We were sitting in my kitchen. Mid-conversation, my friend said something that grabbed me. “You’re only as happy as your saddest child.” I nodded. The statement seemed like it must be true. What mother could be happy if her child wasn’t?
The conversation continued on to other things, but that statement stuck with me. I played it over and over in my head after she left.
Was I destined to always only be as happy as my saddest child? Would my happiness never again be in my control?
What she said had seemed logical at the time. What kind of mother would I be if I could find joy when my child was suffering?
But something about it gnawed at me. It didn’t sit right. At first, I couldn’t quite put my finger on why.
I’m the mom of 7. My kids all have different personalities. Some of them are optimistic and cheerful. Others are moody and see the glass as half empty even on the best of days.
Each of my kids have their own unique gifts and challenges. 5 of my precious kiddos have special needs, which give them additional obstacles to overcome.
Life can be hard enough without losing your hearing at 12 (one of our daughters), losing your first family and moving to a new country with strangers (2 of our kids), losing your hair as a 16 year old girl (another of our daughters) and on and on.
For days after that kitchen conversation, my friend’s words replayed over and over.
At the time, one of our children was especially struggling, so I wondered if I should be as unhappy as he was.
One evening, my husband and I were watching a comedy. I laughed out loud and then felt guilt creeping in. How could I be feeling carefree when one of my kids was in pain?
It took me weeks to sort through all of my thoughts and feelings. And I came to the conclusion that “you’re only as happy as your saddest child” is hogwash!
My happiness is my responsibility. It is not dependent on those around me or even on my circumstances. Of course, it’s easier to feel happy when life is going well.
If all my kids were themselves happy, if they were all making good choices, loving life, surrounded by good friends, not facing hardships that seem unfair and overwhelming, skipping merrily through valleys of unicorns and rainbows, I would feel less worried.
Being less worried would make it easier for me to be happy, but it wouldn’t necessarily guarantee it.
One thought I kept coming back to when I was contemplating this was that if my kids always see an unhappy mom, that will only make them less happy.
One of my jobs as parent is to model positive traits for my children. If I want to teach them that they are responsible for their own happiness, that is something I have to show them.
If I want my kids to be able to find joy in the small blessings despite their circumstances, they are going to need to see a mom who was able to do just that.
Choosing to be unhappy in solidarity with my “saddest child” won’t take their sadness away. In fact, it may compound it. And it places the burden of my happiness onto my child which is too heavy a burden for anyone to carry.
So mama, you are not destined to only be as happy as your saddest child. You are destined to be as happy as you choose to be.
I know that watching your child suffer is painful. It is gut-wrenching. Sometimes the unfairness of it can almost overtake you. But that does not have to rob you of your joy.
When your child sees you finding delight in just being with them, in counting the freckles on their nose, in watching the snow fall together, in snuggling on the couch, in playing a card game, even in the blessing of being able to cry together, they learn to find a bit more joy too.
Your smile is more powerful than your words.
Some days, I get it right. I see the opportunities to infuse joy into my life. I take those and make the best of them.
Other days, I let my circumstances define my mood. I feel held hostage by things out of my control and pity takes up residence in my mind.
I haven’t got this thing all figured out, but I did some math. When considering the amount of kids I have and the challenges they currently face, I also thought about their personalities. Then I factored in future things such as spouses, careers, finances, in-laws, and their own children.
I pretty quickly came to the truth. If I were only as happy as my saddest child, I was never going to be happy again! And that’s not something to strive for.
So mamas, take that burden off. Unpack it, unbuckle it, unzip it, leave it at the door. From now on, choose to be “only as happy as you want to be”.
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