Parents, It Is Not Your Job To Make Your Children Happy

by Bill Flanigin
A little boy holding toys while standing in front of the drawings on a wall of his room.
PeopleImages / iStock

Happiness is a tricky thing. Everyone wants to be happy, right? And we want the people we care about to be happy too. This is especially true when it comes to our children. Parents want happy children. But a child and an adult perceive and achieve happiness in very different ways. Or at least they should — don’t you think?

Take a moment and answer this question: What makes my child happy? Chances are high that a child is happiest when they are getting something. A toy? A new video game? A trip to Disney? Maybe it’s just a popsicle that makes your child happy. Perhaps your kid is happy when they get to stay up past their bedtime.

Kids like quickly served, fast-food happiness (many adults do too, but that’s another conversation). Nevertheless, today’s dynamic between parent and child, when it comes to happiness, might be setting an entire generation up for future happiness failure. Why is that, you ask? Easy, because in today’s households, many parents are trying to make their kids happy, and that’s the problem.

What an outrageous thing to say! Our job as parents is to raise happy kids. Well, yes, that would be nice. But is it your job to make your kid happy, or is it to teach them how to be happy? There’s a huge difference. It’s the latter, of course, for this simple reason:

If you are trying to make your child happy, rather than teaching them to be happy, then you are raising a child whose happiness depends on somebody else. Let that sink in. Your job as a parent is to raise a child who, as an adult, doesn’t need you anymore. If that’s the case, who is going to make your son or daughter happy when they are adults? When you’re not around anymore, or not around as much anyway, who will make your child happy? Will that job fall to their spouse someday? That’s a tough job to fill. And it’s setting them up for failure.

Imagine the strain on a relationship when someone expects their husband or wife to make them happy? On any given day, if a person is not happy, is that somebody else’s fault? It could be. But let’s set aside relationships that have serious flaws like abuse or neglect. Think about the relationships that are not fatally flawed by horrible circumstances like illness, death, or even the loss of a job. Think about the daily, ordinary search for a happy life. Your happiness is up to you.

You want happiness, real long-lasting, meaningful happiness? Go get it. Don’t rely on it being delivered to you by your spouse. You may be waiting a long time, and it probably won’t last anyway. Being happy is a mindful search. The journey is different for everyone and results vary.

Our kids don’t understand this, not yet anyway.

Finding the right person may help you find happiness. True love is a beautiful thing — and it is also a happy thing. Maybe it increases your happiness exponentially. But relationships fail, so then what? If you’re off to find someone else to make you happy, you are missing the point of happiness and also the point of a relationship. Are we doing this to our children? Are we modeling a way to be happy that can never stick when they become adults?

The best way to raise a happy kid is to be happy yourself. Model a type of meaningful happiness that isn’t dependent on a quick fix. A new car is transportation; it’s not long-lasting happiness. A trip to the family’s favorite restaurant is not happiness; it’s a meal that’s forgotten the next day.

Wherever your happiness journey takes you and your family, be mindful of how you teach your children about happiness. Your children are watching and learning all about happiness from you.