A study says parents should stop faking happiness for the sake of their kids
Parents jump through a lot of hoops to always appear serene, joyful, and downright Mary Poppins-like around their kids. When we express frustration or sadness, we often feel guilty and apologetic, and we worry that somehow our kids will be forever scarred by the startling revelation that mom and dad are human beings too.
Well, screw that noise, because a study published in this month’s Personality and Social Psychology journal says that parents actually hurt themselves by trying to plaster on a perpetually happy face.
Researchers at the University of Toronto followed a group of parents over ten days and monitored how they felt in various interactions with their kids. What they ended up finding is that parents who suppress negative emotions around their children report stronger feelings of inauthenticity, poorer emotional well-being, and even a weakened bond with their kids.
Says one of the study’s co-authors, Dr. Emily Impett, “For the average parent, the findings suggest when they attempt to hide their negative emotion expression and over-express their positive emotions with their children, it actually comes at a cost: doing so may lead parents to feel worse themselves.”
Basically, the harder you force that smile, the shittier you’re going to feel. The energy it requires to pretend to be happy all the time is too much for any person to handle. Plus, it’s totally unnecessary when you consider that we’re trying to teach our kids how to be thoughtful, compassionate, expressive human beings. Shouldn’t we be modeling those things for them, rather than trying to convince them we’re cheerful robots?
Kids don’t deal with the same high-pressure things we face as adults, but they know what it means to feel frustrated, disappointed, overwhelmed, and exhausted. They experience the full range of emotions, and it’s important for them to know their parents do too — that they aren’t alone in their feelings and there’s nothing wrong with expressing negative emotions.
It’s understandable that most of us want to be shining examples of positivity for our kids. After all, that’s what we see on social media, in our various parenting groups, and on tv. But, as this study shows, putting your best face forward comes with a cost, and faking happiness helps neither us nor our kids. As with everything, we have to teach our kids how to cope with their feelings by example. That means letting them see the laughing and the crying, and being willing to have open, honest conversations about both.