I am learning how much I want my children to be happy.
Of course, many of us want children to be happy; we want to protect their innocence and joy, as we wish someone had done for us. I think the instinct to be protective of children is a good one…until we start protecting them from their own feelings. When they don’t get to manage their inevitable feelings of disappointment, sadness and anger, they don’t learn to self soothe, and then they don’t learn that happiness is a choice.
During our family odyssey, we were constantly being given the opportunity to shift the focus from outer things that made us happy to cultivating happiness from the inside. From letting go of our beautiful community in Asheville, to letting go of our occupations and schools, to letting go of our wonderful house and most of our possessions, we were being given a very clear direction: Happiness cannot be derived from things, or a house, or people, or a place. Nothing material is home. Our own heart is home, our family connection is home. Nothing on the outside can make you happy. We were given a vision of the four of us standing over a cliff, hand in hand, naked except for burlap sacks. We were being asked to disengage from a culture that does everything it can to reinforce that happiness comes with the fulfilling of obligations to others and the possession of more stuff.
This has created an individual and collective energy pattern of focusing on what we’re not happy about, reinforced by the society that does everything in its power to remind us how happy we’d be if we just bought this or that, or do more, or be more.
I remember while we were volunteering at Padre Island National Seashore during our big trip that my oldest son was very disappointed about the fact that we didn’t have new car magazines for him to read every month. He was a sports car fanatic at that age, and read a few well-worn magazines his grandfather had given him over and over again. We wished that we could give him more, but couldn’t justify feeding that need for more material objects. But, logically, it seemed like no big deal to buy another magazine, and so we did occasionally buy him one, which he would devour until he wanted another one.
Why did I want to fulfill his desire for more magazines? I wanted to give him what he wanted. I wanted to protect him from disappointment. I wanted him to be happy. No big deal, right?
But when no amount of magazines could quell the urge to get another, it seemed we were fighting a losing battle. Surely happiness was not
tied to things.
Disappointment is real. Feelings of pain and loss are part of life. We don’t always get what we want, and so it is good to learn early how to manage our difficult feelings and find ways of self soothing. As adults, we are modeling to children the rules of the physical world. We are showing them “this is how it works…do what I do.” It is very important that we model the kind of behavior we want to see in them. That means I serve my children very well when I show them I choose happiness from the inside, independent of what is going on outside of me.
But if we never learned that in our own upbringing, and haven’t done the inner work to correct the internal imbalances that prompt us to take responsibility for others’ happiness, we cannot model “choosing happiness from the inside” to the children of our world. Dealing with my discomfort with my children’s’ pain has been a major part of my personal journey. And continues to be. In my relationship with my younger son, I am harvesting the result of my tendency to protect him from the meanness of others; he does not fully understand how to manage his feelings of grief and anger when people are unkind to him. I hope we can help him learn that before he leaves us!
As an ever-seeking-to-be-more-conscious-parent, I am learning to be alert to my habit of protecting my children from the natural flow of life. I have successfully protected them from the nastiest experiences that a child can have at the hands of unconscious adults; but in my denying them some of the less painful opportunities in my effort to have “happy children”, they are not fully equipped to deal with challenging
emotions. Perhaps this will be a handicap for them when they encounter the painful parts of life.
There are some wonderful resources available in the vein of this topic; please have a look if you feel you might benefit from them!
“Parents acknowledge the child’s feelings and offer strategies the child can use to deal with the feelings. As children learn the strategies, these parents remind them that they have choices and that they (the parents) are available as a resource.”
“Don’t focus on what you can’t do (that’ll just make you feel miserable); instead think about what you can do.”
“Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead; tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.” – Groucho Marx