Recently, listening to a radio conversation about childhood, I heard one of the presenters point out how unrealistic it is for parents to take on responsibility for a child’s happiness. Parents want so much for their children to be happy (fact is, it could well be the most frequently misapplied self-evaluation measure used when raising children) – but it is possibly the most unreasonable of expectations for any parent to place on themselves.
At the same time, it is perfectly appropriate to take on the burden of providing for children’s physical needs, to work to maintain a safe environment, to love them tenderly and obviously, to shower them with affection, to make sure our kids have a great education, to expose them to art, travel, and music, to keep them clean, well-nourished, and cared for. We should pray for them every day, play with them, teach them social skills, and cultivate a positive family life…
As a parent, my heart was broken most often and most completely when our children were struggling, and when they were unhappy. I could understand, intellectually, that Rebekah and I were doing everything right (everything that was in our power to do…); but happiness isn’t something any parent has the authority to gift, or to guarantee, or to compel. All we can do is to provide the kind of environment where children can grow, where they can learn, where they can become productive, and where they can discover meaning.
THEY ARE BOTH SO HAPPY! This is one reason I am such a contented, exuberant, overflowing with joy empty-nester today. Our children are both so very happy, they have amazingly loving spouses, and their lives are full and productive – loaded with meaning.
I may not hold myself responsible for this happy turn of events, but I most certainly find myself delighted!
Best of all – and it’s all good – is to watch Naomi and Craig raise our grandchildren. This is a challenging era for kids to grow up with a balanced perspective, and I see so much “out there” in the way of parenting that disappoints me. Yet Naomi and Craig are doing so much that is right, providing the quality of environment where David and Beks are encouraged to learn, to be productive, and to discover meaning.
You see, trying to make kids “happy” as a parenting goal is ineffectual and counterproductive. If our focus is simply on happiness, we will almost certainly fail. But if our goal is meaning, we will likely achieve both meaning and – eventually – happiness. Because happiness is not an end in itself, but rather a byproduct of productivity, and applied love, and meaning.
So I look at these photographs of David and Beks, hanging out with their mom and their uncle Andrew, visiting the firehouse with their dad, having fun with Andrew and Alicia, and helping to take the family gear to the beach… I see the emphasis on meaning, and on the practice of love, and on being a family.
When all those elements are in place, I really don’t worry too much about if they’re going to be happy.
Peace – DEREK