Realistic Parenting

This week a post appeared on my Facebook feed. It was yet another piece of advice on how to find happiness as a parent and (yet another) TED video at that.

Let me explain. As a highly anxious person, I go through binges of seeking the answer to happiness through articles and videos all over the internet. Of course as well-intentioned as these pieces are, they only make me feel worse. There is no answer. There is no solution that will magically soothe the anxiety, lift the depression or suddenly produce a child who is on the same page as you. The answer actually is that life is hard for everyone, and we all have to figure out our own ways of coping. And yes, some days I just want to scream at the sky for that very reason.

I was going to avoid the video because in the last week or two I had found a little bit of peace in ‘walking my own path’ and doing my best to not seek such answers. But something brought me back to the video. So I watched it. And I’m really glad I did.

TED 2014 Jennifer Senior – For Parents, Happiness is a Very High Bar

Jennifer Senior discusses the pressures of modern parenting and the emotional toll it has taken on parents. Once upon a time our children were really just an economic factor in the household – more labourers to send off to the mills or to work on the farm. Then we were able to send them to school. For a child to complete his or her education before getting a job was really quite a big deal. Along came the ability to choose occupations and hence, being able to prepare for any kind of job – so extracurricular activities were added to a child’s education ‘just in case’ he needed leadership experience or she needed strategic thinking skills. Parents just keep loading that pressure onto themselves, saying ‘what was good enough for me isn’t good enough anymore’ – “as if we are doing nothing for our kids” Senior says.

And now, we just want our kids to be happy. Which is a lot to expect from ourselves. How do you ensure someone is happy?

The takeaway from her talk was that teaching happiness and self confidence to a person is not a fair goal. It’s hard enough to learn that as an adult, let alone for a child. And us, the teachers, are struggling with our own lessons on figuring out our own roles of worker, wife or partner, mother or father and whatever else might be going on in our lives.

Happiness and self confidence are by-products, not things to be taught. You can teach a kid to plough a field. But you can’t teach a kid to be confident. Our hope for our kids should be that they will feel happiness from the love that they feel from us.

The Hippocratic oath is a much more realistic aim than happiness. Put simply,

I will try my very best not to hurt you.

I breathed a sigh of relief when the video stopped. I think, like so many mothers, I had been terrified of passing on my issues to my son and trying to ensure he was always happy and stimulated. I may have gotten a little obsessed with certain alternative educational methods. I was driving myself crazy. My kid’s not even all that impressed with my attempts at building an inviting play space. He just wants me to play with him, and give out the occasional hug.


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