I was in the office yesterday talking with co-workers who, like me, are traversing the parenting journey, and trying to figure it all out. Every day brings something different and new.
My co-worker was sharing a story about a friend of hers who seems to parent for happiness. As she told her story, I heard a lot of statements such as “but I just want him to be happy”, and “he will be so disappointed”, and that got us talking about life, and how it isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.
Several years ago I started a women’s community of practice focused on parenting. The goal is to provide support, share struggles, and determine how to shift the dynamic of parenting away from what others will think to one that is focused on engagement. I’ve done quite a bit of research over the years to help facilitate the discussions, and the research shows that parenting for happiness is dangerous.
As humans, we experience a wide range of emotions. Happiness is one, and it’s a good one, but it is only one, and no one is happy all the time. Parenting focused on ensuring children are happy means we are building some pretty hefty scaffolding to encase our children, and keep the world out. Think about a time someone you know may have done this – I can think of plenty. The heroics we go through to avoid our children feeling disappointment can be extraordinary, but life brings disappointment, and sadness, and loneliness, and all sorts of other emotions.
Parenting for adulthood is about being with our children as they experience the human experience. It is okay to feel. Emotions are information, and they are neither good nor bad. When our children are in upset, sitting with them in that emotion is what matters. It is not our job to fix it or to say something that moves them forward. Our job is to tap into a time when we also felt that emotion, and let them know that we know that feeling, and it’s hard, but they are not alone. This takes vulnerability on our part. We have to be willing to feel with our children, and sit in the uncomfortableness.
In parenting, we are playing the long game. When we allow our children, and ourselves, to feel life, we build resilience. We show them that even though it feels really hard right now, they will move forward. We teach them that emotions are not permanent. We teach them that it is okay to be exactly where we are, and that is an invaluable lesson to learn.
“Resilience is borne out of time in the trenches.”