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  • You Work Hard To Make Your Kid Happy, But You Might Be Going About It the Wrong Way

    Our kids’ happiness is paramount, of course. But how do we set out to achieve it?
    by Dahl D. Bennett .
You Work Hard To Make Your Kid Happy, But You Might Be Going About It the Wrong Way
PHOTO BY iStock
  • Ask any parent what they wish most for their children, and right up there in their list, along with good education and success in life, is happiness.  “I just want my children to be happy,” is a line we’ve probably not only said to our spouses and other moms but to ourselves, and maybe, even directly to our children.

    While well-intentioned, the process of providing our children’s “happiness” in the context of modern parenting has become a source of anxiety. In her TEDx talk titled “For Parents, Happiness Is A Very High Bar,” author Jennifer Senior points out how parents pour their timeenergy, and resources into their kids even though they have less and less of those things to give.

    “Mothers now spend more time with their children than they did in 1965 when most women were not even in the workforce,” says the author of The New York Times bestselling book Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood.

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    Shifting roles

    Historically, she says, that children were considered economic assets bringing income to the family by working on farms, factories, mills, and mines. The Progressive-era brought an end to this when we recognized that the child had rights, and thus education became their new work, she adds. “Rather than them working for us, we began to work for them, because within only a matter of decades it became clear: If we wanted our kids to succeed, school was not enough.”

    Extracurricular activities such as soccer and piano lessons became extensions of academics, but this too became work for parents as they are the ones who have to bring the kids to practices and lessons apart from checking their homework, Senior expounds.

    “So, absent being able to anticipate the future, what we all do, as good parents, is try and prepare our kids for every possible kind of future, hoping that just one of our efforts will pay off,” she says.

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    Parenthood as crisis

    She says that parents are improvising as they go, trying to navigate their way in the demands of the modern world with modern family set-ups and even changing spousal roles. “...We are also navigating new roles as husbands and wives because most women today are in the workforce. This is another reason, I think, that parenthood feels like a crisis. We have no rules, no scripts, no norms for what to do when a child comes along now that both mom and dad are breadwinners.”

    Amid all these parenting challenges, she says, there is one thing that parents agree with “whether they are tiger moms or hippie moms, helicopters or drones”:  The kids’ happiness is paramount.

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    Happiness is a wonderful goal but…

    Senior warns that ensuring a child’s happiness and self-confidence is an unfair burden to place on parents. It is a wonderful goal, she says, but a very elusive one. “Happiness and self-confidence, teaching children that is not like teaching them how to plow a field. It's not like teaching them how to ride a bike. There's no curriculum for it. Happiness and self-confidence can be the byproducts of other things, but they cannot really be goals unto themselves,” she says.

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    The better, maybe even more noble goal, she suggests, is to focus on making productive kids and moral kids, and hope that happiness will come to them by the good that they do and their accomplishments and the love that they feel from parents. This she says can be the script parents can adopt when there is none available. “Absent having new scripts, we just follow the oldest ones in the book — decency, a work ethic, love — and let happiness and self-esteem take care of themselves. I think if we all did that, the kids would still be all right, and so would their parents, possibly in both cases even better,” she concludes.

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