You’re Not Responsible for Your Children’s Happiness
Guess what, mamas? You’re not responsible for your children’s happiness.
I know some of you are nodding furiously in agreement but others of you are requesting that I hand in my attachment parenting membership card. How on earth can a mother like me say that I’m not responsible for my children’s happiness? A mother who values gentle discipline, who lets her children have a say in decisions affecting them, and who doesn’t punish her children is certainly in the business of making her kiddos as happy as possible, right?
Well, to be honest, I once believed that I was responsible for my children’s happiness. When I was a new mom I misunderstood what attachment parenting actually looks like. I thought that I needed to work hard to keep my children happy. Of course, I loved them and wanted to protect them from the world just like any good parent. Unfortunately, I allowed their emotions to affect my own, which was a recipe for burnout as a mom.
I quickly realized that I couldn’t teach my children how to deal with the negative emotions of disappointment, frustration, sadness or anger if I shielded them from those emotions. I’d cripple them emotionally if I over-functioned for them as if their happiness was my responsibility.
Don’t Let Your Child’s Big Feelings Overwhelm You
One reason that some moms are quick to manage their children’s feelings is because children have big, ugly, loud emotions overall frustrations – big and small. It both hurts us and frustrates us as mothers to have to deal with those big feelings day after day.
What our little ones need most from us when they are drowning in big feelings is for us to be calm. When we’re overwhelmed by our children’s emotions we can’t help them out of the rough seas of big feelings. Our children need to know that their emotions are not a threat to us; that we’re bigger than their biggest feelings.
When my oldest son was a toddler and was hurt, sad or angry, I felt those emotions with him. I thought I was being empathic and loving. Instead, I showed him that his emotions were scary and I was hurt, sad or angry, too.
As I said before, I burned out quickly, which led me to take a step back and realize that he could feel things, but I didn’t have to feel them, too.
Support Your Children Without Losing Your Calm
Now, don’t mistake me for being the “shut up and stop crying” type of parent. I’m most definitely not and I’m not advocating for that type of emotional abuse.
I’m talking about something different here. When I say you aren’t responsible for your children’s happiness I mean just that. I don’t mean that you aren’t responsible for being a solid support system.
So, what does that look like?
Let’s look at an example from both the perspective of a mother who feels her child’s happiness is her responsibility and a mother who provides good support for her child’s big feelings without the belief that she is responsible for his happiness. You’ll probably find this scenario quite common.
Your 2.5-year-old wants a particular sippy cup for his drink. The sippy cup is lost, dirty or broken. Your child is upset because his routine is shaken up and his favorite cup is not available. He’s drowning in big feelings over it.
The mother who feels that her child’s happiness is her responsibility might offer her child a sugary snack to make him happy again. She might apologize for the cup being lost, dirty or broken even though it’s not her fault. She might even make an unplanned trip to the store to replace the cup asap. No matter how she reacts, she feels the pressure to make her child happy again. She’ll jump through hoops until he’s happy.
The emotionally mature mother feels for her child. She reflects his feelings by saying in a soothing voice, “I know, buddy. You’re sad because you can’t use your favorite cup.” or “Your favorite cup is missing. That such a bummer.” She’ll hold him if he wants, but she otherwise allows him to feel what he feels.
She doesn’t stop his sadness, but she shows him that she’s not scared of his emotions. As a solid support system in his time of anguish, she shows him that he can survive feelings of hurt, sadness, disappointment and anger. She doesn’t judge him for having negative feelings, but she teaches him that negative feelings are an expected, accepted part of life just as positive feelings are. She lets him do the work to get back to his happy place and guides him as is age appropriate.
It’s okay for your child to have big feelings, whether those feelings are positive or negative. Make your home a place where it’s okay to feel what you feel and express it out loud. However, you don’t have to wallow in negative feelings with your child in order to be supportive and loving.
It’s Okay to be Happy When Others are Not
Many mothers think their children’s happiness is their responsibility because girls socialized are to nurture. There’s nothing wrong with that (and boys should be socialized to nurture, too) but sometimes it turns us into emotional sponges.
It’s okay to be happy when others are not. I didn’t believe that until I was in my mid-20s. In fact, I thought it was a horrible thing to say. In reality, it’s a classic example of putting on your gas mask first so you can help others. If you wallow in negative emotions with those you love, you can’t help them. If feel just as frustrated, sad, hurt or angry as your child you can’t be objective and help them think of solutions.
A supportive but objective mother is far better for your children’s emotional health than a mother who attempts to keep them happy. Free yourself from the pressure of the responsibility of anyone else’s happiness.Free others from the responsibility of your happiness. I promise it’s an amazing way to live.
For more about happiness read my Creating Happiness series and my post on what to do when your husband doesn’t make you happy.
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