My daughter asks me this question at least once a day if not 20 times a day. “Mommy, are you happy?” I blame the Trolls movie. Poppy’s pink hair perfectly bouncing around inspiring everyone to find their inner happiness. It’s actually quite adorable. Okay, it’s my favorite movie.
However, along with this Trolls addiction came Shiloh’s obsession with my happiness. You might be thinking, well isn’t that cute? Yeah, for you. For me it’s probably one of the more stressful parenting moments I’m currently facing. This is because her interest in my feelings only surface when I don’t necessarily appear “happy.” Just when I resemble that of a Bergen of Bergen Town, does she decide to pop the question.
Typically this question arises after a long day of carting two children around by myself. Because I’m the perfect mother who always forgets to pack the right amount of snacks or water or diapers, chances are this day will end in multiple meltdowns on our commute home. It’s always on this kind of day when Shiloh sees the ultimate opportunity to practice her interrogation tactics. Her little voice trailing from the backseat like a starburst from heaven, “Mommy, are you happy?”
Caught dead in my tracks, I stumble over my words saying something like yes, I’m happy. My tone says otherwise. Just not right now. I am very happy. I’m just frustrated right now in this moment. But overall I’m a happy person.
Whatever answer I do give, she normally just nods and moves on to the more important questions like, “Mommy, when we get home, um, can I have ice cream?”
But each time I’m left stunned, hanging onto this question of happiness. She’s three and learning emotions. I’m thirty and contemplating life. She’s learning what feelings are and I’m doing my best to show her what feelings look like. On a day when I was actually functioning with above average energy, I attempted to give her a more elaborate answer.
I’m not very happy in this moment and that’s ok. It’s important to allow ourselves to feel sadness or anger or frustration so we can explore our pain and find healing. Only then can we experience true happiness.
She followed up with, “Mommy can I watch a show?” Sure. Because it’s always a good idea to let them watch a show when you really are resembling a pimply, red-eyed Bergen with a top knot. Let me wash my hair and brush my teeth so I feel better about practicing patience.
Most recently, all four of us were stressfully commuting to our friends house for dinner. What should have been a 20 minute drive turned into 50 minutes because sometimes LA has traffic. I was driving, my stomach was the opposite of full, Noah’s screams filled our car, and every Los Angelan was in my way. Let’s just say there’s been better versions of myself than in this moment. (Clearly, food plays a very important role with my happiness). Boiling over with frustration, only three minutes from our final destination, I said a few things that were less than pleasant to my more than perfect husband. So we argued. Loudly.
When Shiloh found the first pocket of silence, she chimed in asking, “Are you happy mommy?”
No. No I am not.
As we walked through the argument in the front seat of the car, my husband and I each shared our side of things, we talked about grace and I asked for forgiveness. The tension dissolved and we laughed it off as we sat down to eat with our friends. Shiloh checked in with me one more time, “Mommy are you happy?”
Yes, baby. Now Mommy is happy.
Growing up, I remember only hearing my parents argue underneath their breath or through closed doors. My mother would walk out wiping tears from her eyes while my father rushed off to work. If I did witness anything it was the actual blowing up of things, but never the resolution. So naturally, I entered marriage being really good at starting fights but not so good at finishing them.
My therapist calls this “tabling.”
All these questions of happiness led me to focus on conflict in the home. Because I fully believe you can’t just be happy because that’s what you try to be.
Like a house with mold. You may not see it, but the air quality proves the condition of the home is not safe. You can continue to live in this environment, try to ignore the problem festering beneath your feet, but over time it will cause harm to your health. It doesn’t matter how many times you paint, or how many scented candles you light, nothing will remove the problem until you rip up the flooring and expose it for what it is. Sometimes all you need is a quick remodel, but most of us need a complete renovation.
I’ve learned you can’t truly experience happiness and joy by simply polishing the surface and ignoring all the muck living and growing below. Just because you’ve grown used to the smell doesn’t mean that’s just how it has to be.
As much as I want to shield my daughters from the pain in this world, I truly believe I’d be doing more damage than good. I want my daughters to feel pain so they know what it’s like to experience healing. I want my daughters to know how to express their feelings but more importantly hear the other side. I want them to know how to be vulnerable but also how to deal with another’s vulnerability. I want them to know how to ask for forgiveness and also be willing to receive forgiveness.
Because that’s what love is. And I think we can all agree that’s what this world needs more of.