As my 8 year old son was having a massive melt down he screamed at me, “You are supposed to make me happy and you just make me miserable.”
Although this is the moment in time that was critical to a revelation in my parenting, I might need to go back in time about 10 minutes. This interaction paints both my son and I in, well let’s just say, not the most flattering light. I am not proud of it but this is life and it is messy. So here we go.
10 minutes before – I say “Pick up this trail of shoes and socks you left as you came into the door.” (I admit I did not say please and I probably had an already annoyed tone. I am human and this has got to be the 879th time I have said this exact same sentence)
9 minutes – Son rolls his eyes and grunts and he slowly picks up one sock and takes it to the laundry room. He returns and grabs a second sock and heads towards the laundry room. If there were a snail in the room, it would have been moving faster than this child.
8 minutes – I say “Are you serious? One sock at a time? Come on we have to get unpacked and get homework done. Can you just pick it all up at the same time?”
7 minutes – Son screams that it’s so unfair that he always has to clean things up.
6.59 minutes – I shoot lasers out of my eyes and strike him down where he stands. Ok not really. I did however, quickly give him the mom death stare and ask “Are you kidding me? You think it’s unfair that I ask you to pick up your nasty smelly socks because you clean the house all the time? I’m sorry I didn’t realize you were doing all the dishes, laundry, vacuuming, dusting, scrubbing and mopping.”
6 minutes – Son realizes he has entered a battle he cannot win. I can smell his fear but he sees no way of getting himself out, so foolishly he pushes on with his argument about how he always has to do work and never gets to have any fun… ever! We are now two bulls locked in battle about the fairness of life and helping out around the house. His friends don’t have to pick up around the house. Sorry in this house we help each other by taking responsibilities for our own messes. You are so unfair. I know how dare I ask you to pick up your dirty socks. We danced around like this for awhile. Until I suggest just moving on and getting on with homework
3 minutes – It is his turn to shoot lasers from his eyes. How dare I suggest homework. Homework is the worst thing ever. It’s just teachers and moms trying their best to make us mad. Rant rant rant…. and then there it was “You are supposed to make me happy and you just make me miserable.”
Alright, like I said, not the most stellar moment in mommy history. I was snarky and had a rude tone. I made him even more mad and did not help him to decelerate his anger. But once he made this statement I calmed down pretty quick. I sat down at our table probably crossed my arms and legs and still looked ticked off “Excuse me? What do you think my job is?”
He said “You are a teacher.”
“ No son, as a mother, what do you think my job is?”
“I don’t know, to feed us, take care of us and make us happy.”
I was quiet for a while. I really wanted to think through my response to him. This idea that I was supposed to make him happy hit me and made me think. My quiet reserve made him nervous. He was probably happier when I was yelling. My really good and creative punishments come when I am calm, and this outburst, like the rest, would not come without consequence. He knew that. But there was something more important at hand than a consequence for rude unacceptable behavior.
I started to explain to him about how I see my job as a mother. True I provide food, a comfortable place to sleep and appropriate clothing. I will try my best to keep them safe but even that is an impossible task. There will always be bumps and bruises that I cannot prevent. I give them access to an education by making sure they are at school on time each day and brought home at the end of school. I have to teach them, to the best of my abilities, how to be a good person. I want them to care about this world and the people in it. But no… happiness is not on my list of things I have to do as a mother. Happiness is a choice they have to make as an individual. I can not make any of my children happy.
He was taken a back. He didn’t know how to react. I just told him I can’t make him happy but to him, my entire life is based on making my children happy. He didn’t know what to say. He flopped down at the table, had a snack and eventually did his homework and didn’t say much to me for a long time. At bedtime he asked me, “If you don’t want to make me happy why do you do so much fun stuff for us?” This is a great question. This also, by the way, paints the true picture of my son. He is a loving and caring boy who I absolutely adore. The boy and the mom in the above ten minute scenario are the hulked out versions of ourselves.
Here comes the real important stuff. I love making people happy. Nothing brings me more joy in this world than to see my kids happy, but it is not my job. In fact there is nothing I can do to control it. Just like adults have to make choices with our emotions, so do these little people that we are raising. That responsibility of happiness lies with them. I can guide them when I fell they are making some choices that don’t seem to be working out but I can not make them happy. How they choose to emotionally engage in a situation is up to them.
Let me give you this example, and trust me I have hundreds of stories just like this one. On Mother’s day we went to the flower fields in Carlsbad. Two of my children were lovely the whole time. For the first hour one child was whining and fussing about how hot it was an actually started to rip his clothes off in the middle of the fields to cool off. The second half of the afternoon another decided to be miserable because we didn’t do exactly what he wanted to do when he wanted to do it. I know, life is tough. I gave my children and opportunity to enjoy themselves and engage in an interesting activity and celebrate Mother’s day with me and their grandmothers. Two took advantage of that and had a lovely day and we have fun pictures to look back on. Two decided to not engage in this activity in the same way. They may not have fond memories of that day and in most of the pictures we have they look miserable. The activity and the opportunity for happiness was given to all four of my kids. How they chose to react is their own choice and they made their own days.
Ever seen a frustrated mom at Disneyland screaming at their kid that they paid hundreds of dollars to come the least they could do is try to have a good time? Maybe you were at the beach and you saw a parent speaking loudly that this is supposed to be a family day and their bad attitude is ruining it? How about simply playing at the park and dad says I brought you here to have fun and play and you are just throwing a fit? Yeah any one of those scenarios could have been my family. But let me tell you that when I realized that it is not my job to make them happy it was a freeing moment. Because my happiness also does not depend on them. I could let 50% of my kids throwing nasty fits and being snarky on Mother’s Day ruin it for me or I could enjoy my day. The choice is mine.
I do a lot of fun things with my kids because I want to give them the opportunity to explore their world and engage positively with it. I often exhaust myself with trying to do the right thing for them and give them these chances to enjoy life. But when they choose to not take part in the fun it is not my fault. I do not take temper tantrums personally. It is not because I have failed them as a parent. It’s because they are in a bad mood and they are choosing the remain that way. All I can do is do my best to teach them right from wrong, to keep them healthy, feed and clothed, and educate them about the world around us. Happiness is a wonderful bonus, but it is not my job.