Mama, are you happy?
Talking about emotion is supposed to be a good thing. In adults, it helps us use the more highly evolved parts of our brain to regulate the lizard parts of our brain–the parts that are all about being afraid and biting things. Words have power, and it’s not just figurative, it’s physiological. (For example.) In developmental psychology, research shows a relationship between caregivers who use a lot of words about emotions and kids who are better at understanding other people as having minds and feelings of their own, have fewer conduct problems, etc. Me–I talk about feelings A LOT. Even if I didn’t think it was good for the babies, it’s critical for me. Labeling emotions helps me to lose my temper less often. (Which, uh, I guess is good for the babies too.) Often heard in my household:
I’m getting really mad.
I get irritated when you take Bunlet’s toys.
I’m frustrated because you won’t put your shoes on.
That’s funny to you but it makes me mad.
I’m angry so I have to be by myself for five minutes.
I’m sad because I’m tired.
Lately, Bun Bun has been asking me: Mama, are you happy? I feel like I need to be honest, so I generally respond NO.
To be fair, she usually asks because she can tell I’m getting pissed… But I’d been feeling worried about saying no, I’m not happy so often. What kind of thing is that to say to a three year old? As the child of a mother who went through depression, I’m extra of creating the impression that I am miserable. And I’m not, it’s just that she often gets the me who has no energy for anything anyone wants from her.
And then she started asking, Are you happy that I’m here?
That really scared me. Does she think I’m not happy because of her? Talking about feelings does allow for the possibility of emotional manipulation. If I say I’m sad because of X thing you are doing, or X thing that you are doing makes me mad, am I talking about my feelings to help her understand the relationship between her actions and my responses or am I essentially telling her that my bad mood is her fault and it’s her job to fix me?
I mean, to live in Society, we do have to do things purely to make others happy, so it’s not that I object to that notion entirely. But again, I’ve got a lot of anxiety surrounding the idea of children needing to make mothers happy. Because mine wasn’t happy. And it wasn’t my fault she wasn’t happy. But I didn’t know that. I thought it was my fault.
I’m not sure where to draw the line between fostering communication and regulation and fucking my child up.
Where have I been for the past several months? Oh, you know, around. The semester should settle down a little soon…Perhaps I’ll be back before December.