When you’re pregnant and someone asks you whether you want a boy or a girl, the acceptable answer is, “Oh, I don’t care, I just want them to be healthy.” And even if you’re secretly pining for a pink nursery, you discover just how true that is during that split second after birth when you’re waiting to hear him cry.
As your kids grow up people continue to ask about what you want. Where do you want them to go to school? What kind of people do you want them to be? Just like you had fantasies about princess décor, you’ll no doubt have dreams about successful careers and perfect mates. But the first time someone hurts your precious child’s feelings you’ll know that, again, there is only one completely true answer:
You want your children to be happy.
How do you make that happen?
1. Make yourself happy.
You’ve probably been told a thousand times that happy parents mean happy kids. “If Mama aint happy, nobody’s happy.” Put your oxygen mask on first. All that is to say that the best reason to make yourself happy is because you’ll be able to take better care of your kids.
OK, sure. Here’s another reason: kids do what you do, not what you say. You learned this the first time she let a cuss word slip out during a heated game of Trouble.
The best way to teach your kids how to be happy is to show them what a happy person looks like. Set an example of self love and self care. Let them grow up watching Mom say nice things about herself and investing in activities she loves, and they’ll be more likely to follow suit.
2. Let them be unhappy.
No sane, healthy person is happy all the time. It’s perfectly normal to have bad days. Anger, sadness, and even angst are essential parts of the human experience. The more comfortable your kids are with those “negative” emotions, the better they’ll be able to feel things like joy and love.
I know that’s easier said than done. It is agony to watch your kid hurt, and telling yourself that it’s good for them doesn’t make it any less gut wrenching.
What does help is empathy. Let your child know that you understand how he’s feeling. Put your arms around him when he’s sad. And go ahead and let yourself shed a few tears, too.
3. Give them more time than stuff.
If I’ve learned anything from the CW it’s that rich people’s kids are unhappy because their parents don’t love them enough to spend time with them.
Also, my own daughter would rather spend hours playing Phase 10 with me than anything else in the world. It’s not that she doesn’t love presents or have a long list of things I could buy for her, but her attention span for stuff has always been shorter than her tolerance for time with me.
Teenagers, on the other hand, want stuff. Give them time anyway.
4. Accept their unique brand of weirdness.
I expected my kids to be unique. I was certain they’d be progressive thinkers with strong opinions and an interesting perspective on the world. I just assumed those opinions and perspectives would be mostly like mine.
Instead, one of my kids is a self-proclaimed atheist with political leanings very different from my own, and the other is much more like my mother-in-law than me. Many of their quirks and interests are completely foreign to both me and my husband, and it’s hard not to wonder where they heck they came from.
But who they are isn’t about me.
As their mother, it’s my job to champion who they are. I encourage them to fly their own freak flags, accepting them completely so that they can learn to accept themselves.
5. Say no.
The world is going to say no to your kids. A lot. If you want them to be happy anyway, let them get used to hearing no when they’re still safe at home with people who love them.
P.S. The rest of us very much appreciate not having to be the ones to deal with your child’s first someone-said-no-to-me tantrum.
6. Teach them how to practice gratitude.
Saying thank you is more than good manners. Research shows that people who practice gratitude on a regular basis are 25% happier than everyone else.
I have no idea how one measures gratitude in percentages, but I do know that being aware of what’s good in your life feels nice. I also know that most people forget to feel grateful in the hustle and bustle of normal lives. Creating a habit of thinking about what you’re grateful for helps combat all that real life stuff.
You can encourage your kid to practice gratitude with a journal, or just make it part of your dinner routine. (Or, you can do what I did: buy the journal and then resort to the dinner routine when the journal gets lost.)
7. Get comfortable with the idea of them going to therapy.
One of the most painful truths I’ve learned as a parent is that it is impossible to get it 100% right. Your kids will not escape childhood without some scars and emotional issues, no matter how many parenting books you read.
I’ve been to therapy. It’s not so bad. If my kids end up on a couch some day, so be it. There are worse things. At least they’ll have something to talk about when they start blogging.
Letting go of the goal of raising perfectly happy kids actually makes it easier for me to let my kids be happy. I’m able to focus a little more on the here and now because I’m not stressing about the long-term effects of every single thing that comes out of my mouth.
As a nice side bonus, I’m a little less neurotic now, too.
My mother, I’m sure, is thrilled.