I’m the adult: not burdening children with responsibility for fixing our black moods

I’m so angry, I’m vibrating. You know that feeling? When you’re not sure if it’s the world around you that’s shaking or your innards? I’m so angry, I want to scream, stomp, feel my fist crash into something hard and preferably breakable…

Instead, I get into the car with all three of my kids. Safe, eh?

Close my eyes. Take a deep breath. Sternly tell myself: “Thy truck is not a weapon and you will not feel better if you mow down an unfortunate pedestrian.” Take another deep breath. Try to get the world to stop shaking.


Grip the steering wheel. Start driving.

The two little redheads in the backseat are oblivious of my mood. They’re talking to each other, over each other. Excited about where we’re going.

The older, messy-haired blonde in the front seat beside me… he picks up on every nuance. And he starts to talk to me, frenetically. About the Redwood Forest. The new Redwood biome in Minecraft about which he’s so excited. He offers story after story, asks question after question, trying to lure me out of my anger, hate, blackness.

I don’t realize what he’s doing, not right away. I answer monosyllabically, barely hearing him through my anger. And then, suddenly, something he says—or maybe the way he says, the pitch of his voice—breaks through the fog, the blackness, and I stare at him in horror.

He’s trying to fix me.

He’s trying to make me feel better.

He’s taking responsibility for making my black mood go away.

…and here you might think, Jane, what the hell? Why the horror? Why is this a bad thing? Oh, it is. Hold on. Read on.

“My beautiful boy,” I say, and I reach for his hand, and squeeze it. “I appreciate… I very much appreciate what you are trying to do. But it’s my bad mood. And I’m the only one who can get me out of it. Don’t—don’t take it on yourself.”

He frowns, doesn’t understand.

But it doesn’t matter. Me realizing what he was doing—enough. I grit my teeth one final time. Take one—two–three–more breaths. Wish I could close my eyes, but there’s a semi to the right of me and a cement truck to the left, so I just shake my head side to side.

I’m not happy, not tranquil or joyous. But. I am sane. The black fog of anger recedes.

At this precise moment, the two redheads in the backseat—oblivious to everything but their own interaction and joy—start up a chorus of:

Ender: Fox in box. Fox in box. Fox in box.

Flora: Moist. Moist. Moist. Moist.

…because they know just how to push my buttons. But, I’m sane again, so I just yell at them in the usual Mom way—not the psycho bitch from hell who will devour you alive if you say one more word you little beasts way. They giggle and fall silent.

Cinder keeps on talking about the Redwood Forest, but now only because he wants to, not because he’s trying to jar me out of blackness.

Not his responsibility. Never.

Do you understand?

Do you understand the danger of making a child feel responsible for taking you out of your foul mood?

Not for putting you in a foul mood. That’s different. I’ve got no qualms at all about saying, “Mommy’s pissed off because you dumped the potty over the balcony and stuck a crayon up the dog’s butt.”

But when when I’m unhappy—when you’re unhappy–when you and I are angry, black, broken, all those ugly, ugly feelings that come on all of us (and always at the most inconvenient times, no?)—it’s our job to work on ourselves and get ourselves out of that dark place.

Or–a therapist’s.

Not our children’s. It’s not their responsibility. Not their burden.


They’ll take it on, you know, if you don’t stay aware. And I’m not crazy or dogmatic: a little love and care from the people around you, even the little people, when you’re down, is a beautiful thing. Nothing like a hug or a bowl of chocolate chips put into a frazzled mother’s hand at just the right time to turn a hard moment around.

A little love, awareness, affection. A beautiful thing.

Taking on responsibility for fixing a parent’s, an adult’s blackness?

Not their responsibility. Not their burden.




Cinder long messy hair unhappyP.S. Don’t worry, the black mood is gone, and I love everyone and everything again. Well, maybe not everyone. Or everything. But–all the important people. And enough things. But. Anger as a parent. A terrifying thing, is it not? Close your eyes (unless you’re driving). Breathe….

Photo: Cinder in an unhappy mood of his own. But, if I recall right, this was had a very direct cause: swarms of pre-flood mosquitoes the size of hummingbirds with the appetites of vampire bats.

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