I have found myself repeating to parents over the years: never parent out of fear.
Then I wondered to myself, have I been saying this all along and never realized it or has something about parenting changed? I believe that something in the way we parent has definitely shifted. We parents have become a very frightened lot.
What (beside everything) are we specifically frightened about when it comes to our children? We parents are terrified of our kids not being happy. We have arrived at a point in parenting history where the primary goal of hours in labor, years of working to make ends meet and reading parenting texts where we believe that the sum of our success rests in the happiness of our children.
How many times have you heard yourself mutter to your youngster (or adult child), “”all I want is for you to be happy.” I think I just told my 26 year old in graduate school that. The question for each of us longsuffering parents is, “is that what we really want for them?” Of course we don’t want them unhappy, but should the primary goal of parenting be the happiness of our children?
I don’t believe that it should be. As a matter of fact, I believe that when we make our child’s happiness the measure of great parenting, we fail our children. Parents who strive to keep their kids happy don’t end up with happy kids. Why? There are two reasons. First, what really makes kids happy is experiencing failure and learning to stand up again and try harder the next time. This act brings deep satisfaction to the child’s soul.
Second, when we measure the success of our parenting by the level of happiness in our kids, we set ourselves up to fail. We become slaves to protecting them from ever feeling bad and ever experiencing sadness or boredom. No parent can keep his child from these and neither should he. Straining to keep kids constantly happy sets them up for miserable lives as adults and it makes us feel like miserable parents when our kids are unhappy.
The only reason that we work so fervently to keep our kids from experiencing failure or sadness is fear. We are afraid that we will be bad parents if we let them experience unhappiness. Quite simply, we believe that that’s not what good parents in America do.
It’s time we change that. Good parents let their kids fail and then help them get up on their feet again. We should measure the success of our parenting not by the happiness of our children but by the goodness of their character. Great parenting begins when we drive away our fear that we will be bad parents if our kids get knocked about by life. After all, these are the moments that really help our kids
define who they are and who they are going to become.
And- it allows us to measure our success as parents against something far healthier than our child’s happiness: our child’s goodness.