What To Do If Your Happiness Clashes With Your Child’s Happiness

when your happiness makes your kids unhappyFriends can feel threatened when we start to make new decisions, especially when those decisions are different from their own. That’s tough – uncomfortable, even – but it’s downright easy compared to the feeling that what will make you happy will make the people for whom you’re responsible for unhappy.

What do you do if your happiness seems to be making your kids unhappy?

1. Ask yourself: Is your happiness really making them unhappy? (Probably not.)

I believe that what is good and right, what comes from your gut and not from your ego, cannot prevent someone else from experiencing what is good and right for them.

It might make them uncomfortable. It might force them to adjust. It might put them in a position where they have to take responsibility for their own happiness. But it won’t prevent them from being able to find happiness. That applies to our children as much as it does our spouses, parents, and friends.

For me, this is a good litmus test to see if I’m pursuing sustainable happiness that is in line with my values or chasing a short-term thrill in a desperate attempt to fill a hole (because I’ve gotten them confused).

For example, my son had a few misgivings when we decided to move to Pittsburgh last summer. He wanted to go back to Florida or Iowa, two places that were comfortable to him, and he was certain that he couldn’t be happy in a new school. I was confident, however, that he would be able to adapt and make new friends. Furthermore, I believed that in the long run he’d have even more opportunities for happiness and that we as a family would thrive in Pittsburgh.

We made the move, and he bitched about it for several months afterwards. Now he loves it.

That being said, the kid has had a lot of change in his life over the last couple years. I’m not packing us up and moving to Mexico or traveling around Asia for a year any time soon. As much as I love to travel, I think that dream really could interfere with his ability to feel safe and secure right now.  So we’re staying put at least until he graduates – and I’m confident I can be happy with that.

2. Acknowledge that they’re feeling unhappy – and that it sucks.

What we do affects the people we live with. Part of owning your happiness means taking responsibility for the consequences of it – including the short-term discomfort it might cause other people.

This is one of the reasons happiness takes guts, and one of the biggest things that prevents people from choosing happiness: because it is not always easy to accept the consequences.

It’s not easy to admit that you’re choosing your happiness over their immediate comfort.

It’s not easy to let your kid talk about how hard it is to make new friends. It’s not easy to let your kid say that they wish you were home making dinner instead of out taking a class. It’s not easy, but it is fair and healthy to listen to their feelings.

Resist the urge to tell them that they are choosing to be unhappy. That’s insensitive as hell and not helpful.

Let them feel their feelings.

3. Trust that they will figure it out.

The key to being able to own your happiness is being able to trust that other people are just as capable of figuring out their happiness. It’s an essential element. You can’t own yours while also thinking you have to manage everyone else’s. We’ve only got the internal resources to manage one person’s happiness: if you choose yours, you have to let go of theirs.

That’s not easy when we’re talking about your children. It is, in a sense, our job to help our children find happiness. It’s our job to teach them how to be happy, and it’s our job to put them in situations where they can be happy.

But ultimately, and this is the hardest part of parenting I think, it is up to our children to choose happiness for themselves.

When they are little they do this pretty easily. As they get older, their needs get more complicated and so does their happiness. And this is when it becomes even more important that we show them we have confidence in them.

4. Keep teaching them how to be happy.

I feel like this is a step I’m just starting to figure out for myself. In the past, I’ve tried to talk to my kids about happiness and I’ve tried to model happiness for them, but I haven’t always focused on teaching them the life skills that will help them figure out happiness.

I’m working on that now.

Both of my kids have to do a gratitude practice every night. Emma has a gratitude journal designed for kids, and Devin makes a voice recording on his phone that he emails to himself and me. Devin thinks it’s dumb, but I’ve told him that this is a skill that I believe is important for him to learn. I feel like it’s just as important as teaching him how to make his bed or wash a dish.

There’s a fine line between teaching kids the skills they need to be happy and trying to make them be happy. There’s also a delicate balance between taking care of them and teaching them how to take care of themselves as they get older. We also have to try to juggle taking care of ourselves with taking care of people who really are dependent on us.

That’s a lot of balancing and juggling – and I’m pretty sure I screw it up a lot of the time.

But then there are the days I get it right. There are the days when I see my daughter be compassionate without succumbing to people pleasing. There are the days when I see my son be alone without being lonely. There are the days when I see glimpses of the healthy, whole, happy people they might grow up to be.

And I know that making myself happy is playing a part in that.

Get More Inspiration & Encouragement

Sign up to get my weekly(ish) email with personal stories, practical tips & links to recent blog posts. You'll also have access to exclusive discounts on products & events and a handful of freebies I've made just for you.

I save my best stuff for subscribers! Join us.

Your email will never be sold or shared, because I aspire to not be a jerk.

  1. i remember when my mom went back to school to be a nurse…just as i was entering middle school. oh the wailing i did! but she needed to do it for her and i came to appreciate it. took me a while, but i eventually had downright thrilling happy moments of pure joy as a result of me leaving little surprises for her on test days or during especially stressful times. and no one cheered louder for a graduate than i did for my mom when she walked across the stage to collect her diploma. so yeah, kids don’t know best and are often full of raging hormones / growth spurts. that is why adults make the decisions in the family. i am totally in favor of parents doing what they need to do to be happy, responsible adults, all the while keeping in mind that they are raising kids who need a little help in learning the life skills to cope with situations out of their control.
    hello haha harf’s most recent post: Adventure in Tahn

    • Miss Britt says:

      I remember being really proud of my mom for going back to school – but HATING how much I had to help take care of my brothers. Heh.

  2. Jared says:

    Hey I’m still using the gratitude log via email. Im really starting to be mindful of things throughout the day.

  3. Marta says:

    I was so unhappy – downright miserable – at my old job. I know that taking a new job, my dream job, in Chicago was a big sacrifice for my family. They had to leave the only place they’ve ever known and uproot their lives, leave their work, school, friends, and all the family so I can pursue a job and be happy. But man, it makes me SO happy and I know that in the long run they will all be happy to even if the process has had more than a few stumbling blocks!
    Marta’s most recent post: What?! School Time Already?

    • Miss Britt says:

      It’s tough to ask your family to make sacrifices for you. For me, it triggers all kinds of fears about me being a “bad” person.

      I’m glad you found your dream job. :-)

  4. Megan says:

    Oh, how I can relate to this. I have walked this line many times. But, in the end, I know that if I am happy, my family will ultimately be happier. Cuz if Mama ain’t happy… ;)
    Megan’s most recent post: Baby Shoe

  5. Great, important post I really relate to, with children as well as in relationships with spouses and adults.
    Helene @ French Foodie Baby’s most recent post: Baked eggplant, figs & goat cheese… & the meaning of sharing

  6. Evelyn Lim says:

    I really enjoyed your tip #3. Letting go is not quite as easy. Worse if it concerns our own kids. But I totally agree with you – we need to learn to be responsible for our own happiness and trust that things will work out just fine for them :-)
    Evelyn Lim’s most recent post: How to Stop Money Worship and Create More Wealth

  7. Poppy says:

    As an adult I now respect my mom for trying out new choices, even if they often meant we moved to a new town. I feel so much more well rounded because of that!

« « STOP! 5 Things You Should Know Before You Buy Another Self-Help Book | The Downside of Gratitude » »