Working Harder Than Our Children At Their Happiness. . . And Why This Will Always Fail!
In working with parents and children of all ages, I have discovered that there is a parental common misunderstanding that presents a lethal threat to our children’s future happiness.
While the source of this erroneous thinking may be unknown, the essence of this faulty thought process is this: “It’s our job to make sure our children are happy. So, if they are unhappy… I should fix it. If they find themselves bored… I should un-bore them. If they want to complain about their life, I should listen, again and again, and again. And finally, with the 237 toys in their arsenal of entertainment, if they can’t find something to play with…I should always make myself available.”
The ultimate result: We end up working harder at our children’s happiness and success than they do.
3 Reasons Why This ‘Working Harder Than They Do’ Approach Always Fails!
Life is not set up that way. Life rewards those who find happiness with what is given.
We see dozens of examples of both children and adults with almost countless “goodies” to play with, and yet there is no real happiness. When we offer our children a good home, with great toys and a safe place to play…they must then learn to find happiness.
If they keep asking us to help fix “it” in moments of unhappiness, and we do so, we see that our children (rarely) learn to sustain a positive, happy outlook.
We teach our children that it is OUR job to make them happy.
This always comes to an ugly ending. For a while, we can keep jumping through hoops, and trying our best to make sure things go well. We start to get exhausted and frustrated. We are working so hard…and yet, the kids seem to keep finding misery. Even in this great home, with loving parents, good schools, and lots of toys…they seem unable to maintain happiness, and I keep trying to help them.
Eventually, years later, we find that if we keep working harder than they do at their happiness…there is ultimately no amount of effort that I can exert that will make my middle-schooler happy.
And even worse, they now blame me for everything. IT’s my fault when they aren’t happy or things do go well.
And why shouldn’t they blame me: I taught them that it was my job. They are just following the path I have offered. And yet, the ultimate catch is this…
We do not prepare them for life’s disappointments if we keep protecting them from them.
While it certainly seems reasonable, on the surface, to advocate for avoiding disappointment…this approach is not helpful. It is harmful. Please don’t misunderstand me: I am not suggesting you set up as much disappointment for your child as possible.
No. What I am suggesting is that life is naturally going to involve times when you don’t get what you want. This is reality.
Your children will need to learn how to handle these moments, without mom or dad rushing in to save the day.
Learning to get through disappointment is like building an emotional muscle. We might even call it the emotional muscle of ‘resilience.’ Resilience is built on experience, at least to a degree. And the more we protect our children from moments of disappointment, the more we disable them from building this critical emotional muscle.
The Healthy Prescription For Emotional Resilience
Believe in your child’s strength. Express this as, “I know you can handle it, sweetheart.”
And then, rather than fixing it, allow the unhappiness or frustration or disappointment to have its place. There may be a few tears, a bit of drama, and maybe even some ugly words about mom or dad, but this will pass.
Boredom and other complaints are not your jobs to fix.
When they say they are bored, look around the room and understand that this is a statement that makes no sense. There are lots of things for your kids to do in your home, so allow them to find a way to be entertained. Don’t fix it. Don’t solve it. Don’t direct them. Instead, smile…and walk away.
And understand…it’s their job in this very lucky world we live in…to find their happiness. Give this some time, and you will see that they get better at it. BUT only, if we stop trying so hard!
Coping with disappointments is a critical life skill to develop.
When there is an inevitable disappointment, you can certainly coach them a bit. But don’t try to fix it. Listen, and assure them that this too will pass.
As with all positive changes, growth is seen over time. When you make these adjustments, you will see a turnaround that happens within weeks. Best of luck.
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