But I Just Want You To Be Happy

Mar 06 | Tony | No Comments |

As a parent, what is your primary goal in raising a child or children in today’s world? Some parents argue that making their children happy is a top priority. Parent’s lives are spent trying to smooth the way for a child. They labor over their child’s homework, do all the household chores, schedule a busy calendar of just-the-right activities and play dates with just-the-right playmates, and all the while providing for every need and almost every desire. (See iPhones, iPads, iTouches, i-anything and i-everything.)

I argue that the real goal of parenting kids in today’s world is not about happiness at all. Rather, it is about helping create resilience. Deep down, most of us know that happiness is fleeting anyway. Certainly working toward an overall sense of well-being is a worthwhile lifelong pursuit. But outright happiness? All the time? Not a chance. It is a passing emotion at best, along with joy, sadness, worry, anger, etc. Don’t get me wrong. I want as much happiness as I can get, but I know there has to be room on the shelf for all the other emotions and feelings that come with being alive and conscious.

So why the obsession with trying to make kids happy? Are we as parents trying to live out our version of the Family Fairy Tale? Is this the continuation of the Happily Ever After Fairy Tale where the prince and princess fall in love and live happily ever after? But that’s not how it ends, is it? The rest of the story is that they wind up having kids. Then they ALL have to live happily ever after. Right? So how do you do that as a parent? How do you create happily ever after childhoods for your children?  You spend your waking hours and hard-earned dollars in the relentless pursuit of their happiness.

In the actual fairy tales of old, life is hard, scary, and treacherous. It is not all roses and sunshine. Life intervenes. Bad things happen. Wolves eat grandmothers. Children are abducted and fattened up in cages. Witches cast spells. Beauties eat poison apples. Knights lose their way and wander aimlessly in dark forests for years. But isn’t real life just like this? Just read or listen to the news on any given day. Nothing there has anything to do with happiness.

So what is it that life demands of us each and every day? Above all, I argue that it demands resilience. And resilience is precisely the quality that is needed in order for children to grow up and make their way in the world. Resilience is needed more than ever in these rocking and reeling times. It is resilience that will carry our children forward in a world that demands so much of them in so many different ways and on so many different fronts.

The Oxford American Dictionary defines resilience as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties.” So, in order to cultivate resilience, one first has to actually encounter difficulties. And therein lies the rub, my friend. What parent has the stomach to stand by while their child struggles – and struggles mightily – with something? There are a million somethings – a million opportunities – for each child to build resilience: potty training, navigating social circles, doing the dishes, being dumped, failing math class, sitting the bench, etc.)

As a parent, how do you teach resilience to your child? Resilience can not be taught, it can only be cultivated. The art of authentically parenting a child involves providing ripe conditions and environments for resilience to be brought forth from within the child. That means allowing the child to fully face his or her own unique challenges, and to be beaten and battered by them. They need to fully feel the cut of life, the heat of the dragon’s fire, the bitter taste of the poison in the apple, and to get lost every now and then in the forest of life. Parents that cultivate resilience in their children make sure the wounds are not lethal, the fires do not consume, and that the child finds his or her way home.

Each child has to have authentic setbacks, disappointments, and failures early on in life in order to access inner resources, build resilience, and gain wisdom. A parent’s job is to watch closely and to cheer them as they fall nine times and get up ten. Parents that are cultivating resilience hope that a lot of the falling happens on their watch so they can help children notice what it feels like to tumble, have the wind taken out, and to muster the courage to rise again.

Tags: ,