Lately I have been annoyed with myself, and Christmas has highlighted my major issue. Somehow, someway, I decided to be responsible for my children's happiness. I took on the task of ensuring they felt loved, adored and well, happy. This madness reached it's zenith when my three year old son tragically threw himself on the couch and told me, "I don't love you!" because I was nursing his sister and therefore unable to play cars.
It wasn't always like this. When Harry was younger I deliberately didn't play with him all the time. Honestly, I am not a huge fan of playing with my kid. I don't really want to. Now, I do like to do a craft or cook or read, and generally have conversations with him. I don't like to play hot wheels, or super heroes or whatever else he wants me to drop everything for. I used to be really good at saying no, but then. Well then I lost my second son at 20 weeks.
When Teddy died, I gave into this feeling that I had to make Harrison feel loved all the time. I was guilty about how the death of his brother and my ensuing recovery and grief stole me from him. I was determined to make it up to him. I threw myself into making him happy. We played and played, when he was upset we talked it out, we practice positive parenting, we did time ins, I praised him to give him positive attention. It all worked, my son was happy. The transition to a sister was bumpy, but we praised him, and talked about feelings and did time ins and he is happy. Harper is happy. Justin and I are tired.
I recently came across thisblog post by Jen Hatmaker, and the sun shined upon and I was made wise. I can't think of a single time my Mom played with me, or worried about my happiness. She cared for my needs, she cooked, baked, did crafts, watched movies and took me on special trips. She made sure I was loved and cared for, but she didn't manage my happiness.
I wasn't entertained, in fact I was sent off to entertain myself. No way would I tell her I was bored, who knew what gnarly chore I would get stuck with. If I was angry and went to my room to pout, fine, and I better be ready to apologize for my sassy attitude. My Mom was worried about me as an adult. She was trying to feed and clothe me, and she for sure wasn't giving me time ins. In fact, I remember being told to get outside or I would be in trouble. My cousin and I were often told to ask for stuff at the screen and not enter.
If Nicole and I, who are less than a year apart and lived across the street from one another, had a fight no one interfered. We wouldn't have dreamed of telling our Mom's about it. We worked it out. I spent hours playing by myself, welcome to being seven years younger than your siblings, and I had fun. I developed a great imagination, which led to me being an adult who can think outside of the box and problem solve. Oh, and I can imagine how awful something may be and have empathy. I developed a serious book obsession, and grew up to be an English teacher.
The point is, I was and am happy. This is pretty amazing considering some intense family drama that surrounded my childhood. Newly sober Dad reappears at 7 and "surprises" you at your Grandfather's funeral? Check Step-Dad gets so angry that he often screams, yells and throws things? Check. Father and Step-Father are masters in manipulation and emotional abuse? Check. Fear of abandonment? Check. I had issues. Much larger and nastier issues than my kids will, and you know what, I was happy.
My Mom kept a roof over my head, food in my belly, clean clothes on my back and sheets on my bed. I came home to a clean and organized home and I always knew that I was loved. I was safe. There was routine and respect and love. We discussed the big feelings. I can't imagine how hard it was for my Mom to explain the return of a father that I believed was a fairy tale, was back and wanted a relationship with me. She then had to respect my decision and communicate to him that I didn't want said relationship, all while helping my older sister foster and build a relationship. FYI, neither of our choices led to eternal happiness.
Nothing we do leads to eternal happiness. If I become responsible for my kid's happiness than I fail to train up adults who can find happiness in the darkest of circumstances. Yet, society tells me that if I let my kid be bored, I am not a good mom. If I don't play with him, then I am "wasting this fleeting time." If I focus on cleaning my house and getting dinner on the table, then we aren't "making memories." I feel guilty for choosing to sit down, for the first time all day, and read my book. My husband and I have been known to drop what we are doing to ensure my son feels heard and respected. I would have been told to wait respectfully.
After all of this introspective analysis of my parenting style and it's effect on my children's future happiness, also something I am sure my Mother never did, I am ceding the responsibility of my kids happiness to them. I will be responsible for their well-being, health, manners, accepting age appropriate responsibility, and generally not raising them to be annoyingly selfish jerks.
This means that they will be bored and sad. They will have to fix issues themselves, and sometimes the problems will be big and they will really hurt and it will kill me to stand back and see what happens. This means I must provide them with tools towards success instead of running ahead to ensure success.
We have been practicing this new philosophy for a week. My son is still sitting around telling me he is bored and giving me sad eyes. Tonight, while I was making dinner and his Dad was watching the game, he went to his room to pout and came out three times to make sure we knew he was in there pouting. This is a new reality for him, and I feel terrible for changing it. I want to rush in and talk it out and make sure he feels better, but I can't. I am too tired. Just when I thought I would go and check on him, he came running down the hall with his monster truck. He was lost in some grand adventure. He needs me to leave him alone even if he doesn't know it yet, besides, if he needs someone to provide him constant attention and play with him nonstop, he can always go to my Mom. She would move heaven and earth and to make him happy.