My Child Was Unhappy
A great piece from Scary Mommy that got me thinking…
Unhappiness Can Be Contagious
I had a bad week. The kind of week that lands me in my room (several days), behind a closed and locked door, crying while sitting on the floor of my closet so nobody can hear me kind of bad.
Nothing bad happened. I mean really, the kids are healthy, my husband came home each night and we had a much-needed week off from 24 hour calls. It has been sunny and warm and I personally have been very happy. My to-do list grew exponentially shorter and most days I drank my coffee while it was still at least lukewarm (thank you Yeti). We went away this past weekend for 2 nights and enjoyed our time together playing at a hotel and riding in the car. Life was really pretty good.
What Went Wrong?
What went wrong? My child was unhappy this week. Since Monday, Sean has not been acting like himself. He has been moody, cranky, tired looking, aggressive with Owen. He is snapping at me and name-calling and even hitting. The texts I have sent to my husband have been full of confusion and frustration and anger. I have empathized, diverted his attention, I have hugged him more. I have tried reasoning, threatening and I have taken away privileges. I have reminded him of the golden rule and cried in front of him when he hurt my feelings badly enough. I have whispered and yelled (and escalated to screaming like a lunatic). Nothing has gotten through to him.
Now, skipping ahead to Thursday evening, he started a nasty rattling cough. So, the lightbulb moment occurred that he has been coming down with something which in Sean’s case, always guarantees a few days of crazy behavior and general agitation. But sadly, that left me with nearly four full days of almost constant stress and drama.
Science Offers Some Insight
The article above from Scary Mommy was timed perfectly for me this week. The truth of it was staring me in the face (calling me a poop head and crying at the drop of a hat). He was unhappy, so despite my own personal contentment this week, I was unhappy. I have not (so far) wrapped my own happiness around my children. I have not (so far) seen it as my job to make them happy but rather to facilitate a happy and fulfilling life in the ways I can. But here I was, so sad and unhappy and confused and guilty and a million other things because one of my children was unhappy. The other child, he was a doll this week. Extra cute, extra funny, extra entertaining and easy-going. But one of my kids was hurting and therefore, so was I.
Is It Biology?
It’s interesting to me as I watch my husband Matt and his responses to the kids. He cares for them and feels for them whenever they hurt. Matt is far more reasonable and rational than I am and remains level-headed long after I have gone over the cliff of insanity. He empathizes with them and also tries to pave the way for their happiness. But there is a difference in the way that we feel their hurt. He feels sad for them, and does anything he can to ease it. I feel their actual pain. If my son is hurting, my body actually hurts for and with him. Perhaps it’s that whole carry them in my body thing, but it’s real and so is the hurt.
Of course, none of my mom related discoveries or realizations has come without thoughts of my own (amazing) mom. This is why she didn’t sleep well when we were each at college. This is why (at 26 years old) I had to call whenever I drove the 5 hours back to my first home (with my husband) because she couldn’t sleep until she knew we were safe. This is why when one of us is hurting, she still hurts too. It was all beginning to make sense and I felt bad for the times I forgot to call when I arrived safely and got a text at midnight saying “I don’t want to bug you, just making sure you’re home”. Because this apparently never stops! Ever! You feel and worry and your heart breaks along with theirs about a billion times from the day they receive their first immunization until you leave this world.
File all this under the category of things I wish I could have prepared for before my babies were born.
The Silver Lining
The good news is, each time one of them hurts or has a bad week or has their little knee scraped or heart-broken, I get a pretty cool opportunity. I get the chance to prove (repeatedly) that they never have to do this or feel any of this alone. I have witnessed their life in a way only a parent can, and I get to show them day in and day out that I will struggle and cry and worry and laugh and celebrate right there with them.
Getting the messaging right is a work in progress, because as we all know, sometimes when you feel sad or hurt you exhibit anger or frustration. But I can continue to demonstrate to them that even when they’re feeling their worst, their most alone or when they feel utterly broken, there is someone they can count on to feel it with them. It kind of makes feeling only as happy as your most unhappy child almost special in my opinion. In a way, it’s a privilege to be able to be that for them in their life, even if it means a lot of crying on my closet floor (for years and years to come).