“I just want my kids to be happy. Nothing else matters.”
Parents wanting their children to be happy is an admirable goal. I want that for my children as well. When they are sad, I’m even sadder. All I want to do is make them happy. Even when they’re at fault, I hate to see them suffer. This instinct to protect kids from sadness is even harder to resist for parents who are divorcing or separating. Their children are understandably sad, and sometimes, in response, parents end up overindulging them. After all, their happiness is “all that matters.”
Is Happiness the Be All and End All?
The danger of hyper-focusing on your children’s happiness is that they may grow up feeling entitled to happiness, whether they earn it or not. They expect others, not themselves, to foster their happiness, and they develop poor tolerance or coping skills when something gets them down. The great trophy debate questions whether all kids (even the laziest, sourest kids) should get a trophy just for showing up. There are definitely benefits to awarding trophies to everyone, but in the extreme, it creates a low bar for achievement, and a high bar for entitlement.
Raising Children to Become Healthy and Productive Adults
For separating parents, the focus should be on raising children to become healthy and productive adults, which means teaching them that they, not others, are responsible for their happiness. Instead of protecting your children from discomfort, help them navigate and process their feelings. Give them the tools to overcome challenges. While we hate to see our kids hurt, we need to resist the urge to carte blanche shield them from pain.
Would You Let Your Child Stay Home from School for No Good Reason?
As a fact finder and guardian ad litem, I see this dynamic in cases where a child refuses to see one parent, sometimes for good reason, but often times because they have taken the other parent’s side, or the other parent is not as empathetic or fun. In those cases, I’ve often heard judges ask, “So if the child doesn’t want to go to school, you tell them no problem?” As parents, we make our kids do things that they don’t want to, but are good for them. Like eating vegetables or brushing their teeth. But I’ve actually met parents who will not force their children to go to school if they’re having a bad day, or if they simply hate school.
While keeping them from school makes them extremely happy for the day, the next day there is the same problem, and eventually they fall behind. Instead, it’s best to help them develop the tools to navigate their fears and pain, have them identify their feelings about school, and work with them and the school to address the concerns. We want to encourage problem solving and grit in our children.
Hardship is Inevitable
It is important that children learn to adapt to different situations because one thing we can depend on is that we will face hardship throughout our lives, much of which we do not deserve.
COVID and College
My heart goes out to the high school seniors who were robbed of their “senior experience.” COVID has isolated them and created an uncertain future. Many are worried about colleges because they did not take their SATs, could not participate in extracurricular activities, and were unable to visit colleges. The sadness has been debilitating for some, but others decided to use their free time to improve themselves and the world around them.
Colleges are well-aware of the devastating interruption COVID had on high school education and have adjusted their admissions criteria. They have waived SAT requirements and are much more understanding of lower GPAs. They are prioritizing applicants who used this awful time to do amazing things such as becoming caregivers to younger or elderly relatives, volunteering or helping to fundraise for families in need, starting blogs, learning a language, planting a garden, or even starting an online business, to name a few.
The Key to Happiness
We all want happy children, but more importantly we want children who understand that they are responsible for their own happiness. When disaster hits, we want our kids, and ourselves, to be able to navigate the pain, and come out on the other side of it, hopefully, even stronger.