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The Parenting Challenge No One Warned Me About

Crying boy with kiss from his mother.
Photograph by Getty Images

The Legos won’t stay stuck together and my six-year-old is in tears. Hot angry tears of frustration run down his face and it’s up to me to make it better, or ignore it, and I’m really not sure how to do either one.

My two-year-old is inconsolable because I won’t let him play with a sharp knife. He wants me to hold him without touching him too much while he wails and screams at the injustice of the world. I know I can’t give him what he wants, but that doesn’t stop me from feeling upset right alongside him.

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We’ve all heard it and many of us say it, almost like a mantra, “I just want my kids to be happy and healthy.” The trouble is, that happiness bit is much more complicated than it sounds.

How can I be responsible for their happiness and keep them safe? How do I let them learn difficult life lessons without any tears?

I feel like parents warn you that you're going to be tired and frustrated and worried, but I wasn't prepared for how emotionally draining parenting is.  Everyone wants their kids to be happy but most kids, especially toddlers, spend a lot of their time being anything but.  It is difficult to navigate the constant outpouring of emotion and it is impossible to be detached from it.

I love my kids so much and it pains me when they're upset, but sometimes wanting my kids to be happy can feel like a burden. How can I be responsible for their happiness and keep them safe? How do I let them learn difficult life lessons without any tears? It is an impossible position. And it's extremely difficult to have a good day when your child is having a bad one.

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The daily, sometimes hourly, rollercoaster of emotions can be nothing short of exhausting, even if I managed a full night’s sleep. I feel like everyone said that parenting was hard, but no one explained in what way. I was ready to stay up all night, I expected my children to push their limits and my buttons, I knew I would always worry about their safety, but I didn’t realize how much I would struggle with this question of their happiness.

I feel like I must play the role of therapist or saint—of which I am neither. I do my best to show them love and compassion without getting swallowed by their sadness or rage. I try hard to not feel responsible for their happiness. I know now that it’s all a part of parenting, but a little heads up would have been nice.

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