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Dear Parents, It Is Not Your Job To Keep Your Kids Happy

A few days ago, my mom and I had an interesting conversation. Before I tell you what it was, some background. I have a sister, seven years my junior and therefore, have the twin advantages of getting to be a ‘cool,’ sassy elder sister and a pretty protective mother figure and she the twin disadvantage of having two people ‘mom’ her (almost) all the time. Well, what can I say- timing’s a b*tch and seniority matters! 😉

mother and daughter_New_Love_Times

Image source: Pixabay, under Creative Commons License

Coming back to the conversation, my mom and I were discussing, no prizes for guessing, my sister and a quite recent development in the her behavior. My mom was concerned she remains irritable most times and didn’t know what she could do to help. She told me it wasn’t in her nature to naturally share things and she was worried she was, of late, keeping so much locked inside that it’d hurt her emotional health. I knew mom was right. But I also knew she was wrong. And that’s where it got interesting.

I said something that mom couldn’t register. Not immediately anyway.

“Mom, it isn’t your job to keep her happy,” I said.

And mom’s surprise, nay shock, was evident.

Suggested read: A letter to my daughter, from a father

“What,” she managed after a moment of stunned silence. And I took the chance to explain.

You see- what parents in our world get wrong right from the moment their baby is nestled in their arms to well, forever is feeling responsible for putting a smile on their young one’s face. And here’s the reality check- they don’t have to.

I chose to prove by example. I went back to the times when my sister was just a baby, would cry for nights on an end, and mom would not just hold her through sleep-deprived nights but also feel obligated to stop her incessant crying. It drove her to the brink of insanity and would have well, pushed her off the edge if it hadn’t been for dawns that ceased the music. But boy, did she try HARD! Yes, in big, screaming capitals!

mother and son_New_Love_Times

Image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License

Fast forward to the time when she had to grapple with my sister’s anxiety of joining a school, and her early missives on attachment parenting made her difficult to get through work with thoughts of my sister burning her hours at kindergarten and turning her nose a rich shade of crimson from endless crying racing through her head! Turn the leaf over and an episode when my sister would be scared (chicken that she is) as mom’s trying to ease her fears stares you in the face. Another turn of page, and you ‘d see some other negative emotion being wiped clean so mom could put a grinning picture in its place- just like she’d do with a stain on a wall at home!

While I do not blame her for what she did, I certainly feel the need to point out to the error of subscribing to this model of parenthood. You see, bouncing your baby, rocking her to and fro, singing to her or doing whatever’s in your power to get her to stop crying is alright– except that it isn’t okay if she’s still crying and you feel like a failure. I know this because my sister was a crygizmo! No matter how many times mom fed her, burped her, changed her, played with her, sang to her or did whatever-else-it-takes-to-stop-a-baby-from-crying , my sister wouldn’t stop the tearworks! And that was okay except for the fact that it pained my mom to not be able to comfort her daughter (and that she walked around the house for the first year like a zombie with bloodshot eyes)! But here’s what all parents need to know. The purpose of holding a crying baby isn’t to get the baby to stop crying (it is good if she does) but to be present with your child while she gives an outlet to her suffering. It is to assure her that she isn’t alone and that you shall always BE THERE for her and that she will never have to hesitate in expressing just how she feels.

mother and son_New_Love_Times

Image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License

The same holds throughout life. When your child flunks a paper or gets boo-ed off the stage or is nursing a broken heart, it isn’t your onus to change, with or without your kid’s will, that negative emotional state to a blissful haven. Do not attempt to do that emotional work for them. Yes, you shall feel an overwhelming urge to do it, but do NOT give in.

Here’s why. When you try to fix a problem in your kid’s life by altering how they feel to a state you always want to see them in, you are minimizing their feeling, making them feel ‘unheard’ as well as eliminating all opportunities for them to learn how to deal with the ‘hard’ feelings. For instance, when my sister would return home upset over a quarrel in her circle or just about anything else, my mom would become a one-woman vaudeville show. Humor was a favorite tool in her arsenal and she’d use everything available (sometimes, even costumes and goofy songs) to lift her dampened spirits. It worked well until teenage waltzed in.

Suggested read: I am a working mom but I leave my heart at home

Teenage landed my mom in an impasse. She still swore by the effectivity of her methods and my sister was, well, growing up. So, whenever my mom would try to be the scrappy ‘mamma bear’ who wanted nothing more than to keep her cub happy, my sister would snap. This made my mom think just how ‘unreasonable’ my sister was being when she had done so much to make her happy that she couldn’t not be so while my sister felt like her emotions were unreasonable and turned resentful. This created a deadlock and the frustration, at both ends, almost always ended with a call for third umpire. ME.

I told my sister that I understand how mom’s attempts to fix her cause of stress added to her list of stressors but she needed to understand that she’s a mom and sometimes, she can give in to that bleeding heart syndrome all moms suffer from. She can simply choose to be kinder, gentler and more open to discussing her problems with mom and brainstorming solutions.

To mom, however, I always advised an earnest attempt to try and talk through her problems. To not impose a falsified sense of happiness.

mother and son_New_Love_Times

Image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License

That evening, I decided to unravel the real story behind that abridged advice. I told mom that as parents, we buy into the belief that we are supposed to keep our children happy. We believe that if we don’t, our children’s lives would be fraught with the problems of an unhappy childhood. What we conveniently forget in this twisted cultural imposition is that while it is every bit our moral imperative to create a healthy and happy environment for our kids, it isn’t our onus to change the course of their natural feelings into a desired one!

Suggested read: A letter to my daughter on starting a new life

I told her that all parents in this world need to realize that happiness is so ephemeral, most of us do not know how to get it ourselves, then, why presume we can magically produce it for our kids? The problem with this model of parenthood is denial of feelings that are birthed naturally. The problem is believing that you can alter them or swap them. Of course, a parent’s pathological empathy makes it hard not to try- but that should be a parent’s problem, not their child’s.

A parent should stop trying to make his kids happy. Instead, he should simply choose to BE THERE, no matter how they feel.

I know my mom’s done it for me- and she will get there, with my sister soon!

Featured image source: Google, copyright-free image under Creative Commons License

Article Name
Dear Parents, It Is Not Your Job To Keep Your Kids Happy
Parents should stop trying to put a smile on their kids' faces. Instead, they should just BE THERE for them, no matter how they feel.
Sejal Parikh

Sejal Parikh

"I'm a hurricane of words but YOU can choose the damage I do to you..."