Your Unhappiest Child
This photo is one of my favorites of E and I ever. We were sitting under a water fall in Jamaica, laughing. I mean absolutely belly laughing ... cold, mountain stream water running down our faces. My kids were right there, watching our joy. They saw it. They felt it. And the truth is, our life as parents in that season wasn't very easy. But this moment? This moment was pure, perfect happiness ...
There is no way to understand or prepare for the way your body changes when there's a new life growing inside of you ... the stretch of your skin, the ache in your bones, the fatigue in your eyes and the yuck in your belly. You can't be ready--no matter how many people warn you--for the complete and profound dependence this little soul has on you. The weight is heavy and there's no way to feel it until it's there, all 7 pounds 10 ounces of warm, sweet, delicious baby. So loved, so wanted, so intense.
As soon as we think we have our nuggets figured out they change. They grow, their needs are different. In those early years, you learn to think on the fly, quickly mastering new skills and then tossing them aside when they no longer work all while you pick up another. Their pace is rapid and your body aches at how fast it's all going.
They learn to roll over, to crawl, to walk, to talk (and scream when they don't have the words) all beautiful milestones serving to help them lay bricks on a path to their independence. We hurt with them when they are hurt, we are sad when they are sad. When they are joyful it's impossible to not be joyful with them.
And then they grow. They grow into pencils and papers and books, and friendships and bullies. They grow into mean girls and cliques and they are cut from teams and the MVP of others. They have favorite teachers and instructors they are tortured by. The days of bounding out of bed to race to the bus are a pleasant memory as you wrestle them from sleep, argue to get them to brush their teeth and maybe take a shower? Or perhaps they still leap out of bed--obsessing over their hair and their clothes-- desperate to fit in or lead the pack. They are unhappy, we are unhappy. They are sad, we are sad. They are angry ... boy do can we do angry.
The physically taxing grind of parenting young children gives way to the mentally exhausting work of parenting big kids. The ones with big problems. The ones with problems we can't solve. The ones that don't get better with time outs or reminders to be kind and follow the rules. The ones that last longer than the tantrum over a peanut butter and jelly sandwich cut in squares instead of triangles. The ones that effect their future and their hopes and dreams. The problems that affect the entire family.
"A mother can only be as happy as her unhappiest child." I don't know who said it, but my goodness does it weigh heavy on my heart.
I have always worn this adage as a crown, my way of living. My children are my heart and soul, they mean the world to me. When my son was struggling, I was struggling. I saw no way to be different.
Until he said to me, "Momma, you can't be the one that makes me happy."
You can't be the one that makes me happy.
What you really said to me the day you said, "You can't be the one who makes me happy." is that "I can't be the one that makes you happy."
When you're struggling and life is side ways, I worry. I obsess. I read every book, search every blog, look for every answer I can. I am distracted and don't sleep. I forget to eat, and when I do ... it's not much. I'm caught in the sticky momma's web of guilt, worry, shame and fear. Guilty you aren't happy. Worried for your future. Ashamed I didn't do enough. Afraid ... afraid of it all. Afraid it will always be this way.
You can't be the one who makes me happy. I can't be the one that makes you happy.
Me suffering with you doesn't help you. Me compromising my health and my moments of happiness does not help you. Me being stuck in guilt, worry, shame and fear doesn't help you.
So what will?
Me leading by example. Me finding my own moments where the sun is shining and my favorite song plays. Me finding my way out of the sticky web of momma's guilt. Me living my life, supporting you, and not descending to where we are both so far under water that neither of us can swim.
Dammit. He's right. I can't.
But I can hold your hand, I can cry with you. I can sit and listen as you sort out life's frustrations. I can be a sounding board in the search for solutions. I can remind you of your goals and call you on your bullshit when it's affecting your happiness.
I can also teach you that happiness is a lofty goal. It's not a destination or an end point. It's not realistic to believe you can achieve happiness and sustain it for life. What you can do ... search for happiness in moments.
When you're driving down the road and your favorite song comes on, the sun shines on your face and you feel--even just for a moment--happy ... soak that in. When you are in the middle of chaos and life isn't going the way you want, but you decide to go for a run and when you're done--even just for a moment--feel the happy.
So while I don't know if I will ever lay down my crown, the one that says I will only be happy if you are, I will try to only wear it sometimes. I will try to remember it's too heavy, it doesn't fit and it definitely doesn't match the life I want.
You can't be the one who makes me happy.
No. But I can show you how it's done. In little moments. One moment at a time. Until you want to follow.
Momma loves you.