Health & Family

Parents: Making a perfect childhood includes sadness

From left, Anger, voiced by Lewis Black, Disgust, voiced by Mindy Kaling, Joy, voiced by Amy Poehler, Fear, voiced by Bill Hader, and Sadness, voiced by Phyllis Smith in a scene from “Inside Out.”
From left, Anger, voiced by Lewis Black, Disgust, voiced by Mindy Kaling, Joy, voiced by Amy Poehler, Fear, voiced by Bill Hader, and Sadness, voiced by Phyllis Smith in a scene from “Inside Out.” AP

Take your kids to see Pixar’s “Inside Out,” They’ll love it. But you will cry.

The sophisticated movie reveals the emotions – the characters Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust – inside a girl’s head as 11-year old Riley and her family move from Minnesota to San Francisco. For me, “Inside Out” was a reminder that making a magical childhood isn’t about creating happiness for your kids.

Joy is panicked every time Sadness touches a memory – making it turn blue – especially the core memories. This was a giant screen face-slap reminding me that as a parent of two young children I am often like Joy, always trying to make sure my children are happy. I’m not talking about in a “participation-award-helicopter-parenting” type of happy, but more guilty of trying to curate their experiences to shield them from sadness.

Making happy memories is a big deal, right? As Joy says, “They’re what make Riley, Riley.” I feel responsible for our kids being happy with themselves but never want them to try to be happy just for us. Happiness is not overrated. Experiencing Joy is important, but life doesn’t have to be perfect all of the time to create a worthy memory.

I silently swiped tears from my eyes as the movie flashed to some of Riley’s early childhood core memories of being carried on her dad’s shoulders and awkwardly running a three-legged race. But what I actually saw was how quickly my babies have grown, and I thought about so many of the things we loved to do when they were little that they would not be caught dead doing now.

Did we do enough fun and happy things? How do they remember what I remember about their early years?

Shifting in my seat, I wondered when will the day come when Mom becomes uncool? When the kids can dry themselves, dress themselves, drive themselves? Did we do everything possible to arrange their core memories to grow a good kid into a great adult?

The “islands” that form Riley’s personality – including Goofball, Family and Honesty – crumble as her emotions struggle to adapt to their changing environment. I found it particularly heart-wrenching when Goofball Island begins to crumble. The destruction commences without warning when Riley hesitates to slide down a stair railing, instead considering the more mature option of walking down the steps. The seemingly inconsequential decision signified so much to me about the transition Riley is making.

Not knowing when something is happening for the last time is something I think about a lot; it helps me stay present in the moment. I wondered if Riley’s mom recognized it; was she witnessing for the last time something her daughter loved to do as a child?

Joy tells us it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference between Facts and Opinions as a bag spills both out on a carriage of Riley’s Train of Thought. One can be persuaded to believe that only charmed childhood memories with no Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust attest to good parenting. But is that what I want to show my children? My parents certainly didn’t, and I’m grateful for that.

What I remember is that it was Sadness who brought me my parents’ support after the loss of a volleyball match or when I misplaced my yellow teddy bear named Vincent. Sadness gave me lifelong friendships formed during trying times, and with Sadness I developed the ability to love.

As I left the movie theater, I instinctively reached for my children’s hands to help them cross the road, not knowing when they will need to take my hand for the last time – or when their Goofball Island will start to crumble. But I do know that sadness is a valuable emotion, one that makes my children’s childhood memorable.

Crying, failing and falling makes very colorful memories, and that brings me Joy.

Bek Mitchell-Kidd of Huntersville is the mother of a 6-year-old and 4-year-old.