I am Joy. I am the happy-go-lucky character that sets out to stir my children into happiness when Sadness mopes forlornly into their day. I parent to have my daughters be afflicted with my happy contagion. That was before the Joy character of the Inside Out movie set me to believing that it is okay for Joy and Sadness to sit comfortably together. Joy – the movie character – had her revelation ten minutes ahead of the rolling credits. I got it at the same time. Sadness delivered the refresher lesson that it is normal to be sad sometimes and allow the people that love my daughters and I to come in close to comfort us.

After seeing the movie my youngest observed, “I thought that I had more than five emotions.” Little did she know that the Pixar flick had taken some liberty in trimming down the research done by Robert Plutchik (who proposed eight primary emotions) to five. My daughter got to see the characters Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear. I was able to share that our emotions can blend. She asked if that meant she could be scared and happy on the rides at White Water World. Exactly!

I know a little of Robert Plutchik’s work and realise that any of his eight key emotions can be experienced as a heightened state. For instance, over-the-top joy is ecstasy. Or, the softened version of joy is serenity. So, the heightened or softened state of the eight key emotions actually creates a list of 24 emotions.

However, in my world, knowing the theory and giving over to vulnerability to allow my emotions to show, can sometimes be a long way apart. I try to hold the time my daughters and I share in ‘happy-happy-joy-joy.’ Happy-happy-joy-joy defines our own chipper emotion… our wonderful go-to place when our happiness is in sync. I parent with an emphasis on forging settled time with one another, and our joy comes from that. Even the “helping dad out” stuff I prompt with good cheer. And, even in the narky niggles that can be present whenever you add in kids, I will try to grind out a smile in the direction of my daughters. I will try to layer joy over the top of my sadness or fear or disappointment or annoyance.

Meanwhile, I am having new insights into parenting a near-teen. The emotional mix isn’t just one or two emotions. It is a hodgepodge of feelings that are sometimes blurted out following an incidental trigger such as cutting the toast in triangles instead of squares.

I recently nattered to a counsellor who runs parenting courses. During our chat she offered that the language of emotions can be as critical as allowing all emotions to play out appropriately. A big pointer she offered was to Google “list of emotions.” The 24 emotions became hundreds. Interestingly, she proposed that I don’t ask “what are you feeling?” because kids can be distracted by finding the right descriptive word. Instead, “I can see you are disappointed/unhappy/worried/embarrassed” and then simply holding still to let the emotion play into the settled space between dad and daughter. Listening to the encouraging tips of the experts allows me to learn a healthy alternative to trying to maintain a perpetually happy atmosphere.

As a single dad, I deliberately set out to craft examples for my daughters to witness what a dad can be. I want my girls to help me out with the dishes and cooking a meal as much as I want the fly-away joy of jostling on a beach or blowing bubbles into our drinks or playing dolls. Ironically, I am the old dad whose daughters keep up the teasing about my grey hair, yet I am still growing up and learning through the innocent wisdom of my children and some of the healthy kid movies we share.


Photo by Pixar via Wikimedia Commons.

Published On: March 21st, 20230 CommentsTags: , , ,

About the Author: Greg McInerney

Greg is the father of two daughters.

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