Stop Being ONLY as Happy as Your LEAST Happy Child.

I was probably in my mid-thirties the first time I heard, or paid any attention to the oft-used parenting cliche, “You are only as happy as your least happy child.” I remember thinking, YES! Absolutely. I’m so glad it isn’t just me. It is impossible to be happy when your child isn’t. 

More than a decade later, because I have a strong affinity for self-preservation, I call complete bull-shit on that statement. It has failed us as parents and as people, and it fails our kids. While happy is not a goal, and there are many more important things to strive for, it is a by-product of a life well-lived.

It is never healthy to place the responsibility of our happiness in the emotional hands of someone else. It is psych and coaching 101, as it is a set up for a lifelong sense of helplessness and at the very least, intermittent disappointment. You have children, your life changes forever, and your heart is no longer your own. There is no getting around this, but it does not have to, nor should it, preclude the attainment of individual joy.

But, how? It is so easy to fall into the trap of parental martyrdom. Everything is for the kids, and it is selfish to think otherwise. If they are sad or disappointed, I am doing something wrong now, or I did something wrong in their early childhood. I must fix it and in order to do that, I have to sink to their depths. I have five children, and every life has ups and downs. In fact, without the downs, could we even appreciate the ups? If I limit my emotion to that of my least happy or most stressed child in every moment, there is a good chance I would rarely enjoy a great day. I also only have this one life to live, and so, I own my happiness. It is not for rent.

How?

  1. Perspective. When your child is sad or disappointed, take a step back and pretend they are someone else’s kid. Is the problem they are facing still as bad?
  2. Experience. Can you recall a time in your own life when you felt something similar? Did you learn anything?
  3. Silence. Are you able to sit with your child in silence, and rather than try to fix, just be with them in their pain.
  4. Thankfulness. The antidote for most uncomfortable feelings is gratitude. Can you (to yourself, see #3) list all of the wonderful qualities about your child and all the opportunities he or she has now and will have in the future.
  5. Separation. After you demonstrate empathy and validate his or her feelings, move away. Not from home, though I have considered it. Remove yourself from the experience of another person. Do something you enjoy or get back to work.

This may not be easy, but parenting is a journey and these steps are worth practicing. Things don’t change all that much when they leave for college, so even if you were willing to ride someone else’s emotional wave for 18 years, are you willing to ride it for a lifetime? Eventually, you will be swept under. If this feels like bad parenting to you, remember it is compassionate to allow someone to have their own highs and lows without infusing your pain into their experience. Joyful, positive parents create a culture of happiness in a home and a rising tide lifts all ships. Just as it is unhealthy for us to depend on someone else for our happiness, it is a great burden to our children to place our joy on their shoulders. Be there for them, don’t live your life through them.

You may have noticed the acronym PESTS. That was initially unintentional, but when I saw a simple change from “gratitude” to “thankfulness” would make for such a fitting word, I couldn’t help myself. The pests aren’t the kids, not in this case anyway. The PESTS are the sneaky things preventing us from enjoying our life to its fullest. Don’t be as happy as your least happy child, or even as happy as your most happy child. Be as happy as you want to be.

Listen to Karen’s Audible Original, TAKE BACK THE HOUSE — Raising Happy Parents


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Author: Karen Latimer

Dr. Latimer is a Family Physician and Wellness Coach. She helps clients with parenting issues, the challenges of college and young adulthood and issues related to health and habits. Email her at drkarenlatimer@gmail.com to learn more. She is the author of the Audible Original, Take Back the House -- Raising Happy Parents.

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