Not just happy

“I just want my child to be happy” is such a common parenting motto. And it’s said with a self-congratulatory pat on the back, like, I don’t have expectations for my child, they could be anything they want so long as they’re happy, I would respect their choices because I’m that cool! 

Eh, I’m not so sure about it, for a few reasons. 

First, there’s a whole load of the privilege embedded into the “just”. The “just” takes for granted enormous things like being born in a family that can afford good food and warm clothes, having access to education, being born in a peaceful country, having no major health or disability issues, and so on and so forth. 

Second, can we please not shame the parents of children who experience depression, and the children themselves?  

Third, the world isn’t a place of only happiness. I want the little dude to see the joy in the world, and he’s going to have plenty of opportunities for that. But I also want him to see that there is pain and suffering and injustice in the world, because that is the truth. I remember being at primary school and reading The Silver Sword. What I didn’t know was that the Rwandan genocide was occurring that very year, while I slept safe and warm in my bed thinking that all wars ended long before my parents were born. When the little dude learns about pain and suffering inflicted for no reason, I will be here to answer his questions, but I expect that it will make him feel devastated and enraged and shocked to the core to find out that people kill people, because those are appropriate emotions in the circumstances.  

Forth, is it really a great idea to promote the idea in children that they should be happy all the time? (No, the answer is no. It’s a terrible idea.) 

Fifth and finally, because happiness is an internal state of mind, it’s a useless yardstick for parents. How can you ever really know  whether your kid is happy as they move beyond the transparent toddler years? That teenager who seems like the life of the party may actually be self-medicating with alcohol. That kid who seems pensive and lonely may be totally content reading books in a corner of the library and ignoring the other children.  

None of this is to suggest that I want the little dude to be unhappy. Of course not! He seems to be a pretty happy-go-lucky soul by nature, and all his needs are being met. I want him to have complete confidence that he is loved, and for him to trust me. When he is grown, I want him to be a person of integrity and compassion. I want him to appreciate his blessings and to understand that the world does not bestow blessings evenly; and I hope he finds meaning in helping make the world a better place.