Thursday, February 10, 2011

Our children will not always be happy

When I was a young father, I had a strange expectation. I don’t know why, but I had it in my head that when I corrected my kids, they’d be happy to have me do it.

I had always dreamed of a happy home – Mom and Dad smiling and playing with good natured kids who loved one another and got along. Frankly, I grew up in a really happy home. I got along with my siblings (they were extremely kind to me; I was the youngest), and I got along with my parents. My folks had disagreements, and I know that my dad, in particular, went the rounds with my older brother. I guess by the time I rolled around Dad had either tired himself out or figured better which battles were worth fighting.

But I was not always happy as a child. When I did something wrong, I was punished. I had been sent away from the table or sent to my room, or even gotten a swat on the behind more than once. My parents were measured in their discipline, and I never felt that I was punished out of anger. (Maybe I was, but I don’t remember it that way.)

My mom was around more that my dad, both because he worked and she was at home, but also because he traveled a lot, so she was both Mom and Dad sometimes. And I learned at an early age not to cross Mom. Although punishment was measured, her words could sting sometimes. But she was consistent and I learned the boundaries pretty well. And there were plenty of happy and fun times, too.

Somehow, though, I assumed that my own kids would either always instinctively do what is right, or be glad when I corrected them. And when they weren’t, I was surprised, and often quite defensive, even with a strong willed two-year-old. When that strong willed two-year-old was a surly teen (with a couple of more surly teen siblings at the same time), my expectation hadn’t changed much, but my disappointment continued to brew.

It took some time for me to learn that it’s not my job as a parent to make sure my kids are happy all the time. Sometimes they need to learn hard lessons and it’s better for them to learn them in the safety of my home than in the “real” world. And sometimes I need to let the real world lessons come home to roost.

It’s better for me to help a ten year old learn a hard lesson about responsibility, even if it brings a moment or two of discomfort, than to let her grow into an irresponsible teen or adult, less prepared to accept responsibility for her choices.

The fact is, I cannot make my kids happy. I can be honest with them. I can love them. I can provide them a safe place of shelter and acceptance, but I cannot shield them, nor should I. Of course, to everything there is a season, and I don’t expect the same of an eight-year-old as I would of an eighteen-year-old.

At the same time, I should not be (and do not need to be) the source of their sadness, if they feel it. I can’t take responsibility for the choices they make. I can mourn with them, and I can even offer to share their burdens when I am able. But just because I can’t make something better doesn’t mean I’m the source of their pain.

It’s a lesson that seems so obvious to me now. But it took me years to learn.


  1. Love this post! It is hard as a parent to correct children. It seems like I want them to tell me "Ok mom. I understand now. Thank you for teaching me" and be on their merry way, happily accepting their punishment and vowing that they have learned something valuable from the experience and I am the wisest mom in the world.
    Sometimes they will be sad, upset, mad, resentful but it is better for them in the long run.
    I just have to tell myself that it is better to parent them this way than to give in to the temptation just be their friend and have them like me and be "happy" all the time and "understand" all the time.

  2. Anonymous, thanks for your comment. Maybe I'm not the only parent who has felt this way after all... :-)

  3. Paul, I like your insights on parenting. I personally think you have awesome siblings!

    On a more serious note, I've contemplated the issue of what it means to me to allow for our children to discover happiness on their own. I agree that they should find the source of their happiness. It's quite daunting to think that sometimes they will misinterpret their happiness with things not related to the Gospel. I know I have a long way to go before that but I want to be prepared. I'm sure God still feels sad by the choices we make but it's the reason why we're here.

    p.s. I wish I could comment on all your posts. Naomi only allows me to do so when she's asleep.

  4. Cassie, thanks for your comment (and thanks to Naomi, too!!).

    As we think about allowing our kids to find their own happiness, I remember something a member said on my mission. He pointed out the folly of, for instance, allowing kids to choose their own religion wiht no input from parents. He suggested that in order to make a reasonable choice, our kids have to have alternatives. If we believe that we are on the right path, there is no need not to share our path with them as one of their alternatives.