My heart broke when I read some weeks ago, about the 16 year old who
stabbed 21 people at a high school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. When
questioned by officials, his response was simply “I just want to die,”
which got me thinking about the state of our young people, the impor-
tance of raising compassionate children and the oftentimes missing
‘happy’ factor… A key ingredient in raising balanced well adjusted adults.
As parents, we often think or even say out loud, “I just want my kids to
be happy,” yet for many, the focus hinges on making sure that they are
getting high marks in school, socializing in the right circles, how quickly
they learn, how well they behaved, what we can do now to ensure that
they are “successful later, exposure to the world, fitting in and being
“normal.” Thus the happy ‘factor,’ gets lost in the endless task of
making children better. But we should ask ourselves, better than what
and for whom?
In Living Your Parental Truth: The section of my book (‘The Things I
Used to do to Sneez’) on helping children live their most authentic lives
earlier on, I discuss the idea of departing from the societal definitions
of success and how our efforts to create a happy, authentic and ful-
filling life becomes more about achieving the “good” societal labels
that will, at a minimum, get our kids the perception of a happiness and
success, despite what their truth may be.
Consequently the labels become identifiers that we seek for validation.
But chasing labels is a dangerous game, and we must help our children
see the bigger picture around character, contribution, community, con-
fidence, passion and purpose as their source of happiness. As a
Christian and hugely dependent on my faith, it would be less than au-
thentic if I didn’t add faith to the mix, a source that I personally believe
has a high impact on happiness and connects to all of the other ele-
ments previously mentioned.
I believe that re-thinking our approach to the following areas, will
assist us in ensuring our children reach their happy.
Praise Effort, Not Outcomes. Praise your children’s efforts and process
of development, not simply the results they get from such efforts. If the
result is the only thing that matters, then they will not see the benefit
of failing or experience the development that comes from it.
Positive Attitudes. We, as parents, set this habit. Telling our children
to be more positive in situations where they are seeing the worst is not
enough. We must model it. How are we handling the job we hate, the
spouse or co-parent we’re upset with, the rainy day, the disappointment,
etc.? Our children take cues from us, so don’t be surprised by their
negative attitudes if you haven’t displayed positivity.
Passion: How many times might a parent offer some other more
acceptable pastime to occupy their child’s time after they’ve expressed
interest in spending time doing something off the bell curve? Paying
attention and letting our children’s passions blossom will leave us, as
parents, without that particular “what if” later on. In addition, it could
reduce the amount of time spent talking about us in therapy down
Balance. What’s the goal? Best or balanced? I remember a time
when I used the term “best” to describe what I wanted to be. And then
I realized that I can experience them both. I am at my personal best when
I am balanced. This is something I’m working on with my children and
continually discussing with my co-parent and former husband.
Experience the Human Connection: There was a time when I cared
much more about what I had than why I had it or wanted it. From cars
to clothes, and some other things in between, the consumption of
material things was high. Then, I embarked upon re-claiming my
personal truth and my authentic life and realized how disconnected I
was becoming to the human experience in the hunt for “more.” I still
like nice things; however, they are no longer at the top of the food
chain of my existence. Instead, being present, engaging the world
and helping others, is a rewarding experience. I’ve noticed that my
children have naturally bought into this experience, by example. It
does not mean that they don’t want or enjoy material things. How-
ever, their self worth and outlook on life is now not one or the same.
Relationships. I like to call this part reducing the “jerk” factor. Helping
your children, by leading by example, to be compassionate, non-judg-
mental, anti-labelers friendly, and communicative individuals is an
amazing gift. Jerks, while often popular in their youth (mostly because
people don’t want to be on the receiving end of their “jerkness”) are
pretty miserable throughout life. You probably now know a few of them
as adults, and you’ve seen the precursor in some children. Help your
children develop strong friendships and don’t be the reason they turn
out to be a jerk (yes, that’s a label). This is a huge value conflict for
me, so my passion level is high on raising compassionate children.
Giving to Others. This is all part of the balance of building strong
relationships. Giving is an integral and necessary part of the process.
And, it comes in many, many forms. I’m not sure what kind of life the
16 year old from Pittsburg had up until this point, but it appears he
missed his road to happy. But remember that even if you’re struggling
to find your own happy, you can assist your children in achieving
theirs. Why do people live fulfilling lives . . . because they’re happy.
Let’s live wise and explore motherhood together.