You’re Only as Happy as Your Least Happy Child

ScanWhile at coffee with some good girlfriends today, one of them said, “You know you’re only as happy as your most unhappy child”. How true that is.

Living with teenagers, we as parents, are quite often prone to long stretches of unhappiness.  I think it might be some type of tag team effort, because if it isn’t one child, then it’s the other. In our house, its typical teen drama for the most part, but once in a while I have to stop and think about how it felt to be seventeen. Although my memory isn’t that terrific, I do remember thinking that my parents were wrong in that they didn’t know what I was going through or what was best for me. I remember thinking that I was the only one in the world to suffer from a broken heart or a B on a final exam. I remember feeling like no one understood my feelings and that my emotions were much more intense than my parents’ could have ever been. I’ll have to ask my mother, but I’m pretty sure that she would remind me that, as a type-A, first-born, girl child, I was driven, controlling, moody, and thought that I had the answers to every question in the universe. (If I didn’t, I would go look it up and give a report on it later.)

My point is that it’s really difficult for anyone of my generation, or older, to understand the complexities of the emotional world that our children live in today. With all of the constant exposure to social websites, picture sites, and texting, they have to deal with things that didn’t even exist when many of us were their age. And yet, with all of this new-fangled technology have come the age-old practices of humiliating, shaming, and terrorizing. Emotional upheaval at their fingertips for everyone to see.

Sometimes it’s hard to know when your child is having a bad day, or is truly unhappy. So many times we write off their emotional outbursts as “drama”- an overused, but appropriate word. Have kids always been “drama queens” and “kings”? Growing up, I only remember a few kids who were always playing things up for attention. I tried it a couple of times myself, and found very quickly that I wasn’t at all talented as an actress. When our kids tell us their lives “suck”, what does that mean? Is it a temporary situation that will fade away in a day or two? When they tell us that they hate everything in their life does it mean that there is an ongoing problem that they can’t find an answer for? When they tell us that they can’t take “it” (school, friends, parents, etc.) anymore, does it mean that they are emotionally drowning and are asking us for a life-preserver? What it means is that they are frustrated, or angry, or hurt and that they need us to understand, and possibly commiserate. What they do not need, at least immediately, is for us to tell them where they went wrong and how we would fix it. For at least a little while, they need to know that we are human, too, and that we can be unhappy for them. That we love them enough to hurt. Learning to deal with the negative stuff is important, but we need to feel it, too.

After any tragedy, especially those that hit close to home, I think we take stock and promise to love our children harder, spend more time with them, and vow to make each day count. Often that lasts for a few days or weeks until life returns to normal and the same old routines return. We mean well, but we have to work and run our families, so we stop remembering until the next time something horrible happens.

I challenge everyone with children, even if they are only five and stub their little toe, to feel with their children the next time they are unhappy. Close your eyes if you have to, but feel their pain while you wrap your arms around them. Cry a few sympathetic tears and let them know that it hurts you. Hopefully someday, they will hug you back and wipe your tears because they have remembered your compassion.

I’m okay with being unhappy when my child is hurting because it means that they aren’t hurting alone.

And by the way, Mom, you weren’t wrong.