I’m not sure if this is universal, but, in my experience, this particular road to happiness is often traveled by women. These women are loving and well intentioned. They put a great deal of energy and time into their relationships, with their primary focus being their role as a mother. At the beginning, the thought of having children means this woman will have meaning, purpose, and significance in her life. Often, the bumps along that road occur at the beginning, middle and end of her child-rearing experience.
Her are some composite examples of what I mean taken from years of working with women at The Center:
A young mother will come in. She’s been married for around 5 to seven 7 and has two children. Right off the bat she’ll express her deep love and devotion for her family. She says she loves being a mother but then immediately goes into all the negatives this has brought into her life: lack of sleep, impact on career, excess weight, loss of intimacy with her husband, and guilt over competing demands of family and job. She feels there’s something terribly wrong with her for even thinking this way. She’s angry and upset at how stretched she is, and angry and upset that she’s even angry and upset. Tears are a predictable event, as she agonizes over how the pitter-patter of little feet has become a thunderous din of demands and pressures she feels inadequate to address. Being a mother was supposed to make her happy, and she’s anything but happy.
A woman around 40 years old will come in. The problem isn’t her, she’ll inform me, it’s her kids. They’re stuck in some teenage phase of utter selfishness, ingratitude, and defiance. She’s done her part, all right, to love and nurture them, and look where it’s gotten her. She’s in a constant battle over every little thing, including their clothes, homework, household chores, friends, and their lousy attitude toward school. There’s never a cease-fire in the conflict, and she’s exhausted and disillusioned. She doesn’t feel inadequate; she’s angry. Being a mother was uspposed to make her happy, and she’s anything but happy.
In this next example, the woman is in her late 50s. For more than 20 years, she’s devoted her entire being to being a mother. Now her kids are grown and have left the house for education, career, or another relationship (see above). They have flown the coop, and she’s left with an empty nest. The house is quiet, uninteresting, and unnaturally clean. It’s sterile, and she feels the same way, kind of bleached of feeling and purpose. Being a mother did make her happy, but what’s she supposed to do now?
Children aren’t like puppies and kittens. When they grow up, they aren’t going to stay small and close to home. Children are supposed to grow up, mature, and live out on their own. If you bundle your happiness too tightly around your children, they’re apt to take it with them when they leave out the front door, along with all your hand-me-down furniture and dishes.
How is your happiness affected by bumps in the road with your kids?