– By Shelby Leiding
The seventh myth in our series is that good parenting is about raising a happy child. According to Tsabury’s The Awakened Family, prioritizing our children’s happiness above all else can have some pretty negative consequences – and we’re not just talking about dealing with temper tantrums when your child suddenly doesn’t get their way. In our fast-paced, social media fueled, consumer-driven culture, it can be nearly impossible to resist the pull towards instant gratification. We start confusing wants with needs and come to expect that our happiness is a right as opposed to a privilege.
Unfortunately, this is a very first-world, middle/upper-class problem, and for many families around the world, happiness is quite low on the list of things they want for their children – below other things like food, health care and a decent education. I don’t bring this up to make you feel guilty, but rather to put things in perspective. Does your child really need that new video game? Is failing a test or getting cut from the team really the worst thing that could happen to them? This isn’t to say that there won’t be times when you need to intervene to protect your children from genuine harm, but when we inoculate kids against all pain, disappointment, or discomfort, we rob them of the chance to grow into resilient, compassionate, and empowered individuals.
There’s no doubt that watching your child suffer can be one of the most challenging experiences you will face as a parent or caregiver. Whether it’s because they broke a favourite toy or didn’t make the school play, it can be difficult not to rush in to fix the problem. However, in these moments it’s important to remember that by allowing them to sit in discomfort or fight their own battles, you are helping them build the skills they will need to succeed as adults. Life is unpredictable, and it is almost guaranteed that at some point in the future, your child will face hardship. Thus, by teaching them how to cope with the little difficulties in life, they will be much better prepared for the big challenges to come.
Ironically, it’s also likely that by decreasing your efforts to keep your child happy all the time, you will be increasing their capacity for joy. Happiness is based on external circumstances – which is why it can be so hard to hold onto. Joy, on the other hand, is a state of internal being. It’s a way of being content with and grateful for what is, as opposed to being focused on what is not. For example, it might make your kid happy when you talk to their teacher and get them a part in the play. But it could make them much more joyful to discover that they can find other ways of contributing in a meaningful way- like building the set or helping design the costumes. To frame it another way, happiness might make your kids more comfortable in the short-term, but joy will give them the resilience, grit, and compassion to succeed in the long-term.