By Adrienne Buckingham | Posted: Thursday September 21, 2017
Parents! Your boys can’t be happy all the time and that’s OK!
You must feel sad. Human emotion is not capable of being monochromatic; one must accept the full spectrum of brain chemical combos. You cannot feel happy without allowing yourself to feel sadness as well.
Something I found terrifying about motherhood was the unexpected anxiety and despair.
Everyone promised the oxytocin highs, the love, the desire to cuddle and hold, the blind admiration of this human I created. I was not braced for fear of loss, the wild anti-fantasies of freak accidents which might harm my daughter, the sheer exhaustion of caring for a person more than myself, the neglect of my own needs and subsequent suffering.
Youth is idealised in our culture but also we say it’s wasted on the young. We put a huge amount of pressure on our teenagers to do better than we did at the same age. How unfair is that?
Some things are good things: Being fit, having a range of possibilities in the future, parents footing the bill– easy, exhilarating and relaxing.
Some things aren’t: The alarming feeling of having no idea what life is about or how it’s going to unfold– nauseating, exhilarating and terrifying.
In a culture that is obsessed with ‘Happiness’ (note the capital ‘H’), we often forget to allow ourselves to mourn or be bummed or know that our feelings are fleeting. They come, they go. And I think we are forgetting to teach our children these skills of resilience, too.
A member of my antenatal group didn’t like to sing past the first verse of If You’re Happy and You Know It because of the bits about feeling sad and angry. To be fair, it does seem out of place to cheerfully sing about being sad and clapping your hands…but if we are limiting our children’s emotional vocabulary, are we limiting their ability to process emotion?
Another friend’s 21-year-old step-daughter called her from Australia in tears because she wasn’t feeling happy all the time and thought she’s made a mistake in following her career and moving away. She was living the dream but it didn’t feel like a dream. My lovely, sparkly friend replied, “Oh, honey. In real life, you are not supposed to feel happy all the time.”
A simple statement but genius.
Happy all the time? Ridiculous. Why are we so uncomfortable with feeling other things? I blame TV, big-name greeting card companies, and commercial advertising. If we’re not happy, we can certainly spend enough money to become happy, right? What kind of expectations are we putting on our kids and ourselves?
There is a full spectrum of things I want my children to feel: satisfaction, ambition, curiosity, pride, adventure, adoration, gratitude. I want them to be moral creatures and good humans which involves feeling a range of not-so-sought-after emotions like disgust, outrage, betrayal, empathy and a little bit of fear or guilt are not a bad thing either. What is with the happiness obsession?
So how do we build emotional resilience in ourselves and our children?
Adjust your expectations
Some days are easier than others. Fact. I remind your sons of that all the time. A bad day, doesn’t mean a bad life. More poignantly, a bad hour doesn’t have to mean a bad day. We choose how long we dwell and ruminate on the negative. Some days are easier than others makes for a great mantra. A clear minute of repetition is enough to break even the most stubborn rumination. The idea that tomorrow might be better can de-escalate teenage panic immensely (or prepubescent panic or post-menopausal panic).
Allow yourself and your kid to feel sad
If it’s a bad moment, say it. Have a cry. Acknowledge how you feel to yourself and to someone else, just for good measure. Give yourself an appropriate amount of wallowing time and then seek some antidotes in the second half of sad time. For general ‘bummedness’, I think an hour for wallowing, a cry, complaining, or sulking followed by some serious dopamine hit activities stretch is a fair trajectory timespan.
Cure for a glass half empty day? Good music, a trip to the gym, a hot shower, reading a book that doesn’t suck and a quick reminder of three things you’re grateful for. Then go get some fresh air. Note the wallowing and solving definition are not quite equal parts. The Positivity Ratio suggests 3:1 is the minimum.
The grass is greener where you water it.
Remember nothing is forever
Thirdly, know that this too shall pass and pass that message on to your kids. My daughter gets angry, or has a cry and then tells me about it. I could rush around trying to solve it (though often, it has to do with something I did – like say no) or I can listen and validate her feelings and then talk about these feelings as a fleeting part of the human experience.
Sometimes she just needs to be told, “You won’t feel like this forever.”
One of the most alarming things ever to come out of my stepson’s mouth was, “It’ll never be right again.”
As an educator in a country with one of the highest suicide rates for teenage males in the world, I cannot express how much that phrase broke my heart. Of course things can be right again, maybe not the same, but things can feel right again and we need to remind our young men of that too.
Like being a child or a teenager, parenting has some pretty sweet highs and some fairly tragic lows. For everyone. So enjoy the whole ride.
Celebrate the peaks, find solace in the troughs and know you won’t feel like this forever. Take it one minute at a time but keep an eye on the next.