Do you feel like it’s your responsibility to make sure your child is happy all the time? To make sure that they get whatever they want to make them feel happy? To avoid them ever feeling unhappy or disappointed?
Well, it’s time you let yourself off the hook, for your sake and for your child’s.
I once heard a little boy scream at his mom after she said no to a packet of sweets, ‘You don’t care about me being happy! You always make me unhappy!’ She calmly replied, ‘It’s not my job to make you happy, it’s my job to love you and make sure your needs are met. This is not a need, so I’m off the hook’.
She’s so right! Your number one job as a parent is actually just to love your child. And part of that means letting them feel all of the emotions that life has to offer, in the safety of their childhood while they’re loved and protected by you.
Why do we as parents think it’s our job to protect our child from any ‘negative’ feelings?
I’m talking about buying them that ice cream that you just said 2 minutes ago they can’t have because you can’t bear to see the sad look on their face (yup, I’m guilty of this, definitely had a lot of work to do on this one). I’m talking about making their sister share her carefully saved stickers because her sibling is crying over the injustice of not having any stickers themselves (guilty again, I’m ashamed to admit!). I’m talking about buying your daughter a present on your son’s birthday so she doesn’t feel left out (Ok, I haven’t done this). And how about talking the sports coach into including your child in the team because they’ll be so disappointed if they don’t get chosen (never mind the other ten disappointed little souls – your child’s disappointment is so much more important than theirs, right?).
Do you know what happens to children who never experience disappointment? They go on to be narcissistic adults who think that the world owes them happiness. And do you know what happens when real disappointment comes knocking one day? When that girl they like rejects them or their boss tells them they’re useless, and they can’t go home and cry on your shoulder? They hurt people, and bully people, and maybe even do something unthinkable, because they can’t handle these big feelings they’ve never been taught are normal.
So our number one job as a parent, is to love our children by letting them experience all the feelings that life has to offer, including disappointment.
Let them experience it while they’re still young enough to cry and rage and sulk in their room, and then come and get a big hug from you afterwards. Let them experience it while they’re young enough to sit on your lap while hot angry tears stream down their face. Let them understand that those big feelings are a part of life, they’re hard to feel, but they don’t kill you. The world doesn’t end, and once the feelings have passed through you, you can come out the other side just fine and let life go on as normal.
Since I started thinking about this, I’ve been worrying that perhaps there’s not enough disappointment in my children’s lives. To the point where I actually mentally high fived myself the other day when one of them was crying on my shoulder over not getting invited somewhere.. which maybe is taking things a bit far!
But I think you get what I mean – getting your parenting kicks from ‘how many emotions am I letting my child experience’ instead of from ‘how happy is my child’ is an interesting angle on things, and one which I encourage you to try.