You’re only as happy as your least happy child

You’re only as happy as your least happy child. Want to know why I hate that phrase? Because it’s true. I don’t know who the F came up with that saying, but damn them because they tapped into one of the absolute worst things about parenting.

Here’s the thing, you pop a baby out your hooha, or someone else’s hooha, or your belly, or the court system, or however you get your little crotchmuffin, and you immediately start making sacrifices. 

I remember all the things I sacrificed in the beginning.

Like when I first had my baby, I didn’t have time to shower anymore. And when I finally did sneak one in, I’d either get interrupted by a crying baby or by the phantom cries of a baby that wasn’t really there. I’d be washing the shampoo out when suddenly, oh crap, do I hear the baby crying? So I’d step out of the water to listen. Nope, nothing. Weiiiirrrd. 

And at dinnertime there was no such thing as eating with two hands anymore. I was either nursing a baby, preparing food for them, or making airplane noises before I had a single bite myself. I mean mayyyybe if my food was a sandwich I could take a bite and chew it while I was feeding the baby. Big maybe. 

Basically I had to take care of this little being 24/7, so everything I did for myself was put on the back burner. You know, that tiny burner on the back of the stove that never gets used unless it’s Thanksgiving and you have to figure out what’s the smallest thing you can heat up there. That was the burner for me. 

But now that my kiddos are getting older, I’ve noticed something. Now I can shower again. Now I can eat with two hands. Now I can go to the bathroom without someone sitting on my lap. Now I can have an uniterrupted conversation with a friend (not often but it did happen once). But I’ve also noticed something else. I’m making a NEW kind of sacrifice now. I am sacrificing my emotions.

I decide how I’m feeling based on how my kids are feeling.

Like when I go to pick up my kiddo after school, I’m praying she’s in a good mood when she jumps in the car. I can literally tell how she’s feeling the second she opens her mouth. Like some days she jumps in the car and is like, “Hi, Mom!” and I can instantly tell she had a great day and I can breathe a sigh of relief and feel happy. But other days she slides into the car and says, “Hi, Mom,” like a deflated balloon letting out its last bit of air, and I’m like oh shit. She’s sad. So I’m sad. It’s like I’m waiting to see how she feels so I can decide how I feel. And that is a terrible kind of sacrifice because like the saying goes, you’re only as happy as your least happy child. 

And that is a sacrifice that is WAYYY worse than not showering every day or eating with two hands.

I’d like to say I have some awesome wisdom that’s going to help me stop doing this. Some magic answer to completely separate my emotions from hers so I can be happy even when she isn’t.

I don’t.

I mean, can I strap a shit-eating grin on my face and try to feel better just by smiling and hopefully my smile will be contagious and she’ll catch it? Yeah, that’s what I usually do. But underneath that shit-eating grin is a mom who’s just pretending. And until I hear her smiling and laughing through her closed bedroom door, I’m walking around feeling bad because that’s how she feels.

So how do I fix this problem?

I don’t know. I’m guessing I just have to wait until I get to a new phase someday where I sacrifice something else for my kiddos. Maybe it’s sleep when they start to drive and I stay up worrying. Maybe it’s money when they go off to college. Maybe it’s not eating with two hands again when they have babies and drop them off at my house so I can babysit. Who knows? 

I’m guessing the sacrifices don’t ever go away. They just change. And we just keep making them because that’s what parenthood is all about. And it’s worth It. Hopefully. Maybe. Definitely. 

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There are 8 comments for this article
  1. Tracy Frederico at 10:27 am

    This is SO very true. I only have one left at home, so as hard as I try not to let her mood affect me, it affects me very much. Add in the fact that my crotchmuffin has an anxiety disorder and it multiplies by 10 on a bad day. The good news is that my oldest has gone off to college and is not one to call me with issues. Either that or she is a Unicorn with the ability to never have a bad day. She chooses to omit the bad stuff and only tell me about the meh or better stuff.

  2. Caroline Godwin at 10:46 am

    This is so very true!!!! And the phantom cries! OMG I had those all the time. Thanks for keeping it real.

  3. Helen at 11:27 am

    I completely understand what you’re going through. I’ve been through many stages with my son since we adopted him at age 5. We had extra challenges with him having ADHD and ODD.

    My son is now 18 and will be going to college soon. He still needs a lot of reminders to eat, wash up or take his meds. But we’re at a point where we need to step back and let him make decisions that may or may not have consequences. Like him not doing laundry will mean he won’t have clean clothes to wear. It’s not easy to step back but it’s something that we need to do if he will be more independent.

    I do miss the simpler times when he was smaller.

  4. Jenn at 11:45 am

    I miss the times when just my presence, my body could sooth him. Nursing him, holding him, folding my whole being around him. Picking him up, singing softly, kiss his forehead, cuddle with him. Holding hands as we walk. We were so connected. I know the pulling away is a natural part of growing up, but it’s hard. And made so much harder when he’s mad, grumpy, sad, etc. Telling me « Mom, stop. You don’t get it »

  5. Cheryl at 12:40 pm

    It’s like I am living your life (well, a very small part of it anyway)! My daughter will be 12 in two months (& I have a 7 yo son)… and everything you write about your tween is so relatable!! Already have your new book in my to-read pile… and love your first two books too! Thank you!!

  6. Wayne at 6:33 am

    My mom used to say “parenting is a series of phases, they keep growing into new ones, and each one is worse than the previous one.”

  7. bruinspin at 10:12 pm

    Mom of four here. This is exactly true! My youngest is now about to turn 30, and the oldest is 38. This still holds true. But to all you younger moms out there, it really does get better. Highs and lows, and they balance each other out. My oldest 2 are the worrisome ones these days, but soon enough the emotional merry-go-round will turn to the other 2! I welcome these days where they turn to us for advise AND LISTEN!!! It’s all good! And better with humor!