For the past several months I’ve spent a lot of time grappling with heavy emotions. So of course I’ve coincidentally come across a ton of articles about it, like How to Land Your Kid in Therapy by Lori Gottlieb, and Spoiled Rotten by Elizabeth Kolbert. Both of which talk about how we’re seriously messing up our kids in an effort to make them happy.
It’s not just the articles though, it’s the kids I’m raising, and the friends I have, and the family around me – we all struggle with not being sunshine-gleeful while we ride unicorns over rainbows every damn day of our lives.
I don’t think we’re supposed to. I don’t think it’s natural. Our chemical makeup is sometimes up, sometimes down. And hormones add the dash of crazy that keeps life so spicy. We have instincts for self-protection, and that means that anger, fear, and adrenaline flow through our veins. We’re instinctual creatures, not shiny happy people.
And I think it does a lot of damage in terms of how we raise children now. Parenting culture has us providing a non-stop happy place for our kids. Nothing is ever scary, or dangerous, or even off-limits. And NOTHING is hard, and we’re never forced to do anything we don’t want to. Oh, and – we’re always happy.
Instead of trying to create happiness, we need to accept reality. Some days are good, some are bad. I’ve been a long-time proponent of teaching kids about their feelings and how to deal with them instead of denying what they feel and forcing them to be content. Not only is it OK to not be happy, but it’s OK to be something other.
Of course the moment I see one of my kids feeling down I want to rush in and fix it for him and if I can’t I feel like a failure as a mommy. But I’ve learned that I can’t fix it, and it’s so much more effective to just sit quietly in it with them, and let them talk, or not talk, or go away if they ask me to, and be ready when they decide to come back.
The hardest – but most important – part is to accept whatever they’re feeling openly without labeling it as “bad.” I hope I’m teaching them that a decent friend, and eventually partner, will do the same, and give them the space they need to be who they are.
This is not revolutionary stuff. Humans (specifically, Americans post-1950) have been struggling with it forever. But I’m trying more and more, especially as we enter the teen angst years, to accept whatever my kids are feeling and just say, it’s OK. Feel however you’re gonna feel. Don’t put an expectation on yourself that you should be happy, so that when you’re not, you feel like a failure, and then the shame spiral begins. Just be whatever the hell you are.