How can we help our kids feel loved and joyful if they don’t listen to us?  Siena tells me that she’s sad each night when I’m about to leave her room.  I look at her and sigh. Part of me is glad she’s sharing her feelings, not only having had found a word for her feelings but incorporating that word into an I-statement that does not directly blame me for her despair. “I’m sad Mommy.”  Another part of me wonders, is she really sad? Is this just something she said to me one night that got a reaction from me that she was looking for, making her say it again and again.   It’s every night now.  “Mommy, I’m sad.”

She’s supported by a collection of stuffed animals, and has started to hold onto Clausy’s paw, the foot of the Rottweiller that she got from Santa this year.  I tell her that Clausy will keep her safe.  Sometimes she beats me to it, telling me, “Clausy will keep me safe Mommy.”  Who gets to say what first – it’s always an interesting experiment.  Kids repeat what we say.  But I never told her she was sad, or did I?  Did I ask her one night when she started to cry when I said goodnight, “are you sad cutie pie?”  Maybe.  If so, it’s an indication that she does listen to me, borrowing words from my conversations with her.

When she tells me she’s sad, I suggest other things she can do. Hug Clausy.  Talk to me about happy moments from the day, the sunshine at the park, etc.  I don’t want her dwelling in an emotional space of sadness.  I want her to reframe her thoughts, control them to the best of her ability.  I point out that her sadness is temporary.  “I’m sorry to hear you’re sad right now, babes.”  I don’t want to discount her feelings and tell her that she’s not sad, but I also don’t want her to think that she’ll be sad forever.  That’s a basic principle of raising an optimistic, resilient child.

So where does the not listening come into this scenario?  Some nights she tells me about happy thoughts from the day, and even screams them to me minutes after I leave her room.  “I’m thinking of swinging like a horsey at Ms. Debbie’s Mommy!”

“Glad to hear it,” I say back, smile on my face.  One night she was even more direct, “I’m happy Mommy.  I’m not sad.”  Like all kids, that girl really wants to please the ones who care for her.  She was listening to me.

Other nights, though, like last night, she kept screaming, “I’m sad Mommy.”  “I need another kiss Mommy!!”  She wouldn’t visualize joyful episodes of her day.  She refused to tell me about what she wanted to do at the farm the next day.  “I’m sad Mommy,” she kept screaming.

Her nightlight was on, a cute yellow man that glows in the dark.  Her Clausy was nestled along her face, his soft fur catching the tears now falling from Siena’s eyes.  “Mommy, tears Mommy.  I’m crying Mommy.”

And my “job” was supposedly to make my child feel loved and joyful?!?  I’m not about to feel like a failure, or even say that I’m not fulfilling my loving duties as a mother.  Give me a break. It’s not so black and white.  Not so simple.  She’s loved.  I’m figuring out next steps. She knows she has me to whine to, for better or worse.  She was sad.  That’s okay.  We’re sad sometimes.

The operative word.  Sometimes.