When I would ask new parents what they wanted for their kids I would get a few awkward seconds of blank faces. I judged that these parents were so busy producing and nurturing their children they hadn’t given much thought to the subject. But the same parents usually recovered to tell me, “I guess we want our child to be happy.”
Wow, think of that! Not riches or status or achievement, but happiness. Perhaps these parents were telling me that happiness is independent of riches, status or achievement. And doesn’t that reflect a general feeling in our society? We all know some rich and famous people who are miserable. But happiness, that nebulous mental state, appears to be where we would like our kids to be. We all know when we’re happy and conversely when we’re not. And we all know children who appear to be happy and others who we describe as “troubled.”
The secret wish of parents during pregnancy is that they have healthy children without birth defects to disrupt a normal life. There’s always a breath of relief when a physically healthy baby is born. Step One: a success. Such parents usually mark their blessing, then forget about their past worry and move on. Now for Step Two: to see if the child is not impaired mentally. And that usually takes more time. If steps one and two provide disappointing results, generally the parents are so consumed with health issues that the more distant goal of life happiness is removed from their equation.
Only after attending to diapers, pediatricians and what seems to be an endless litany of parental duties is there time to think about the future. And when parents eventually turn their attentions to the future this issue of happiness comes to their minds. The big question then is — is happiness just a foggy concept or a real state of mind that can be achieved, and if so, how? And equally important can parents play a role making happiness a reality for their kids?
People who haven’t given this idea much thought will probably be naysayers. But those who have, I would suggest, will be more proactive. What makes parenting of human babies so much fun is that it isn’t like salmon eggs hatching a river and letting the salmon fry just go their own way. Quite the contrary, nurturing human parents play an essential role in bringing up their kids. And they can teach many life skills.
They probably can’t teach them to be happy, but they can set the conditions in which they will grow into happy individuals.
About Roger E. Herst
Roger E. Herst, author of “A Simple Formula for Raising Happy Children” (rogerherst.com), is an ordained Reform rabbi with MBA and doctorate degrees. A father and grandfather, Herst regularly engages with parents in the form of Platonic dialogue – a cooperative Q-&-A approach meant to stimulate critical thinking – to yield logic-based solutions for raising happy children.