I recently was at an event organised for parents and children. There were open minded young parents with small children, parents who take parenting classes, interested in their own self-growth and their children’s well being. Nice, relaxed atmosphere, we sit in the courtyard a while, chatting with the parents and watching the kids play.
Mothers are sharing their latest experiences with their children, what new and wonderful things they’ve come up with lately. One of them shared her recent, surprising conversation with her 3 year old daughter.
Daughter: Mom, you are so, so beautiful!
Mother: Thank you!
Daughter: But are you happy?
Mother:Hmm, you make me happy.
The mom said she was surprised by such a question from her 3 year old. She didn’t know what to actually answer and then she added : “you make my happy, dear”. I was delighted to hear she has such a smart and emotionally intelligent child, but I was struck by her answer :”you make me happy”.
Strange enough no one else seemed to have any reaction to those words. They were all amused by the story, by the question of the child. I was churning inside and I would have loved to say something but I didn’t. The circumstances were such that I felt I was not in a position where to start a parenting discussion.
However, I feel I need to share this here, because many people I know make the mistake of passing the responsibility of their happiness to their spouse or children. And they don’t even realize it. It’s just such a common cliche sewn in our minds from early childhood, that no one seems to notice it anymore.
It’s like a friend of mine told me recently about her static bicycle: she thought she was going to be using it every day when she got it. But in just a few weeks the bicycle became just an object in the room, so blended in that she doesn’t even notice it anymore. It’s there, but her brain has erased it from her mental picture.
Back to the “you make me happy” words and the 2 most dangerous situations where they are used: 1. in the parent-child relationship and 2. in the couple relationship.
1. What I would like to say to any parent in the world who uses this words in front of their children? Stop it! Don’t ever again pronounce those words in front of your children. The same goes for it’s opposite, “you make me sad” or for any emotions you might be feeling. The child is not responsible for your happiness or your sadness. She did not come to this world to fulfil you, to live the life you never had, to follow your unfulfilled dreams and so on. She came to this world to live her own life. You are responsible for your well being, for chasing your own dreams, for your own happiness.
One different thing is that you rejoice in your child’s success, that you are there to support her, to nourish her, to guide her and to be there for her whenever she needs you. And another one is to make her believe that she needs to do things not for her, but to make you happy. That pretty much screws up their life.
I know. From my experience. I have a mother and a father who sort of lived through myself and my brother. Their mindset was: “now that we have children we need to do everything we can to raise them well”. At a first glance, this is a good mindset. On a second look, that meant sacrificing their own happiness for this higher purpose. That meant living together for 30 years although they were fighting all the time. “Parents have to stick together for the children’s sake, even if they are unhappy.” “Let’s be unhappy together” seemed to be the family motto.
Those were the times… And that meant passing the responsibility for their fulfillment to their children. It seemed normal, and it seemed everyone was doing this. There were different times, nobody heard of such things like “parenting classes” or “how to raise your children” books. No information whatsoever on this matter existed in the, at that time, communist Romania. Neither in the early years of the young democratic Romania.
So I understand that all the parents who raised my generation did the best they could with the knowledge and tools they had at that time. Which meant generally, repeating the exact patterns they received from their parents. So that was it for my generation. Where am I heading with this small loop back in the communist times? To the present moment, of course. To the present moment when parents have access to more good quality info about parenting than they can handle. There is also a lot of crappy info out there, but then again, they have where to choose from.
So what was the effect I felt from being exposed to the words and mindset of “you make me happy” from my parents? For many years I felt responsible for my mother’s happiness. I felt like I have to make sure she’s happy first and then I can be happy. Which is mission impossible, I found out years later. So I stopped worrying about her being happy and started working on my own happiness. A whole new world opened up. But enough about my childhood issues, we don’t go there anymore 🙂
2. What I would like to say to any man or woman who says “you make me happy!” to their partner in life? Take a wild guess… Yeah, you got it, baby! Just two words: Stop it!
What I would say to a man who would tell me these words? “See you next year, mate, when you’ve found out a way to be happy on your own.” Because if you are not happy with your life as it is now, no one will be able to do that for you. And I don’t want to carry the burden of being responsible for anyone’s happiness anymore. I know it’s a road filled with sorrow. I’ve been there, done that. No more. I’ve stopped it.
So I’ve told you about how not to talk with your loved ones to avoid making them feel responsible for your happiness.
Let’s have a look on how you could do that in a positive, nurturing way. “How can I express the gratitude for having my child/spouse/partner in my life without passing on the message that they are responsible for my happiness?”
1. Assume the responsibility for your happiness. Do things that make you happy, take time for yourself separate from your loved ones.
2. When you talk about your feelings, use “I” messages instead of “you” messages.
“I feel happy when I do this. I feel even happier if I can share it with you.”
See the difference? I am already happy. With you, I am happier. It’s not that I am sad and I need you to make me happy. Huge difference.
“I feel happy when I see you are following your passions, when I hear about your success in school or at work.” But I don’t need that as the primary source for my happiness, because I follow my own passions and I have my own success.
The indirect message your child or partner perceives when you are happy and successful is this:
“Your passion and success are an inspiration for me, it makes me believe I too can succeed in whatever I want to do and be happy.”
Isn’t this a much better way to view the world? The more I follow my passions and my happiness the more I inspire other people to do the same. And the first ones to be inspired are the ones close to us, our children and our partners. And then they become inspiring people for their children and partners. And then…you get the picture.
It’s so easy but it has to start within, with me and you taking care of our well being and happiness.
So let’s be happy and inspire the heck out of the ones we love to do the same for themselves.
PS: if you didn’t see yet the short video “Stop it” I suggest you go on youtube right now and watch it. Enjoy! 🙂