I cried unabashedly while watching Pixar’s “Inside Out” this week. I couldn’t help it, and I know I wasn’t the only parent in there wishing their children could stay young, sweet and joyful forever.
But this movie particularly hit home for me this week as we are moving cross-country to a new home. In the show, a young girl named Riley is also leaving behind her life to move to another city, and her five emotions — Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear — help her navigate the journey.
So far in her life, Joy has been Riley's predominant emotion, and Joy attempts to keep up her happiness in the difficult moving transition. In her mind, Joy attempts to squelch Sadness, only to realize in the end that each emotion has a role to play. Sadness and Joy have to coexist if the girl is going to come to terms with what is happening in her life.
Wake-up call to me! Sadness is necessary — and maybe even more important than joy sometimes.
I was kind of surprised that I had this realization because one of our parenting philosophies in our family is that every emotion has value. We direct our discipline toward behaviors but reiterate time and time again that emotions are not bad. Emotions are not wrong. We try to create a home where each child can experience and express the emotion he or she is having without fear.
As I watched the show, however, I knew I was guilty of trying to shove sadness from my children’s lives. When my children have expressed sadness over leaving their friends, I immediately say, “But just think of all the good friends you haven’t met yet!” Or when they say they are worried about a new neighborhood, I regale them with how the new place has a walking trail and our neighbor has a built-in trampoline, as if playground equipment is a cure-all for heartache.
I was missing the point. It’s OK to be sad. It’s healthy to be sad.
It’s also not my job as a mother to make my children happy. Just like the emotion Joy in the movie, who works so hard to silence Sadness, I have been taking it on as my responsibility to keep smiles on my children’s faces
That is not my job. Joy can’t be forced, just like sadness can’t be ignored. My job is to help them understand their emotions, embrace them and then learn to live with the ups and downs of life.
I can’t make my children happy, and I wouldn’t want to. Most often, the turning points in their lives will be based on sadness or fear or disgust. And the people they will become are because of how they react in those moments. Their character will be forged in facing those difficult emotions, not by avoiding them.
So, yes, I bawled like a baby at the show because I wished I could hold on to my joyful babies forever. But I cried also because I know I can’t. As a mother, my job is to let them go. To watch them get hurt. To embrace them and tell them I hurt, too. To assure them that sadness is OK, and that we can get through it together.
I know it will just get more difficult and the sadness will grow as do the trials. But I will be there to walk with them through the hard times. We have to go through them to get to the other side, but we can go through them hand in hand.
And just when I have guided my children through their youth, I will be standing at the start of their hardest journey yet: having their own children. Then they will learn what I know: that your joy and sadness pale in comparison to that of your children. My daughters will know what it means to be a parent, and they will join the ranks of mothers and fathers who have had to bite their tongues, avoid the quick emotional fix and watch their children be sad, get hurt and be scared.
We watch and pray and cry alongside them as they grow, as they learn and as they become stronger from the inside out.
Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her 8-year-old and 4-year-old daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her.