My Child’s Happiness Is Not My Job
By Katelyn South
You have so many duties when you become a mother, so many you didn’t expect.
But keeping your child happy isn’t one of them.
You think it is. “Well, my child is safe and happy so we’re all good!” And that’s not exactly wrong, but honestly, just keeping them safe is your duty.
But it starts where you may not expect it.
One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing someone tell a child “It’s okay.” Uh, no it isn’t or they wouldn’t be crying! Lol Sure, it’s okay for you. But you aren’t the one experiencing the emotion. You’re an adult who knows the potential long term effects of whatever is going on. So if, as an adult, I get an orange cup when I expected a pink one, I have the capacity to realize it’s not going to affect my drink and I move on with my day. But for a child, that’s more difficult.
So instead of saying “It’s okay!”, I’d offer the cup and if they were upset about it, I’d just say “It sounds like you aren’t ready for this yet, but I’ll set it here for when you are.” and then likely just sit it on the ground next to them or on the coffee table.
Reagan has started to throw the real deal toddler tantrums lately. And one of her biggest triggers is us not wanting to share a drink with her. Sorry, you aren’t sucking down my sweet tea or sipping my coffee. I have no problem telling her that something is mine and not hers or not share something. Typically when I don’t want to share, it just means I gave her one drink and that’s it.
So let’s run through this. I’m drinking my coffee and she comes up to me and says “more?”. I just say “Nope, this is mine. Your water is right there.” Occasionally she doesn’t mind and just goes on with her day. But pretty frequently, this means she walks off crying and flops herself onto the couch or ground. I can try to hand her her water bottle, but she just runs off and cries again. Do I cave and just let her have a drink? No. If you’re going to let them do whatever it is, you have to do it before the fit ever starts, otherwise they know that eventually throwing the fit will get them what they want. But, back to Reagan. So she will cry and run around, making sure we all know she’s upset. I’ll say “I hear you, you wanted a drink. But this is mine and you can’t have a drink right now.” That’s it. She can be mad and upset if she wants. It lasts less than a minute and I don’t get worked up about it.
What’s most important to me, regardless of the reason why she is upset, is that she knows that I am okay with her being upset. It’s okay if she wants to be mad or sad. Those are her feelings. Sometimes I just want to feel my feelings, so she has that right as well. If I’m mad, I need to get over it on my own. I don’t want to be rushed through my feelings and expected to be “fine” and happy when I don’t want to be. I will give my children that same courtesy.
To accomplish this, I don’t distract them. They get the blanket statement of “I hear you, you’re upset. It’s okay if you want to cry.” and then I can go into a bit more detail like “you wanted that toy but sister has it” or “you don’t want to get buckled in your car seat.” But they’re toddlers and don’t need a full essay on why things are the way they are. I keep is short and simple and don’t repeat it. They’re toddlers, but they are still very smart.
Like I mentioned, I don’t distract them. I don’t try to move them from their fit to another activity. I used to rely heavily on redirection in the daycares where I worked, but now it doesn’t make sense. If I was venting to a friend about something and they said “Right, but let’s not talk about it or find a solution, let’s just go look at flowers or get a snack.” I get why redirection is a go-to of caregivers, but that’s just how I feel about it.
So Reagan Alice’s fits are typically obvious to the eye. She wants my drink or to go into a room where she isn’t allowed right then or can’t get all the silverware out of the dishwasher. But my sweet and sassy Hadlee Jane can be upset over seemingly nothing at all. It’s not nothing, to her it’s serious and must be dealt with immediately. But usually, the way she deals with it is to want in my arms and just to cry.
Is that enjoyable? Not necessarily. Does it bother me? Not necessarily. Does it make other people uncomfortable? Absolutely.
Nobody wants to have a baby or toddler crying. You want to fix it, whatever it is, so they’re happy again. I mean, that’s obvious, right?
But sometimes, I, as her mother, cannot fix it.
Like me, she takes her sleep seriously. So whenever she doesn’t get adequate sleep, whether in quality or quantity, she can be a bit cranky. But we still have to carry out our day. I still have to make meals for them, change their diapers, and do chores around the house, but sometimes those activities don’t line up with what she wants to do or had anticipated on. Also, though, she’s just very particular. I’ve used that word to describe her since she was a newborn. She likes things a certain way, for whatever reason, and it’s not things I’m used to, so I’m still learning how to help her handle and cope. She doesn’t like sudden, loud noises. Or just even quieter, strange noises. Small areas with other people are not where she feels most comfortable and she isn’t a real social gal. If she’s feeling well, I honestly think I could see her at bedtimes and meals, but other than that, she just wanders around the house playing by herself, checking in with me just a few times throughout the day.
But, oh, on the days where she isn’t feeling well or is wrestling with some internal struggle.. She is so, so particular and will absolutely let you know. Still, I can confidently say “I hear you, you’re upset.” Then I could add “That surprised you.” when she falls or hears something she doesn’t like. Or I could say “It seems like you’re tired, let’s go night night” if it’s around naptime or bedtime.
Regardless, she gets the same treatment as her sister. I let her feel whatever feelings she needs to feel. We are very alike in that we are more introverted and uncomfortable in new situations. I understand her hesitation in certain areas and can empathize with her. But I don’t tell her to stop crying and try to get her distracted from whatever is happening. Even if I did distract her, those feelings would resurface. If I allow her to work through it on her own, by remaining close and supportive, she knows I trust her to figure it out. She can work back towards her “homeostasis” on her own. And don’t we all need that even as adults? We should to be able to go through something difficult and not need to rely on someone else to make it better or make us happy. We may need support from other people, absolutely, but I don’t think we can put our happiness in someone else’s hands.
Honestly, I could talk about this all day! It may seem silly or inconsequential to some, but it’s really one of the things I feel so strongly about with raising our kiddos. And I don’t mean to imply that I stay grounded and calm all day. I try to keep my “What in the world?!” comments internal, but I’m human and it’s okay for the girls to see that I get flustered or frustrated. But I try to let them know, “Sorry, I got upset” or “I’m not in such a great mood.” so hopefully they’ll know that it’s okay if they’re upset or just not feeling their best one day.
My biggest takeaway is to respect your child enough to let them know they can regulate themselves. They don’t need someone to fix it or make them happy. They should feel confident in having their emotions and expressing them, but also learning how to eventually control them. But that comes with time.. For now, I will ride out the tantrums that come and will continue to let them know that I am on their side through it.
Katie is a wife to her high school sweetheart and a mother to her two sets of twins, all products of science and love. She’s a stay at home mom who loves to learn about child development, binge listen to podcasts, and drink coffee. She writes as DIY therapy at questforafamily.wordpress.com