Lessons from the “Inside Out”

We recently took our kids to see the new Pixar movie, “Inside Out” and judging by the box office returns, so did many of you.

The movie, its’ premise, the writing and the storytelling impressed me greatly and left me pondering a few elements of my parenting. It’s funny when a cartoon movie does that, isn’t it? The film focuses on five emotions that the child protagonist feels — Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear — and the story has a lot to teach modern parents about allowing our children to own their emotions, live in the moment and helping parents to stop scripting or manipulating every experience our child has.

What got me thinking is this: Like all parents, I want my kids to be happy. Or as the movie puts it, to feel joy. In the film, the main character is a pre-teen girl named Riley who is confronted with a torrent of emotions when her family moves from the midwest to San Francisco. Needless to say, it doesn’t go well and her joy-filled life is suddenly contorted into a raging river of anger, hurt and longing.

Here’s where my parenting got exposed. Like most parents, I am concerned with my children’s happiness. I want to create opportunities and experiences for them that make them smile, opens new worlds to them and allows them to build strong core memories of family, laughter and contentment. That is central to my core values as a father.

But the movie made me think. And it made me consider that my desire to surround my kids with joy might be slightly detached from reality. You see, Riley experiences deep sadness during the movie but she learns that through sadness can come overwhelming and life-affirming joy. It happens all the time, right? A friend loses a job and feels depressed and worthless. But then a new, better job comes along and sweeps aside those tortuous feelings of sadness. Your friend is reborn. Or a loved one dies and we sink into a abyss of grief. But rather than letting that sadness overtake us, we find strength in the life our loved one lived and vow to carry on their legacy. You must first know sadness to appreciate joy.

The same is true with our children. It’s impossible for each day to filled with sunshine and rainbows. After all, it’s bound to be gray and overcast every once in a while. Our children need to see that, understand it and accept it as a part of life. There is pain in the world, after all, and they will feel it. If we rob them of the ability to process it, handle it and overcome it, then we are cheating them of a vital life skill.

I’ve been pondering this issue lately after a friend of mine called our children the “teacup” generation, a generation of kids who’ve been coddled and are so fragile that they might break as soon as they experience failure. Part of that mindset comes from trying to make sure our children are insulated from harm, pain and, yes, sadness. That’s what we do from the moment our children are born — try to catch them before they fall, anticipate their needs and protect them from heartache. But while that’s our natural instinct it’s not always reality.

And the more we try to micromanage their happiness as they grow up, it will wind up causing our children greater harm, pain and sadness in the future if we fail to let them experience these difficult emotions that will toughen them up and teach them how to be happy.

My aunt once told me that the pediatrician for her children gave her a great piece of advice. She was lamenting that it was challenging to discipline her children because she didn’t want to upset them. Her doctor told her, “It’s better for you to discipline those children now rather than letting life do it. Life won’t be nearly so kind.”


The Beginning
About Happiest Daddy

Two boys, one wife and a ton of material. I live for family and I'm one of the most blessed people you will ever meet.

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