Jennifer Senior, author of All Joy and No Fun asked some incredibly important and relevant questions for parents in her recent TedTalk, For Parents, Happiness is a Very High Bar.
“Why is parenting associated with so much anguish and confusion today?”
“Why are both mothers and fathers experiencing parenting as a kind of crisis?”
She raised some interesting points, in specific stating that it is not our children that are the source of the problem, but something about parenting that is. “We don’t know what parenting is supposed to be…” as she so succinctly put it.
She is right. The majority of us are scrambling in order to provide our children with all of the skill, talent and performance ability they can jam in their young minds in the hope that they won’t fail, or feel pain, or be unhappy or unsuccessful. All of those possible futures for our children send shudders down our spines, we want to avoid them at all costs. Jennifer talks about how middle class American parents are so unsure what portion of their own wisdom will be useful for their kids, that they manically prepare them for every kind of future. These parents feel like if they aren’t trying everything, it is the same as doing nothing and thereby defaulting on our obligation to our children.
Senior goes on to say that our goal of creating happy, well adjusted children is an illusive, unrealistic goal. That a child’s happiness is an unfair burden to place on a parent and an even more unfair burden to place on a child.
Instead, she says much more realistic goals should be raising decent kids, moral children, productive citizens and let happiness and self esteem work itself out.
And it is here that I felt pulled to interject. Our children’s happiness…I do not see this as an illusive goal for parents, just one we have yet to fully understand the mechanics of. In our modern society, we have entered an age of limbo. We are shifting from the external conditions of life being the main determinant of happiness, well being and self esteem to charting new territory and learning a new happiness skill set that will deepen our ability to both profoundly support our own happiness and that of our children.
Just because happiness is an intangible goal in and of itself – not just for our children, but for ourselves as well, is no reason to not try! Jennifer correctly stated that all parents can agree that our children’s happiness is paramount. It is now that we must challenge our ways of thinking, parenting and living in order to support our children’s evolution.
We have a responsibility for our children’s physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual well-being. We cannot just focus on one or two of these areas and just throw up our hands and resign ourself to the fact that we don’t know how to support our children on the others if we intend to raise well-adjusted kids. No, we roll up our sleeves and start figuring it out! And we do this by first committing to our own happiness and self empowerment. The most significant impact we can have on our children is modeling health, happiness and autonomy in our own lives. They must witness what a happy life looks and feels like. We cannot fake this, and just put on a happy face. Our children can sense our deepest emotional states of mind, we must do the work.
For me as a parent, my greatest wish for my children has less to do with happiness and outward success (those things come and go do they not?), but rather for my children to live emotionally autonomous lives. What does that mean? It means that they understand that for any lasting success and happiness to be established in their lives, mastery of their minds, their inner worlds is paramount. It is only in the cultivating a happy and resilient inner world can we ever expect to live a happy and successful outer world. And it is only as I evolve in this way, committed to my own joyful, inner world, manifesting a joyful outer one, can I teach my children, bit by bit, the life skills that will equip them for the same.
Here are some of The Joyful Mother Life Lessons, the universal truths of this paradigm shift. These I have both discovered from my journey as a parent and also from my years of working with hundreds of moms finding their way back to their BEST selves and experiencing the amazing impact of that BEST self on the happiness, wellbeing and success of their children. It is first and foremost about YOU exploring these truths for yourself, integrating them into your life one by one.
My wish for our children:
- Don’t believe every thought that you think – with a little bit of insight and practice you will be able to discern a true thought from a thought based in fear, or an untrue thought.
- Do not fear pain, struggle and unhappiness. Do not let them define you. But, instead, see all such experiences as an avenue for growth and learning. Have enough introspection to stand back and see what the situation is trying to teach you, extract this lesson and move on. Life is a journey.
- Ask yourself a lot, “What Would Love Do?”
- You and NO ONE ELSE and nothing else is responsible for your happiness. That is your job and is a totally doable task.
- No matter what…take care of YOU. Always fill your mind, soul and body with things, thoughts, actions that fill you up. This is the only way you can be your BEST and give to others.
- Recognize that it is through your own creative mind (imagination) that you create your reality. That what you focus on consistently is what will manifest in your physical lives. Try it out for yourself and create the proof you need to believe this.
- That there are only two emotions, fear and love and their derivatives and that love is only love when it is unconditional. Everything else is an absence of love.
- That it doesn’t matter what you do with your life, if you love it, are dedicated and passionate about making a difference in the world, for people, you will succeed.
- Forgiveness is about your liberation and vital to your sense of worth. Anger, rage, bitterness, revenge are only poisons inflicted upon yourself.
- You are BORN worthy of abundance, grace, immeasurable love. You are love.
- That you have an inner guidance system and trusting it is vital in your everyday. Even if you don’t understand where your intuition is taking you, trust it. It will always take you in the right direction.
- Joy and peace is your natural state of being. Anything else is just resistance to that state and a forgetting of who you are. But you will forget that. And you will remember it again. This goes on your whole life and is a part of your growth process.
- You are never alone. The Divine, Source energy, God is a constant presence in every moment. You are a unique expression of what it means to be human and of eternal spirit. Make space for this, focus on the BIGGER you everyday by inviting the Divine to walk with you everyday.
- Success STARTS with the right mindset and inspires the “right” action. Always connect with your inner genius before you begin work on anything.
- It really is all about LOVE. Success comes from habitually and consciously connecting with the energy of love. Love is an energy and is all around you. Accessible to you at all times. See love and beauty in everything and everyone and you will know it in yourself.
Jennifer calls for new norms for parenting today. I could not agree more. But those norms must come in the form of habits. Inner habits of mind that merge our spiritual and emotional selves with who we are, our intellect and what we do in this physical realm. It is only in this delicate and exciting balance can we find happiness and equip our children with the depth to do the same.
I implore you not to give up on your children’s happiness just because it is hard, just because you don’t know how exactly! Giving up on actively influencing your children’s happiness is, for all intensive purposes, giving up on doing the same for yourself. Happiness is a habit that can be learned! To raise children that are productive, moral, decent, hardworking and loving, for all its positive intention, cannot be the goal either. Those things are simply the gorgeous byproducts of an empowered inner world. It is in the living and breathing of The Joyful Mother Life Lessons stated above that we can make an impact as powerful influencers of our children’s joy.
This is the most vital work we can do in service of our children’s lives and is the REAL obligation we have as parents. I ask that you consider the idea that in addition to all of the opportunities we create for our kids to grown intellectually, academically, that we claim our full responsibility as parents in supporting them on all levels of growth. Not only will you create fertile ground for happiness, love and connection in your children’s hearts and minds, but you will get it all back and finally feel fulfilled as a parent – finally knowing how to parent from your BEST self.