Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Holding on to the Happy

As a parent with absolutely no clue as to what I am doing raising these two kids, I read parenting magazines a lot. I subscribe to two, and have discovered over time that they are both generally useless. They publish pretty much the same stories over and over again, and provide very little information that I didn't already know.

So, they are useless, but they can be entertaining sometimes. So I keep reading them, but I usually just scan for interesting material. Sometimes, with life being so busy, I have a new issue sitting around for a long time before I get a chance to read it. The May issue of Parenting arrived a little while ago. I have yet to open it, and yet one of the cover stories has been stuck in my mind.

The story is titled "Habits of Happy Kids." Or something to that effect - that is the part that stuck.

I realize that many of us struggle daily with the challenges of parenthood. I sure as hell do. I struggle with temper tantrums, food battles, bedtime stall tactics and general discipline. Sometimes I struggle with teaching them important concepts. But it has never, not once, occured to me that I need to teach my kids to be happy.

See, the thing is, kids are naturally happy. Little things totally make their day. A dollop of whipped cream on their breakfast pancakes. A friend coming over to play. Bath paints. Really loud farts. Or maybe that last one is just my kids. The point is, kids are happy. Happy comes to them as naturally as breathing. Happy is their normal state of being, when they are not tired or hungry in any particular way, and even then they can still find the happy pretty easily.

I haven't read the article on teaching my kids the habits they apparently need to be happy. I might, eventually, but don't expect it to contain any revelations. Instead, I will offer the one revelation of my own that just seeing that title lying around my house has brought to me.

It's not our job as parents to teach our kids how to be happy. It's our job to not let life crush the happy out of them.

It's our job to make the happy last for as long as we can, and to let the happy be what it is without allowing all of the things that have sucked the happy out of us get to them. No, we shouldn't protect them from every hurt or every disappointment. But we should support their joy and make it our mission to see that the world doesn't take it away too soon.

The world is full of unhappy. Full to the point where my heart can barely stand the thought that my boys will one day have to understand it. Full to the point where I have to remind myself that my boys are lucky to have all that happy. They are privileged to have never encountered true unhappiness. Unhappy to them is not getting a cookie after dinner or a friend cancelling a playdate.

There is no need to teach my kids habits that will make them happy. They are already there. What I do need is help teaching myself to get rid of the habits that might make them lose the happy before their time. To stay calm, to keep my bad moods from affecting them, to let them be kids for as long as possible.

And to one day remind them of the happiness they grew up with, and to appreciate it for the miracle it really, truly is.

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