Obsession with Our Children's Happiness Could Doom Them
I’ve been doing it all wrong.
This whole parenting gig.
After I read the cover story of the July/August issue of The Atlantic, which told parents that if you’re focusing on trying to make your kids happy you’re likely gearing them up for future therapy sessions to undo all the super-positive, encouraging blather you’ve been feeding them, I was initially ticked off. I felt duped because when my almost 13-year-olds were just babies, I voraciously devoured everything I could get my hands on to educate myself about parenting. I wanted to do the “right” thing for my kids - as though there is a “right” way to do things - and there were oodles of so-called parenting “experts” out there who were more than happy to provide me with their blueprint of how to do this child-rearing thing “correctly.”
Only now, another group of experts is telling us that the stuff we parents were spoon-fed a decade-plus ago is resulting in unhappy young adults who can’t seem to handle the real, harsh world in which not everyone gets a trophy for showing up to work and not everyone is nice nor do they dole out compliments, stickers and candy for simply responding to a question. I took this article personally as I’m constantly struggling to be what the popular culture has described as a “good mother.”
Lori Gottlieb, a therapist, wrote in The Atlantic that she has had a steady stream of twentysomething and young thirtysomething patients tell her that while their childhoods were wonderful and their parents devoted to them, they now feel depressed, anxious, unable to commit to relationships or careers and experience “a sense of emptiness or lack of purpose.”
“[These patients] did seem to have caring and loving parents, parents who gave them the freedom to ‘find themselves’ and the encouragement to do anything they wanted in life,” she wrote. “Parents who had driven carpools, and helped with homework each night, and intervened when there was a bully at school or a birthday invitation was not received, and had gotten them tutors when they struggled in math and music lessons when they expressed an interest in guitar (but let them quit when they lost interest), and talked through their feelings when they broke the rules, instead of punishing them (‘logical consequences’ always stood in for punishment).”
She then brought the hammer down on parents like me who, when we attempt to “fix” things for our kids (instead of having the kids fix things for themselves), when we run around and try to make them happy (instead of having the children find and create their own happiness), when we make them the center of a sheltered world (instead of letting them make themselves feel safe), we don’t end up with fully fledged young adults who are ready and confident to take on the world.