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On the topic of happiness

Fat Mum Slim /


My eldest, like most kids around Australia, returned back to school this week. One afternoon she came home and was a little upset, “I had no one to play with today.”

I could hear the rip as my heart tore open and broke into two. I could feel it too.

I didn’t want to be dismissive, but I also didn’t want to play into it either. Friendship groups change with classes, and it usually doesn’t take long for everyone to find their new groove.

I sent her off the next day with a little pep talk, “Of all the girls in the world, you’re the best at making friends. Wherever we go, you make friends so easily. You know that. So, don’t wait for people to come to you… go to them. You don’t need to ask permission, just play. I can’t wait to hear about your adventures today.”

And that was that.

I didn’t stop thinking about it all day. I talked about it over lunch with Hubby too, who told me that I was overthinking it and that it would sort itself out.

I knew that. I know that.

A friend told me about a year ago, “It’s not our job to make our kids happy.”

I can’t stop thinking about those words either. Is it my job to make my kids happy? Isn’t it?

I’ve always thought it was my job, as the mother of my kids, to make them happy. I have one child that is always happy, except for the very small moments when she’s hungry or tired, but other than that… she’s content. I have another child who needs a little more work. It took me a while, but I realised that’s just who she is. She’s wild, and colourful, and diverse and multi-layered. I learned that I can not make her happy. Only she can do that.

I remember being in Disneyland last year, the happiest place on earth if you didn’t know already, and a tantrum happened. I can’t remember what it was over, maybe ice cream… but it ended with, “THIS IS THE WORST DAY EVER!”

I laughed, because we were at DISNEYLAND. Worst day ever? She didn’t know worst day ever. I threw my hands up in the air and thought to myself, “I can not make this kid happy!”

And I was right, my friend was right too. It’s not my job to make my kids happy. It’s my job to make sure they’re healthy and safe, and growing beautifully. I can only arm them with the tools to go out and face the world and make their own happiness.

And to overcome battles, like having no one to play with at lunchtime.

What do you think? Is it our job to make our kids happy?

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  • I had this same experience yesterday. My five year old came home saying she had no one to play with. My heart also broke in two and I even contemplated writing a note to the teacher until I realised that I was potentially acting a little crazy. It’s halfway through week two at Prep. I need to take a step and let things happen naturally and let her work it out for herself.

  • craftsmumship

    Loved reading this Chantelle. Such great advice that I will try and remember the next time my kids feel this way. Thank you.

  • PetraCorcoran

    I have 3 kids. All in primary school grade 6,5 and 3. Two girls, one boy. All three went through at least one phase (but more like 2 or 3) of “I have no friends to play with” or “I sat alone at lunch time”. Each and every time my heart broke and thinking about it consumed me the following day or two. The point is each time it resolved itself, like I knew it would and like I told them but, it doesn’t make it any easier as a mum to hear even with all that experience. I’m sure it will come up again and the outcome will be the same. Still my heart will break a little more and thinking about it will consume me for a while. I think my job is to arm them to deal with these little hurdles. I take in that sadness and heartache but give them the strength they need so they don’t feel it like I do.

    • Beautifully said. Maybe our mums worried for us too, even though we didn’t sense it? You sound like a beautiful mum. xxx

  • Deb

    My big revelation about my kids recently has been the importance to their future happiness of developing skills in resilience. Without them they will not be able to cope with what life throws at them as their get older. My job as parent is to equip them with the ability to strategise problems, have empathy for themselves and others, and to take responsibility for their own (but not others’) behaviour. That’s it. Whenever I get wheedling or emotional blackmail (e.g. “But you’re my mum, don’t you want me to be happy?”) I say: “It’s not my job to make you happy – it’s my job to love you and keep you safe. You’re in charge of your own happiness.”

    • Is that resilience something they learn on their own? Is that when we take a step back and just let them discover? Or do we have to pick them up sometimes, and wipe them off?

      • Deb

        Oh dusting them off every now and then is definitely something we have to do, and I have had many an end of day debrief (usually in the car after pickup or at bedtime!), with tons of kisses and cuddles. To me resilience means letting them build confidence so that they can stand up for themselves and set their boundaries for how they expect to be treated. I always remember the quote “You teach people how to treat you, by what you allow, what you stop and what you reinforce.” My focus (now that my girls are slightly older) is on strategising – talking problems over in advance, working out ways of handling tricky interpersonal situations, getting them to see things from the other person’s perspective, giving them some tools and key words they can use to defuse difficult situations, and then checking in with them at the end of the day. The thing is we can’t shield them from disappointment. But we can be a constant source of love and encouragement, a safe harbour to come home to.

  • Yes we can’t make them happy, all we can do is arm them with the tools and resilience to make themselves happy and find their way/place in the world. But it sure is a tough gig, and heartbreaking! x

  • Great post Chantelle. Your girls are so much like mine. I’ve been worrying about Punky all week, starting at a new kinder and if she’ll make friends. I don’t know if she has or not, but she is definitely happy, and from this I figure I must be doing the right thing. I think if we do our best as parents and teach our children how to be kind and loving then they will find happiness on their own, in their own way and on their own terms. Happiness means and is different things to different people and I believe the same is true for our children.

    • Yes, that’s so true! What I think is happiness is another for someone else, even my girls. Good point!

  • My daughter just started kindy and she told me that she just wants to play on her own and not with the other kids. I am trying to encourage her to make friends but maybe I should just leave her to do her own thing. I guess all we can do is guide our children and let them find their own happiness.

    • I think encouraging is good though, personally. It’s hard to take a step back, but maybe I need to!

  • Somethings they just have to sort things out for themselves. As hard as it is to let go, we are doing them a disservice if we take care of everything for them all the time.

    • Oh gosh, perfectly said. We are doing them a disservice by sorting things out for them, all the time. x

  • It breaks your heart doesn’t it? My eldest sounds similar it but I think we can try and teach resilience and some strategies to help them with situations but at the end of the day we can’t live their lives for them (as much as we want to take the pain for them we can’t!). Lovely post. x

    • Wouldn’t it be nice if we could take away any hurt? But we would be doing them a disservice. I know, looking back now, that it was great that my mum gave me the space to learn and bounce back from my experiences in life.

  • Jenni from styling curvy

    Our job is to guide them, be there to listen, give them boundaries, teach them wrong from right and by the time they reach adulthood to have done ourselves out of a job. Happiness comes from within, empower them and happiness is theirs for the taking xx

  • Matras B. Isabelle

    Thanx Chantelle for this post. Just what I needed to hear. It’s very true but so hard to do ! It’s good to have reminders from time to time. Bises from France

  • I am a little consumed with all of this at the moment .. with a very anxious little man going into Year 1 and very unsettled with all of the change, new teacher, new classmates etc.
    I have just finished reading a book called the The Gift of Failure by Jessica Lahey, all about the gift we bestow on our children by allowing them to discover and build their own resilience .. it goes against our instincts as Mothers however it is well worth allowing them to fall, rise, fall, rise .. in their own way. It is definitely easier said than done though xx

  • michelle barrington

    I feel you on this topic. My eldest just started at a new school which was our decision and watching her have to go through the process of making new friends has been hard. She is super resilient but often I find us mums have some stretching and growing and resilience building to do right alongside our little ones.

    It isn’t our job to make our kids happy but it is natural to want them to be. I believe that it is our job to set boundaries and provide learning opportunities for our kids to develop the skills which will allow them future happiness. It is the ‘big picture’ of the mum gig.

  • Happiness always comes from within; from the way we think and view and interact with the world. The best way to teach our kids that is by modelling it ourselves. It’s your job to show her happy and content and I’m sure you’re doing that every day ?x

    • Thanks Ellen. I think she’s a little more complex than I had expected, so it’s thrown me a parenting curveball. 🙂

  • Lauren Russo – Love_Live_Loz

    I don’t even know where I stand on letting them work out their own happiness just yet…I ache when my darling is unhappy and seem to always do my best to make her happy. She’s a four year old child, not an adolescent. Why do we seem to find it necessary to keep pushing kids to be older and more resilient than they are? Aren’t we supposed to be there to encourage them, lift their spirits and teach them empathy, just as we would hope they would if they saw a friend upset in the playground? My girlfriends cheer me up and pull me out of a rut when I need it, they’re on my team, just as I am ony daughter’s. Lots to think about anyway!!

    • That’s so true. And I think when our kids are babies, we’re their everything… and then I’m not sure when the switch comes when we suddenly let go. Or are meant to?

      All I know is that I find it all emotionally hard. x

  • Tash Jay

    Oh gosh this has been my daughter every day this week. I know it’s a natural part of childhood but picturing her sad and sitting by herself at lunch everyday is crushing my heart 🙁 I love your advice of just joining in, not asking for permission. I’m totally going to borrow that. And no, not our job to make them happy. But her hurt is my hurt.

    • Yes, that’s so true. Their hurt is our hurt. It aches. 🙁

      • Tash Jay

        It so is. Hopefully they both have fabulous days today xo

  • Anja

    My daughter is a highly sensitive child, and school and friendships have never been easy for her. It has caused me much heartache over the last few years since she started school, but the best advice I received was similar to yours, that basically there’s nothing we can do to change what is going on at school. We can’t make friends for them and we can’t force other children to be nice. But what we can do is make their home life as happy as possible. I try to organise things for my daughter to look forward to to help her through the week, like afternoon tea at a cafe once a week, one afternoon we shop and cook dinner together, and a movie night on Fridays. I find these little things to look forward to brighten up her bad days and give her something else to focus on.

  • I guess I think it’s my job to help them find their own path to happiness. x

  • gems

    My new preppie told me on day 3, that her friends had told her to go away 🙁 I was devastated and begun workshopping with her, until I unravelled that it was grade sixers she was trying to befriend. Lol!
    I asked her if she’d played with kids from her own class and she gave me the side eye. Her twin sighed dramatically and said you just have to join in, just join in with us.
    Fast forward a few days and she tells me the grade sixers let her sit with them and attend their “meeting”!!

  • Marney

    I feel like it is my job to make my kids happy….but you’re right! We can’t ‘make’ them anything! In fact the harder I try the less likely it is to work out. I hope things improved for Lacey at school. I seriously don’t know how I’d feel if one of my girls told me that!

  • Jen C.

    I don’t exactly think that it is our job to make them happy. for me it is one factor…making them happy through showing them our love and care,,,our attention,etc. that would make them happy besides from them learning their own way 🙂

  • It’s our job to show them how to be happy…. It’s our job to help them find the things that make them happy too and we have to show by example… if we are doing the things that make us happy, not putting up with crap and actively finding the positive in every moment, they learn from us 🙂 But yes…. it’s also our job to HELP our kids be happy.

  • Kate

    you can lead a horse to water… I smiled about your Disneyland story Chantelle as we also have some pretty ace memory making moments where I am pinching myself – but my youngest is often having the “worst day” of his life (thankfully it’s relatively short lived) because I said “no” to buying one of those flashing wands (or you can insert any other tacky toy or junk food we don’t need any more of). We are working on his “glass is half full” approach to life!