The old cliché is that we just want our kids to be happy. Ideally, they find their passion and live happily ever after. Go to school, easily make good grades, go to college, get a secure job, buy a house, get married, and have some children. The timeline was predictable and easily attainable for most.
But, long gone are the days of silver spoons and white picket fences. No more do we have the ‘typical’ family. The days of staying with the same company or career for a lifetime are over. And, the probability that a student can automatically get good grades by paying attention in class are low.
Times have changed, folks. Life is stressful in the land of the free. Changing social, political, and economic norms makes the idea of success more important now than ever. The pressures are high, and dysfunctional. So, do we just want our kids to be happy anymore or do we want more?
We need our kids to get a job and pay their own bills one day! But, there’s more. I want my children to be good citizens, give back, live fully, be confident in who they are, make their own path towards finding peace, AND be happy. I want them to be successful. And, to become successful, you might have to hurdle upsets, disappointments, setbacks, and heartbreak. To become successful, you may be unhappy at times. So, I want to rewrite the script and expect that to become happy, one must experience unhappiness.
In this society, we are taught that we should feel and look happy. And, if you don’t, you have to fix it and fix it fast. Take a pill. Don’t cry. Go on a diet. Go shopping. But, please stay happy. This idea is permeating our society yet leaving us less happy and satisfied.
Now, approaching the ripe age of 4o, I realize and am accepting that it’s not realistic to be happy all the time and that’s ok. Being happy doesn’t define me because, like in the movie Inside Out, it takes a whole team of emotions to experience joy. Joy and happiness are not always front and center. It is normal to feel angry, disappointed, scared, hurt, or even sad sometimes. It’s time we teach our kids this too.
Instead of providing hours of entertainment with outings and time at home filled with business and stuff, we’d be better off as parents if we let them create their own fun. Or, better yet, let them get a little bored so they accept this feeling is normal. Research is starting to crop up with the benefits of boredom. (click here for list of benefits). Being more imaginative and creative, letting the mind wander, and leaving space for self-reflection are just a few reasons for all of us to be bored.
And, on top of feeling bored, allow them to have those hard feelings too. When we shield our children from feeling down, we are actually setting them up to be unsuccessful! It seems counterintuitive but it’s true. If we want our children to develop an internal locus of control and grit, we let them feel uncomfortable sometimes. We stop rushing into fix things for them and let them squander sometimes. We allow for natural consequences and disappointment. We let them get mad at us!
We need to teach our children to deal with disappointment, and then show them what it takes to push on. And, sometimes they just have to figure that out on their own which is so hard for parents. We hate to see our children struggle and hurt. But, when we don’t teach them that this is normal, they will end up a lot more unhappy in the long run!
Making things too easy and fun may actually create more demanding, less empathetic, and more depressed children and adults. Just look at the rising rates of depression, suicide, and medication in this country. Something is going wrong. Adults don’t know how to cope in a healthy, healing way.
We must teach our children how to get through periods of unhappiness. If we can work through some unpleasant times and feelings, then the reward is feeling satisfied. Instead of shooting for happiness, we will all end up more happy if we feel gratification for dealing with something hard and getting to the other side, even if we weren’t always happy along the way.
So, the next time your child is bored, or upset, or sad, let them be. Allow some space. Let them work through it. Tell them it’s ok to feel this way. Stop fixing and trying to make them happy because sometimes the most successful kids weren’t always happy.