and hoping your hearts and guts are safe and sound and feeling loved and supported.

    Imagine how empathetic and intuitive Addie is already and is going to be. I think those are wonderful gifts for her to have.
    — Katherine

  24. Yes. I do. For about the last year or so, I’ve been working on that for myself. Over time, I think, I’d turned into an automaton. Then, I tried NOT to be one – and was flummoxed by depression. I’m working on it. The only thing I tend to hide is true anger from the kids. I tell them I’m mad, leave to cool off, and come back when I can talk it out with them without saying/acting in a way that’s not healthy for them. I have cried in front of them. I’ve cared for my husband, and vice versa, in front of them. We try to be matter of fact when something’s not “pretty.” The simplest way I’ve been able to explain the stuff of life with them is, “it sucks, and that’s ok.” Sometimes, that’s simply all I can manage. It helps, though, that I have a kid with mental illness. We’re forced to teach him these things specifically. But it’s working. Recently, I was crying while making dinner, and my son saw me. “Are you just DONE mom?” “Yep, I’m just DONE with today.” And he got it.

  25. Melissa says:

    I gotta trust it. My kid has seen me cry more than she should and the peeps around me might tell me I shouldn’t let her see it, I think it helps her understand…

  26. You know I try. I’m so grateful for my heart gut. And for you.
    It’s true. Sometimes all there is left to do is to cry. And I love how you talk to Addie about it. I love that she’ll know it’s really good to have a heart gut and to be honest about it. You’re a good mom, my friend.

  27. We’re all over the heart gut, here. Unfortunately, it’s hard to remember lately that it’s okay to cry (if you want to), when crying has become such a routine arguing tactic. Dramatic almost-five-year olds. I tell ya.

  28. I love this post so much; it brought me to tears because I can truly relate to it. I am an emotional struggling single mom and my daughter has a wonderful heart-gut. She has seen me cry way too much and she always tries to comfort me on my down days. I have cried many tears locked in the bathroom or our small apartment, and she always knows when something is wrong, since we NEVER close that door. She is always the one that is first to tell me she loves me and looks at me with those beautiful eyes and say “it will be okay mommy”. I feel like I have taught her well when it comes to being considerate of other people’s emotions. She has a huge heart and is always very concerned of others feelings, just like me.
    Thank you for this post. I very much listen to my heart-gut. Thank you for being you and for your posts that I can relate to so much, it helps.