I cringe every time I hear a parent say, "I just want my child to be happy."
This is usually part of a very well-meaning, earnest conversation in which parents talk about how they don't have any preconceived ideas about what their child should do in terms of career, sports or hobbies. I understand the sentiment. I do.
But I think happiness isn't what we should be striving for. Instead, it is the end result of what we instill in our children.
We all know parents that just hate to see their little snooky-wookums upset and give in to temper tantrums, requests for more "stuff", and all-around unpleasant behavior. This is in an attempt to make their children "happy". I have seen these parents shrug their shoulders at the ridiculousness of the situation they find themselves in. They throw up the their hands and offer a trite comment such as or "she's got her daddy wrapped around her little finger" or "I guess this is the terrible twos. It must be the age."
I hate to tell you this, but you can't give your child lasting joy. Happiness is not a goal to be reached. It is the result of reaching your goals. I believe that ongoing joy is the result of having certain character traits planted and tended in your soul. In my case, my faith shapes those character traits and how I instill them in my children, but people of all belief systems value pretty much the same things.
When deciding which behaviors are acceptable or need correction, I try to focus on the character traits of empathy, respect, hard work and self control. Anyone who has these four traits will be able to successfully navigate both professional and personal situations. I think this is the biggest key to long-term joy as opposed to short term happiness.
Not offering assistance to a child that has fallen and is crying does not demonstrate empathy. Allowing a child to be sassy to me or lying does not foster a strong sense of respect for others. Half-hearted attempts at homework do not show a strong work ethic. And slamming doors and screaming during a fit does not display any form of self-control.
Now, I realize that children (and adults!) cannot perfectly demonstrate these four character traits at all times. But, children need to know what to strive for. I have found that it is easier to pick and choose my parenting battles based on these four principles. I think it helps me distinguish between the annoyances that every parent faces and the issues that need to be addressed and why.
No, my goal of parenting is not to make my children happy. My goal is to help them become kind, thoughtful, hard working, respectful people who have a strong enough sense of self-discipline to make wise choices for their life. That will require a few tantrums and rages along the way (my children's tantrums - hopefully I will be able to demonstrate self-control better than that.) when they don't get what they want and are unhappy.
They will utterly dislike me at times. I will never be the cool parent, and I am okay with that. Instead, my long-term goal is to be like the woman in Proverbs 31, verse 28. "For her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, he praises her." And I am not going to get there by focusing on trying to make my children happy.