If you were asked to describe what happiness feels like to you, how would you describe it? Is it that wonderful moment of heightened joy when everything you’re experiencing is exciting and good; when your step is light and your buoyant mood moves you to dance or sing? Or is it a more settled, peaceful feeling of contentment? When you perceive that all is good with the world and life couldn’t get much better. Whether it be momentary jubilation or a steady contentedness with yourself and others, happiness is golden.
To be happy is something all of us desire. Each of us wants happiness for ourselves and for our children…and why not, the alternative is far from attractive. Yet happiness can seem an elusive thing; a destination rather than a travelling companion. Being a parent can mean we confuse our happiness with theirs. When they are happy, you are; when your relationship with them is good, then all is well. The trouble is, if your happiness is dependant on them, then the reverse is equally true. If your children are unhappy with either themselves or with you, then you too can be unhappy. Fluctuations in their moods can easily put you on an emotional see-saw that leaves you feeling confused and discontent.
When my children were small and all at home I often counted a good day as: no tantrums and everyone having a sleep after lunch. In one sense it was simple. Yet, my happiness in that moment, was connected to how well my small children behaved. No sleep after lunch was a bad day and I definitely wasn’t a ‘happy Mummy’ come 6 o’clock.
Motherhood in the teen years is a little more complicated. The idealistic notion that my kids are always going to like me and agree with everything I say, has different pitfalls. If you’ve ever known hostility from your child (harsh words, moodiness, slamming of doors) it’s easy to take things personally and so feel very unhappy. I am guilty of looking back at the toddler years as ‘happier times’, wishing I could return. And yet…
Have you ever wondered whether you can be happy in the midst of trials? Is it possible to know contentment whilst life around you is wretched and all you feel like doing is crying? It seems too impossible to be attainable. Surely happiness and sadness can’t coexist. As I have journeyed on the road of motherhood the more I see how these contrasting feelings can mingle. What was once a rigid mindset that believed that all of life had to be hunky-dory for me to say, “I’m happy” has changed into a more flexible outlook, where I can hold in balance the good and the bad; thus appreciating life in all its complexity.
One thing I am learning, is that my happiness is not bound up in my childs love of me. A wise friend once said to me “You don’t need the love of your children to be loved.” Knowing that I am a child of God, loved by him with a love that is unconditional and constant, is the only love I actually need. When I believe this truth and have experienced its reality, then I am free to love others, even when their love is not reciprocated. I can still be happy, knowing that I am loved by God.
I am also learning that I can be personally content, even when the mood of the household is less than favourable or when someone is put out with me. Having an assurance that, ‘It is well with my soul’ helps to still the whirling emotions that quietly suggest, ‘All is not well with me’. (Teenagers have a wonderful ability to clearly point out your own failings while being completely blind to their own. Nevertheless, they desperately need you to be a stable sure adult that, while saddened by their behaviour, is still okay with themselves and others.)
While I cannot claim to always enjoy the journey, I do believe it possible to know contentment and joy in the midst of hardship. Resilience is cultivated when finding this happy balance. And when my kids are hurting and angry with all that is confusing and hard in their own lives, rather than wear their misery as my own, I can do something different. I can pray. Pray to my loving Heavenly Father, who not only loves me unconditionally, but my kids as well. I can be happy knowing that as I entrust my children to him, I no longer need to carry the burden. I rest, content in the knowledge that God’s got this.