Rethinking Happy Mom, Happy Child

For years, there has been a common saying told to mothers everywhere. Whenever a mom (for some reason, dad is never mentioned) is trying to decide whether or not to do something that impacts her children, inevitably someone will say, “Happy mom, happy child”. Is that necessarily always true? Is it really what is in the best interest of our children?

Not let me preface this post by saying I am not a member of the moms should be martyrs club. Even children can be selfish and may want to prevent their mom from doing something that won’t harm them in any way and will actually be good for both mother and child in the long run. It may even be exasperating because to you the choice should be a happy one for your child, too (like having a new baby).

Often, however, the saying has also been used to justify taking actions that will definitely cause pain to the child and worse yet things that are known to harm children. As Christians, we are told to consider the needs of others. There is no gospel message of putting your desires above the needs of others. God calls us to love others self-less-ly, not selfishly. What’s a mom to do?

I can’t tell you what to do in every instance where the desires of the mother and child don’t align. Even the same option. in two different families may have two different answers. What I can do, however, is share some things to consider as you encounter one of these “happy mom, happy child” type choices.

  • What does God have to say about it? The Bible is great because, while it may not list every possible situation one may encounter in life, it does contain a lot of godly principles that can apply to a lot of different life dilemmas. If all else fails, read verses on parenting, love and selfishness v. service/love, etc.
  • Pray. Not the “Please God let me have my way regardless”, but seriously asking God to give you the wisdom to make a wise choice that impacts your child spiritually in a positive way.
  • Allow your children to voice their concerns… respectfully. This is important. Your children will do better in any situation if they feel respected and heard. They also need to learn to disagree with others in a respectful, loving way. If they start being disrespectful, have them go off by themselves until they can present their case respectfully.
  • Consider their objections seriously. If they are communicating they are heartbroken over your choice, it is important to consider whether or not what you want is worth the pain it will cause them. Sometimes, you have no choice, but when you do, it is worth some extra consideration.
  • Is there a creative way that both you and your child can be happy? We tend to think there are only three options in any conflict – your way, my way and a comprise where neither one of us is happy. The truth is there may be several other creative solutions that may leave both of you satisfied.
  • Give your child permission to mourn and be empathetic during that time of mourning. If your choice is breaking your child’s heart, it is unfair to expect him or her to be excited about it – especially as excited as you are. If the loss is major in the mind of your child, he or she may have to mourn it as they might the loss of a friend or relative. Don’t try to force your child into happiness. It just causes children to be angry. Empathize with the pain your child is feeling.
  • Remember your child is still a child. Yes, you want your children to consider what is best for you, too. It’s a bit unrealistic, however, to expect young children to be “happy for mom” that you are getting a divorce, moving a long distance, switching from a homemaker to a career outside of the home or making some other choice that greatly impacts their lives. Getting angry because they are not putting your happiness first is unfair.
  • Sometimes what is in the best interest of your children is for you to sacrifice your desires for a time. Rarely is something truly a “once in a lifetime” offer. Often your desires can be deferred to a time when it will not be as disruptive to the lives of your children. I did not have our daughter until I was in my 30’s and I can promise you that most of you will have many years for second, third and even fourth acts after your children leave home. If what you want to do aligns with God’s plans for you, He may just catapult you farther and faster than if you had taken the option at a time that would not have been best for your children.
  • When there is not a better option, take the time to explain as many times as necessary why you need to ignore their desires and do what you think is best. This can actually be a good lesson for them about how God answers our prayers at times (assuming your decision is not a selfish one, but an unavoidable or truly best choice). Sometimes parents, and by extension God, say no to a request because it is ultimately in the best interest of the child. Or it may be a situation where you were not actually given a choice in the matter. Regardless, your children should be told age appropriate information to help them understand your decision making process. It may not make the choice less painful, but it does teach them how to make godly, tough choices.

“Happy mom, happy child” is not always true and we need to stop pretending it is. Handling those situations with the love and care they deserve is what is in the best interest of your children – regardless of what choice you ultimately make.

Published by

Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

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