“I Just Want Him to be Happy”
Several years ago the mother of a 5th and 2nd grader came in to talk. She was in the early stages of a divorce and was having a lot of trouble with fifth grader John. About fifteen minutes into her descriptions of unpleasant incidents she said with tears just behind her eyes: “I only want him to be happy.”
“That is probably not a realistic objective right now,” I said.
It was the right thing to say. It was understandable that John was unhappy, and he had a perfect right to be unhappy. His parents were going through a divorce, for heaven’s sake.
But my statement has general validity, too. It is completely understandable for parents to want their children to be happy, but it is not particularly constructive as a goal. In fact, it is self-defeating. The pursuit of happiness makes happiness increasingly elusive.
There are many things we naturally want for our children: happiness, winning, achievement, a girl friend, success, mastery of academic skills, and so on. But often the aim must be different from the goal. If happiness is our goal for children, our aim must be to help them love a challenge. This is our best focus for helping them acquire the grit to live in life’s tensions—the confidence to learn from conflict, mistakes, disappointment, failure, loneliness and losing.
As I write this I know that I am running counter to a major drift in American society today. What are your thoughts?