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Just Let Them Be Upset

For spring break this year, my family visited friends who live near Washington D.C. and played tourist in our nation’s capital.

On one particular day, there was a fair amount of walking and waiting in line, especially for kids who don’t quite appreciate the experience yet and would really prefer to be with their friends playing.

As we were walking from the Library of Congress on one end of the National Mall to the White House about a mile away, my kids (ages 9-14) were getting really whiny.

There was a time not too long ago when this situation would have made me quite anxious.

I would have felt the need to make them happy again, even it meant changing our plans, or stopping for expensive treats. I might have become snappy or frustrated, preaching at them how they should be grateful for the experience.

But this time? I just let them be upset.

And I kept on being excited and happy myself. I was being silly, skipping down the sidewalk.

I was allowing myself to be amazed at the details I noticed. I took pictures. I asked questions out loud for everyone to think about.

I ignored the grumpy faces and high pitched voices.

I remembered I had some gum in my backpack and handed it out to the troops and- voila! Everyone was back to their happy selves.

We got as close as possible to the White House for a family selfie (which was still too far away). We grabbed some souvenirs on the way back to the car and before we knew it, we were at the house playing with our friends again

What could have turned the rest of the day into an unpleasant experience, was diverted just by me choosing my own attitude and not trying to “fix” how my kids were feeling.

I have learned that it’s okay if my kids are hungry. It’s okay if they are uncomfortable–cold, tired, or have sore feet. Moods come and go, and my kids’ moods don’t have to determine my own.

However, recognizing the power of MY mood on theirs has been eye-opening.

Family travel can be a time of high stress.

I’ve learned to try to not compound a negative situation by adding my own negativity to the pile.

We may not be able to control everyone’s emotions, but we can control our own.

Denita Bremer is a stay-at-home mom to three kids who is currently feeding a dream to become a life coach. She lives in Colorado, but loves to travel to the earth’s beaches because life is better at the beach. She has a baby blog at Author of A Good Story.

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  1. Sourav S

    Enjoyed the article.

    • Denita

      Thank you!

  2. Ann

    Love the sentiment and it’s something I strive for myself. Yet, being a highly sensitive person, I find it very difficult to tune out and focus on my own joy when whining, complaining, unhappiness, etc, goes on for extended periods of time. I have children in my immediate family for whom no amount of happiness (or gum) will influence them out of their lousy moods. And then I can only tune it out for so long before my stress levels rise.

    • Denita Bremer

      I get that! It has taken me a looong time to get to this point. Part of what I wanted to get across is that you can be in control of your own mood even if others are grumpy. It does take work though!

  3. Jackie

    Too late for this trip, but I live in DC and recommend viewing the White House from the other side. You’re able to get much closer! There’s almost always a small, peaceful protest going on as well, so it’s a much more interesting experience than the National Mall side.

    • Denita Bremer

      Ah! Such a great tip! We will definitely use it next time– hopefully there will be a next time because there are so many great things to see around DC! Thanks!!

  4. joanna

    Great reminder. Let them be upset and not fix the situation is such good advice.
    I am a teacher and this comes up constantly.

    • Denita Bremer

      Oooh, I bet it comes in handy in the classroom! What a great place to put this principle in use.

  5. Cayla

    I needed this today too! This can be applied at work too. Hmmmm.

    • Denita Bremer

      Yes! So many ways you can let this idea work for you!

  6. Kathleen

    My husband is in recovery from alcoholism and this is something we in Al-Anon really try to work on – freedom from codependence! It’s soooo hard, but so freeing and worth it!

    • Denita Bremer

      I can see how that would help. Ultimately, separating our own emotions from those around us really benefits us, no matter what sphere of life we struggle. Parenting for me, but school, work, and other relationships too!

  7. Marieke

    Timely read as it’s summer break before we know it! I have kids in that same age group and sometimes it seems they just need to get things out of their system. Five minutes later, they can be in a completely different mood. For no apparent reason. :0) Hard to keep up as a parents at times but I’ll keep your words in mind. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Jaime

    I loved this. We are currently living overseas and have a lot of amazing travel opportunities, but it often feels negative because of the kids’ attitudes. This article made me think more about my own role in the situation and I can see how often I just compound matters by trying to “fix” my kids. So thank you for holding up a mirror!

    • Denita Bremer

      We lived in Germany for a year and traveled around Europe too. I wish I had learned this then, because yes– they have bad attitudes and don’t appreciate what they are experiencing. We’ve been home for 7 months and they are getting some perspective now.

    • Krista

      I’m glad this post was helpful for you, and it would have been for me when we were living in Europe for 4 years! We traveled extensively with young children, and one thing that really helped my attitude was adjusting my expectations: Our trips were great for seeing amazing things, experiencing different cultures, a change of routine, and family time. (Not necessarily for relaxing, always-happy children or catching up on sleep!) Now that we are back in the U.S., our children seem to have “forgotten” all the negative about our international travels and just remember the good!

  9. Rebecca Jackson

    Love this!

  10. Myriam

    Yes, yes, and yes! I’ve been thinking about this too… When we’re in the thick of it, we forget that moods will shift – often quicker than we expect! I’ve been thinking about writing a post about exactly this in my own blog, in relation to my daughter’s tantrums (she’s 5)… I’ve been hesitating to write about it because I don’t want to show her in a negative light. But I think the idea of controlling our own emotions is key!! Good perspective. Thanks for this!

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  12. Renee

    What a great reminder. Thank you!

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