As parents, we often suppress our true feelings. Do you let your toddler know you’re aggravated when he freaks out about his milk being in a blue cup instead of a red one? Have you ever told your kid what you really think of her artwork? Did you ever tell your nine-year old that you don’t really love Ironman? Perhaps you mentioned to your teenage son that his hockey games are making you resent winter?
No, you haven’t. Let’s face it: As parents, we often keep our sanity by faking it. “You want the red cup, honey? This blue one won’t work for you? No problem, sweetheart!” you say through gritted teeth.
But you might want to wipe that fake smile off your face, because a new University of Toronto study, published in the March issue of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, says parents who bury their negative emotions and amplify their positive ones during interactions with their children may end up feeling bad about themselves. Parents in the study reported experiencing decreased emotional well-being, relationship quality, authenticity and responsiveness to their kids’ needs. Otherwise put: Burying your anger and exaggerating your happiness while taking care of your kids has negative effects on you.
For me, I’ve found that there has to be a happy medium. There are lots of times when I put on my happy face for my kids, despite what may be going on inside my head. Usually, that’s the only way I can deal with sick kids or children in the throes of a homework debacle or just make it until bedtime. Let’s call it the “happy-face emoji style of parenting”: When dealing with a difficult situation, you just send some happy faces their way.
Modelling emotional regulation is an important part of parenting, as is showing kids that even bad situations can have positive outcomes. I’m not a “glass half full” kind of person, but even I can recognize that faking positivity in some situations is a good idea. Going against my cynical nature doesn’t make me feel bad about myself; it makes me feel like I’m teaching my kids a good lesson.
Of course, parents sometimes feel bad about themselves after interacting with their kids, but the reasons are complicated. My pop psychology 101 take on this study is that people who cover up or exaggerate all their true emotions probably don’t feel great about themselves already, whether they are parents or not.