Happy, Happier, Happiest.
I cringe inside when I hear this statement from well-meaning parents. My usual retort is, “ Who is happy all of the time?” Parents don’t have an answer because no one is always happy all the time. The intent is to do right by their kids, to steer clear of any suffering they endured growing up. What they don’t realize is that even though it sounds nice, it is really a lot of pressure to make sure someone is happy all the time, for all parties involved. On the parent’s side, they become contortionists of reality to mold it and everyone involved in their child’s life (teachers, family, friends, etc) in such a way that their child never is scathed by anything other than happy thoughts and happy vibes. On the child’s side, the nagging sense of fakeness creates a rumble of insecurities because true feelings of anger, disappointment, jealousy, fear, and sadness creep in with a wipeout response from others that is a stark contrast of smiles and coddling. It is gaslighting. I know where to focus my work with parents.
There’s a term going around these days, toxic positivity and I think it applies in this scenario as well. Toxic positivity is imposing on someone who is experiencing emotions other than happiness to feel happy, thereby minimizing and invalidating their current emotional state. Now, by no means am I pro the parents who believe that “Life is unfair and bad things will happen to them later so I might as well show them now what suffering is about.” That speaks to the parent’s individual life story more than how life really is and will be for their child. Preparing a child for suffering so that they can succeed is futile because they will grow up believing that they deserve to be treated so badly since they have received this teaching and treatment by the people who care about them the most in this world.
Instead of coddling the child and creating a sense of entitlement or teaching them that the world is a scary place, can we teach children about accountability and the impact of natural consequences? Can we practice the belief that feelings come and go and that we don’t need to latch on to our feelings as if our life depended on it, but instead as a tool to teach us about what is going and what needs to just be or change? Can we swap happiness for contentment and balance that we can feel all sorts of ways about so many aspects of our life but that we don’t need to pretend to feel something else for the benefit of keeping the peace for everyone else? These are tough questions, especially with the ease in which we become accustomed to the doldrums of complacency regardless of how good they are for our general growth and development. But, with awareness and processing, talking through and trying out new ways, you can also revise your sense of responsibility for your child’s happiness and broaden it to include your child’s overall emotional development to support authenticity and prepare them for what the world’s got to offer.