I was watching a documentary about anxiety, and when I heard a parent profiled in the film make this statement, it gave me pause:
I’m only as happy as my unhappiest child.
This got me wondering: Why would we let our own happiness be determined, dictated, or defined by how someone else is feeling? Especially if our end goal is to see our children happy, how would us feeling UNHAPPY until they felt better/happier help them get to happier?
Unhappy + unhappy = double unhappy (with the potential to spawn more babies of unhappiness). They don’t cancel each other out. (Not to mention what lesson they might unwittingly learn — “you can’t be happy if others around you aren’t happy” — not super useful, unless you’re aiming to increase unhappiness in the world.)
I get the painful space: When our kids are going through a tough time, it’s hard to see (and maybe even harder than when we’re going through a challenge). And let’s be clear: We’re not here to push away pain or pretend it’s not happening. No. Pushing, stuffing, and shoving down feelings generally ends poorly. However, as the adults in this equation, part of our job is to set the tone, environment, and energy for our kids and our families. When we’re sitting in unhappiness because they are feeling unhappy, stewing in worry, and bathing ourselves in their down feelings, what do we think trickles out, permeating the air? It’s not the way out of unhappiness.
To help them through the current struggle, what if it’d be more useful if we focused instead on first being happiness possibility models: choosing actions, making decisions, and focusing on thoughts and ideas that gave us more space in the messiness of life (aka more chill/calm/even-keeledness)? While focusing ourselves this way wouldn’t be a magic pill to quickly make things all better (there are no quick fixes or magic pills in life), it wouldn’t add to their pain and stress. Not adding to their pain and stress? Huge. Don’t underestimate the impact. It can allow space for clarity and solutions to come in more easily and change to happen more quickly.
The next time we’ve got an unhappy kid? Skip getting down and dirty in unhappiness ourselves. Instead, let’s practice bringing to mind something that brings us a smile and reminds us of what is going well (and there is always something). Let’s make the deliberate choice to step back from the unstable, knee-jerk cliff of “react now!!” to the more solid ground of “take a moment, chill thyself, and then respond”. Let’s worry less about how to help them and more on getting ourselves into a less stressed and more open space. Then, it’s from this open space that we’ll actually be able to help.