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I realised recently that the line “all I want is for you to be happy” it’s a default one. It’s a line that we use because it’s what we think we’re “supposed” to say. It’s a line we use when we don’t have a better one. It’s a line we fall back on when we don’t have the time or energy to deal with the issue that someone has brought to us for comment.
When a child is feeling sad, angry, anxious, jealous, inferior, frustrated or uncertain, a parent will often say to their child “all I want is for you to be happy.” From adult to adult, we say this, as well as things like “as long as you’re happy, that's all that matters.” But no, it isn't all that matters.
Whether we’re it intending to or not, the constant use of this line may be communicating to our children that the pursuit of happiness almost always trumps the pursuit of other things. For some of us, this may be the case. Whatever your view though, it’s crucial to remember that happiness is a by-product of our experience and not an end state.
I want my child to be happy. I want my loved ones to pursue happiness. I want my loved ones to feel happy, most of the time. What I do not want to say to my child though is “all I want is for you to be happy.”
I want to instill in my child that grief is a necessary emotion. I want to teach him to navigate grief and model to him that grief is what brings about new perspective and sentimentality.
There are times when I want my child to feel hurt and rejected, not because I will enjoy seeing him feel this way, but because I know that this is how he will develop empathy.
I want my child to get angry in certain situations because anger helps us identify the fire in our belly; our sense of purpose; our causes; our morality.
I want my child to feel jealous on occasion, for it is often through jealousy and the actions we take because of it that we learn that the grass is not always greener. It can be what leads us to feel contentment and gratitude.
I want my child to have his trust betrayed to some extent so that he can learn the values of trust and kindness, and consolidate his own boundaries.
I want my child to feel empowered, for empowerment is what drives determination, perseverance, courage, and self-confidence.
I want my child to experience what it's like to go without certain things so that he can discover the value of appreciation, the process of creativity, the consequences of feeling entitled and the importance of sharing and charity.
I will challenge my child. I will put him in uncomfortable situations. I will tell him hard truths as required. I will be honest with him when things are not okay. I will call him out when his behaviour is not acceptable. I will not put on a brave face all the time “to protect him." I will model a wide range of emotions to him and explain their manifestation as we go.
By the same token, I will always reinforce to my child that I am his biggest supporter. I will make it known how much I love him, with physical and verbal affection. I will answer his questions. I will be there when he needs me. I will step back when he doesn’t and I’ll apologise when I make the wrong call with doing so. I will teach him it’s only not only okay to make mistakes, but necessary to make them.
When my child is struggling, I will not rush to “fix” it all the time. I will not say “all I want is for you to be happy.” What I will say is “would you like to talk about it?” Sometimes I will say “I’m going to give you some space and I will check in with you soon.” Other times I will say “you may not want to talk about it, but on this occasion, we have to.” Sometimes I will be the one saying “I’m not ready to talk yet.”
It is through these conversations that my child will learn that there’s so much more to life than happiness. This is how he will learn to “sit” with his emotions and avoid bottling up the ones that will damage him if he does so. This is how he will learn that the sole pursuit of happiness is a dangerous one and is one undertaken at the expense of so many other valuable and enriching things. It's also how he'll come to understand the irony of happiness, in the sense that it often sprouts from negative experiences and emotions.
I want my child to be happy. It’s not all I want for him though. That’s why I’ll never tell him that.
I'm married to Sam and I'm a mother to Henry.