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The Emotions of Parenting, as Seen Through the Characters of “Inside Out”

I’ve always been a pretty emotional person, but becoming a parent has given me all the feels, every day. I knew as soon as my first daughter was born that I should probably just go ahead and invest in tissues. Happy tears, sad tears, so-darn-tired tears. Each day pretty much runs the gamut of emotion.

Do you remember when Joy from Inside Out asked, “Do you ever look at someone and wonder what is going on inside their head?” When it comes to kids —from newborns, to teens, and everyone in between — it’s an interesting question. Those emotions are running wild throughout the command center. But just like in Inside Out, parents also have their own command centers with emotions behind the dashboard.

There are so many things that bring me Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger when it comes to being a parent. Here are some of them.

Disgust

Snack time can be revolting. The little one’s eating fish crackers I didn’t give her. Where did she find fish crackers? I don’t even want to think about it.

There’s also the perplexing “Five-Second Rule.” (It’s ten seconds actually, if you ask my nephews.) My kids have some sort of guideline for whether or not you’re allowed to eat things off the floor. If it’s crackery, it’s fine. If it’s soft or liquidy, it’s not fine — unless it’s really yummy. In that case, everything’s fair game. Whoever invented the disgusting game of food frugality, I’m impressed and totally disgusted at the same time.

As totally gross as kids can be, there are things that are not a problem that turn into a massive meltdown. Grapes are okay. Strawberries are okay. Grapes and strawberries together, touching? Absolutely vile.

Anger 

I spend all day cleaning the house. Then out come the toys with most of the pieces spread all over the floor. Dough is pressed into fabric. The potty training artist makes a statement piece. Some days I can brush off the small slobs; other days, they make my head fume. I swear, some days the kids can sense my feelings of accomplishment with a clean home and say, “Let us handle this.”

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But there’s no anger greater as a parent than when I feel like my kids are being mistreated. Even for someone who doesn’t love conflict, the mama bear instincts come out.

Fear

I knew there’d be frustrations in parenting, but I hadn’t considered all the fear. What if she goes to kindergarten not potty trained? What if she’s behind because although she can spell her name, but can’t write a dissertation yet?

There are the small everyday worries, and then the heart-wrenching ones that keep me up at night. I’m responsible for three little people, and I don’t take that lightly. And so I worry about their health, their education, their happiness. As hard as I try to provide them a safe and loving environment, I can’t protect them forever, nor from everything. But that worry and fear comes with parenting.

Sadness 

Little ones cry a LOT. Spending your day with them might cause a few tears from parents, too. Things that wouldn’t warrant tears from most, but start the waterworks for parents.

These are things I’ve literally cried over:

  • Spilled milk. (The saying tells us not to cry over spilled milk — but spilled breastmilk is a different story.)
  • When my daughter outgrew naptime.
  • How my hair is so much thinner after Baby #3.
  • The time I took my little one on “it’s a small world” at Disneyland.

Joy

There’s anger and sadness woven into many of my days, but sharing in the wonder and excitement of childhood brings me so much joy also. I never outgrew my love for swings, for Disneyland, and for themed celebrations. And now that I’m a mom, I get to take advantage of all those all over again.

My heart also swells with joy when my girls do something sweet for others. And I find no shame in admitting that joy abounds when it’s date night and the kids go to their grandparents’ for a few hours.

Riley’s emotions figured out that most memories are mixed. There’s joy and sadness watching my girls grow. There’s disgust and anger when I look in the cup holders of the car seat. Being a parent is emotional — but all the feels make it such an incredible adventure.

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