Weathering emotions

Just before Christmas, I was describing the present I had gotten for a friend’s son.

“Wait,” she said, “I’m not sure he’ll like that. I want him to be happy.”


Oh, I thought. I reassured her, “I think that he will like this a lot.” and he did.

But… I don’t want my children to be happy.


No, wait. Let’s play with the idea.

Say that your goal is for your child to be happy. You want them to be happy, as much of the time as possible.

Your child will pick up on what you want. Your child wants to interact. Your child loves you. So your child will try to make you happy. Even when they aren’t happy. Then you are in a vicious circle, with you wanting your child to be happy and your child valiantly attempting to be happy or at least act happy whenever you are around until finally they hit the teen years (or possibly age 3) and scream at you, “Go away and leave me alone!” Then they will be sullen and guarded and only show up when they want food, transportation and money.

My goal is NOT for my children to be happy.

Are adults happy all the time? Well, don’t be silly. Of course not.

So why do we want children to be happy all the time?

I want my children to be able to handle the full spectrum of emotions. Happy, sad, grumpy, confused, brave, scared, apathetic, all of them. I want them to be able to name each one and tolerate it. Because my children will be adults and they have to be able to handle all of those emotions. I strongly suspect that they will encounter each and every one….

How do I model this? I tell them how I am feeling AND they don’t have to fix me. My sister died in 2012. I was very sad. I cried a LOT. Sometimes I would be sitting in the kitchen crying and my daughter would wander through the room and stop and hug me. She is not a natural hugger but she knows that I am and that I find it very comforting. She wouldn’t cry with me. She had her own emotions.

I came home from work once and said that I was furious and hurt. Ok, more than once. But once I described a meeting which turned out to have me on the agenda. The other five people knew that and I didn’t. I felt jumped and attacked. It hurt.

My son said, “Five against one?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Then they didn’t have enough people, did they?” He grinned at me and I felt much better. Still mad and hurt, but he was so funny. We went out for pizza because I didn’t want to cook.

Our US Constitution includes the pursuit of happiness. We are free to pursue it all we want. But I don’t ever think we will catch it. We will and we should still have times when we are sad or afraid or feel confused or hurt. I would go to work and tell my nurse, “I am in a really bad mood because something in my family is a mess. My mood is not about anything at work.” She would nod and then through the day I would cheer up, because I had to think about work.

Emotions are like the weather. We don’t control them. My mother died fourteen years ago. I see an ornament on the tree that reminds me of her and I feel sad and miss her. Next morning I change from writing Christmas cards to writing Valentines and I am using a stamp set and stickers and it reminds me of her and I think it’s funny. I am happy then remembering her. Let the emotions come in like the weather: name them, acknowledge them, don’t try to control them, let other people know you are in a storm, accept help, and let them pass. And let your children have their full range of emotions as well.

The photo is me and my younger sister, in 1965.