Is it possible that in our misguided attempt as parents to ensure our kids’ happiness, we are missing out on what actually makes them happy in the first place?
In a flukey turn of events last Christmas, my two young nephews wound up getting just one toy apiece on Christmas Eve. As they are the youngest children in either of their parent’s families, the Christmas norm is for them to have piles of brightly colored toys to open Christmas morning. This year apparently everyone that gives a gift to them decided that clothing, room decorations, books and even fun towels would be better gifts. Except, of course, Santa. Santa came through in the end with very much-anticipated light sabers.
My sister was worried. She thought the kids would notice the lack of toys, and perhaps they did for the first few minutes. Once the light sabers were opened, however, happiness ensued. For an entire day we ducked our heads as light sabers came our way. It turns out, Christmas for these young chaps was about cookies, movies and time with big cousins. Well, and light sabers of course!
My kids are much older, but this made me think about how often I work too hard to make sure my kids are happy. If one of them wants to use the car to go out with friends and I need to go to the store, I’m likely to hold off on my trip so I don’t have to disappoint the kid. Often times, I find out later that the kid didn’t really care if he went with friends or not.
The unintended consequence of judging ourselves based on our kids’ happiness.
As parents in the mid 2000’s, it has become common for us to judge ourselves on the happiness of our kids. Years ago it was parents ability to raise kids who could provide for the family or avoid being eaten by a lion that served as a measuring stick for their success.
Without those things for most of us to worry about today we’ve moved towards judging our success due to our kids happiness. No matter parents’ income level, ask them what they most want and it is for their kids to be happy or to have a better life than they had as children.
It seems that part of wanting kids to be happy is to grant them the things we think they want the most without bothering them with the worry about how we are going to be able to pay for those things.
Yet a recent study conducted by Harvard found that “Parents who seek to preserve their children’s happiness by constantly protecting them from adversity can rob them of coping strategies that are crucial to their long-term happiness.” (Carter, 2010; Lyubomirsky, 2008; Myers, 2000; Valliant, 2012).
It makes sense if you think about it. By making kids happy now by buying them everything they want or doing the things that bring them immediate gratification, we are setting them up for future unhappiness when we are no longer able to provide for them in the same way.
It’s high time as parents that we stop using happy kids as a benchmark to our success and instead consider how well we are preparing them for a future outside of our homes. Only then can we all be truly happy.