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The Day My Child Lost Her Joy — And What I Did to Revive It

In an especially chaotic rush out the door to go on a family vacation, I sat in the passenger seat fuming. Mad because I didn’t have time to put the dishes in the dishwasher. Mad because we were late getting on the road. Mad because the garage door was acting up. I’m talking trivial, insignificant, minor inconveniences here, but that was the state of a distracted woman who could no longer see the blessings, only the inconveniences, of her life.

My Husband Said "You’re Never Happy Anymore" - Then I Saw My Child's Face

Before we were about to pull out of the driveway, my husband looked at me as if someone he loved very much had died. In a barely audible whisper he said, “You’re never happy anymore.”

I wanted to defend.

I wanted to excuse.

I wanted to deny.

But I couldn’t.

Because I knew he was right.

Where had that happy woman gone? The one who smiled at people she passed on the street just because. The one whose friends often spoke of her positive outlook on life. The one who felt happy simply because she heard her favorite song or had a pack of strawberry Twizzlers in her purse. The one who could laugh off mistakes because mistakes happen, and they are certainly not the end of the world.

Where had she gone?

And that’s when I glanced to the backseat to see if my children, then ages six and three, had heard my husband’s words. Staring back at me was my older daughter picking her lip with worry the size of a small boulder weighing down her small shoulders.

As she pinched that tiny piece of fragile skin on her upper lip with wide eyes, I could practically read her mind:

Mom’s mad.

Mom’s tired.

Mom’s stressed.

But there was more. I could practically hear how a young child would interpret her mother’s unhappiness.

Mom’s mad at me.

Mom’s tired because of me.

Mom’s stressed because of something I did.

That’s when an even more powerful question hit me.

Where had my happy little girl gone? The one who woke up with the most gorgeous bedhead and good morning smile. The one who beamed at the words “sprinkler,” “cotton candy,” and “pet store.” The one who laughed so hard tears came to her eyes. The one who licked beaters with sheer pleasure and danced happily to any song with a beat.

Where had she gone?

I knew.

Because my happiness was based on external measures—on tasks being completed, plans running accordingly, goals being met, hairs being in place—I was continually disappointed … upset … impatient … and stressed. In the process of making my own life miserable, I’d funneled my unhappiness straight into my daughter’s once joyful heart and spirit. Her pain was a direct reflection of the expression I wore on my face.

I desperately wanted to bring a smile back to my daughter’s face. I knew I must bring it back to my own. I began praying for small steps I could take to become a more positive, present, and peace-filled person. On brightly colored sticky notes, I posted daily goals and positive mantras that came to me during morning prayer time. Especially prominent on my mirrors and cabinets were these two go-to phrases: “Only Love Today” and “See Flowers Not Weeds.”

I used the phrase Only Love Today to silence my inner bully. Whenever a critical thought would come to my mind or my mouth, I’d cut it off with Only Love Today. I used See Flowers Not Weeds as a pathway to gratitude, to see what was good in situations and people.

As Only Love Today and See Flowers Not Weeds became a daily practice, I felt a profound transformation occurring in my heart and home. No longer were my goals exclusively items that could be measured or checked off—they consisted of immeasurable items like listening, laughing, dreaming, playing, connecting, and loving. With a more meaningful daily goal, I was able to see the blessings in my imperfect self and in my imperfect life. My eager-to-please, helpful older child looked different too. I saw her for who she was, not an annoyance or a bother, but a loving child with clever thoughts and ideas. For once, I could see all the things she was capable of doing—not perfectly, but good enough for today. The tightness in my face relaxed and the smiles came more easily for both of us.

One morning, I looked out the kitchen window to see her making a little garden right there in the middle of the yard. I watched as she tended to her miniature plot. Her joyful smile made me take pause. Clearly, she was at peace tending to her garden. I took a picture and sent it to my parents. Nothing could have prepared me for the response I received. My parents wrote:

“Thank for this precious picture of our beautiful granddaughter. Over the last two years, we have seen a tremendous change in her. We no longer see a scared look in her eyes; she is less fearful about you being upset or impatient with her. She is much happier and more relaxed. She is thriving and growing into a content, creative, and nurturing person. We know for a fact the changes we see in her coincide with the changes we have also seen in you.”

I covered my mouth to muffle the sobs.

When I was struggling to breathe beneath the weight of perfection, distraction, and self-induced pressure, my child was too.

My daughter had absorbed my tension.

She had absorbed my frustration.

She had absorbed my anxiety.

She had absorbed my unhappiness.

And as my negative emotions were being filtered down to her, they impacted her ability to grow, thrive, and blossom.

If I didn’t know it before, I know it now:

Our children are our garden. They absorb our stress, just as they absorb our peace. They absorb our negativity just as they absorb our joy. And we have the power to control what they absorb, but first, we must tend to ourselves.

It might sound like this:

Dear one, you have feelings. They are worth listening to and acknowledging.

You have limits. They are necessary to keep in place as a means of valuing your time and honoring your health.

You have dreams. You are worthy of time to pursue what makes your heart come alive.

You have needs. You deserve affection, rest, sustenance, and grace.

Perhaps you forgot that it is necessary to look after YOU. It’s okay. I forget too. But we still have today. Thank God, we still have today.

Today let’s tend to ourselves as we do our loved ones. Perhaps we can make it a habit. We’ll never know how much we can grow and flourish until we take time to tend to what is most precious.

***

Rachel Macy Stafford is the New York Times bestselling author of Hands Free Mama and Hands Free Life. She is a certified special education teacher who helps people overcome distraction and perfection to live better and love more. Her latest bestseller, ONLY LOVE TODAY, is soulful, bite-size encouragement for busy individuals yearning to anchor themselves in love despite everyday distractions and pressures. “Only Love Today” began as a mantra to overcome her inner bully, but it is now the practice of Rachel Macy Stafford’s life. It can be a practice for all of us with Only Love Today, available at Target, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

For more inspiration and strategies to stop managing life and start living it, go to www.handsfreemama.com or The Hands Free Revolution on Facebook.

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Comments (17)

  1. Natasha Paola 05/24/2017 at 2:39 pm

    What a great read, definitely have cried every time I keep reading this , truly hits home that this is my story right now , i only hope I can get out of this unhappiness and have things be happy again, truly pulls at my heart strings of what my life has become I am going to try and change all this

  2. Andrea 05/24/2017 at 12:28 pm

    This hit home with me. I have heard those words from my youngest. I am stressed too thin, in too many directions. Bury myself in helping others to the point I dont have time to enjoy and am always rushing.

    • Penny 05/26/2017 at 7:41 pm

      People who “bury [myself] themselves in helping others” are actually not being very altruistic at all. They are avoiding, distracting and running from issues in their own life. Because it is guised as “helping” it is social acceptable and provides accolades that we obviously need and are not getting elsewhere. You get something out of running yourself ragged. Only you know what that is, but I’m willing to bet you can get those needs met in a healthier way.

  3. Marissa 05/10/2017 at 11:48 am

    Thank you for this!! I have a 6 yo and a 3 yo and felt like this was a story about me. I cried so hard! I really needed this reminder to put things into perspective.

  4. Teri Kreifels 05/10/2017 at 11:12 am

    I so needed to read this! I see this in myself and my kids…time to get back on track! Thank you!

  5. Jewell 05/10/2017 at 10:40 am

    You’re so right. We need mirrors into our daily lives to ensure that we don’t lose sight of the happiness little things can lend to us & those around us. Thank the heavens for your husband. Thank the heavens that your intuition gave you the ability to divine the effect your attitude was having on those around you, and the courage to change. Happiness. Peace. Love.

  6. Rebecca 05/02/2017 at 11:51 am

    Wow Thanks so much for this post. I have really needed this as a good reminder of some of what I have been doing during the stress of my marriage and how it has affected and is affecting my daughter. It has not been easy but, I want my daughter to be the strong and happy girl she has been not the bitter and maybe even hater of her possible future.

  7. Mari 05/02/2017 at 9:09 am

    Wow!!!! That is me! I’m in a hurry all the time, I have lost my happiness and my kids too. It’s my fault. Thank you for the articule. I will only see flowers and not weeds.
    Let’s be strong and happy moms again. Hugs

  8. Aparna 04/30/2017 at 10:07 pm

    Your article made me cry. This is exactly what’s happening with my daughter. You have shown me something what I was looking for. Thank you very very much.

  9. Suzette Miller 04/30/2017 at 3:05 am

    Thank you for sharing this. I am so concerned for my sweet daughter now 19. 7 years ago we went through a divorce. The years before that were very difficult and even after, as her dad had partial custody. I attribute her depression and anxiety to years of stress dealing with him. She is in counseling but i fear she will never be that lighthearted girl again. I am very happily remarried and she adores her new daddy and has a relationship with him she never had with her birth dad. I dont know how to help her heal.

  10. Alifia 04/29/2017 at 7:46 am

    Just what I needed to read today! Thank you for sharing this.

  11. Becky 04/29/2017 at 6:39 am

    I came across this through a friend. Such a profound piece to read and absorb. Thank you. Thank you. A MILLION TIMES THANK YOU.

  12. Sharlene Lord 04/29/2017 at 5:54 am

    THank God for a lesson learned . We come into marriage and have children ,we try so hard to be the best when all along they , the children , just need a mom that is there to play, teach them why, correct , hug , just be present ,in the moment just love them.We don’t need to run our selfs to death make them proficient in three languages. KInda like God we don’t need to work to have God love us. We work because we Love God. It makes Him sad when we are miserable. Thanks for the wisdom. Now be at Peace .

  13. Linda 04/28/2017 at 6:30 pm

    Words of wisdom from a Mom’s experience. It’s never too late to make changes and bless others in the process.

  14. Sherry 04/28/2017 at 12:16 pm

    What a powerful story you shared. I’m guilty of some of those things and need to work on them in my own life.

    Thank you and God Bless.
    Sherry

  15. Heather 04/28/2017 at 9:18 am

    Thank you for this post. I really needed to ready this at this time in my (and my 6 year old daughter’s) life.

  16. Desiree Campbell 04/27/2017 at 7:52 am

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. I loved it!