There is nothing in this life as profoundly beautiful and unbelievably challenging as being a parent. From before they are born until the end of our time together, our children bring us endless joy and indescribable frustration.
Whatever our circumstance, country, or culture, every parent wants their children to be happy and fulfilled human beings. We do everything we can to support their growth into healthy, balanced, well-adjusted adults. But can we ever control another person’s happiness, even our child’s? Are we responsible for their wellbeing, especially as they grow older?
Laying the Foundation
While we cannot guarantee our children’s happiness, we can do our best to provide a home environment that supports it. The home should be a place of comfort, warmth, safety, and laughter. Happy children are ones who feel safe to express themselves in healthy ways, whatever they might be thinking or feeling.
Parents establish those feelings of safety by practicing deep listening and unconditional love. If a child knows that he or she can truly tell Mom and Dad anything and still be accepted and loved, then that child is more likely to develop self-acceptance and self-love.
While there is no formula that will work for every child, in general the happiest kids are ones who engage in a balance of physical activity and mental study, have regular access to the outdoors and forge a connection to nature, and are given a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit and limited refined sugar and other processed foods. Art, music, sports, activities that stimulate the mind, and friendship all seem to contribute greatly to children’s happiness.
We may not succeed at telling our children what to do, but we can teach by example. Children learn from us in so many ways beyond our words. Our actions, feelings, and ways of moving through the world are even more impactful on our children’s development.
Parents who are happy themselves set a template for their children’s happiness. If you are constantly stressed, overworked, unfulfilled, depressed, or just indefinably unhappy, it will be harder for your children to know what a happy person actually looks like.
If you are unable to model happiness because of trauma or mental illness, encourage your children to spend time with happy family members and friends. You may want to seek counseling to help you find your own happiness, so you can be a more inspiring role model for your family.
Here we come to a very sticky part of being a parent. Yes, we want our children to be happy. But it is all too easy to get attached to an idea of what we think happiness should look like from the outside. Sometimes we impose this concept of happiness on our children without really discovering what happiness means to them.
This happens most often with parents who want to give their children “a better life than we had.” Often parents from challenging economic backgrounds work very hard to provide a stable home and useful education for their children. Those parents then expect their children to pursue a profitable or prestigious profession, without always allowing the children the freedom to find out what will make them happy.
This usually ends up causing the children to either rebel and make their own reactionary choices, or follow the plan set by their parents but never being truly happy and fulfilled.
We must each define happiness for ourselves. Part of a parent’s responsibility is to help his or her children discover their own unique version of happiness, and give them the tools and resources to pursue that.Â
At the end of the day, you will have to let go. You can plan, wish, and work very hard to try to make your kids happy. But if you push too hard or try to force anything on them, chances are you will get the opposite of what you want.
Parenting is equal parts effort and trust. You can plant a seed, weed, and water a garden, but as the plants grow nature will take its course. It takes a lot of work and care to give your children the tools, self-confidence, and resources to grow into healthy adults and discover what happiness means to them. But you cannot give them happiness or force it upon them. They must evolve according to their natures. All people, even our children, must discover happiness for themselves.
The ultimate answer to this article’s question is “no.” Your job is not to make your children happy, because after a certain age you cannot make them do anything. You can only do your best, and allow them to be themselves. This may be heart wrenching, especially if they do not live up your ideals. But it could be incredibly inspiring to watch how a free person blossoms.