I Don’t Want My Kids to Be Happy

happiness sunlight Yeah, sorry, I did the ever-popular “Shocking Title to Get Your Attention” trick. (Aren’t I so trendy?) And now that you’re reading, hear me out.

Of course I want my kids to be happy, but that is not my most important goal for them. Happiness is not my aim, but it can be a welcome by-product of a life well-lived. I feel that if I teach them how to be good people, then they will naturally be happy. I am not raising them to make themselves happy. I want to raise them to make others happy first – to lose themselves in service to other people (and hopefully, to God). If they do these things, then I hope their own happiness will follow.

What is happiness anyway? As Bob Dylan sings, “I’m halfway content most of the time.” That’s good enough for Bob, and it’s good enough for me.

During my infertile years, I used to torture myself by watching “A Baby Story” on TLC. Remember that show? Kinda cheesy, makes you choke up, and every episode is the same? Yeah, that one. Each episode followed a woman through the last few weeks of pregnancy, then the birth, and then a bit of the newborn phase. At the end of each episode, the producers must have asked each set of new parents the same question: “What do you hope for your child for the future?” Invariably, each mother would respond, “I just want him to be happy.”

“I just want him to be happy.”

happiness car repairThe phrase just always rubbed me the wrong way. It would make me bristle. I felt like shouting at the TV (but that was probably because I was infertile and secretly hated that show but couldn’t look away). I would think, “If I were on this show, and if I were blessed with a baby, I would answer, ‘I want to raise him to be a good person. I want to raise him to be selfless and caring and a productive member of society.’”

I have always felt that if we raise our children with their own happiness as a goal, then we are setting them up for a lifetime of selfishness. I believe that true happiness is found from losing oneself, from thinking outwardly, and from service.

happiness work editOne of my best friends, a mother of five young children, says that whenever she gets stressed or overwhelmed or depressed, she immediately turns her thoughts outward. “Who can I serve? Who needs my help today?” She has no free time to give, and yet she is constantly looking out for others in her neighborhood and our church. She babysits when a mother has to go to the doctor; she brings meals to the sick; she gives rides. She manages to put her own family’s needs first, but they still get to see her service to others. She is a great example to me.

Ralph Waldo Emerson can, of course, say all of this better (i.e., more succinctly) than I can. He wrote, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

happiness handsI agree. My purpose is not to make them happy; their purpose is not to be happy. I hope my children understand: If you are useful, honorable, compassionate, and make a difference, then you will give yourself the best shot at happiness. (Or at least at being “halfway content most of the time.”)

And now two of them are crying. They are not happy.

Enjoy Every Moment? Bah.

We spent eight years childless. We went through 15 (!) rounds of fertility treatments (including two IVF procedures), a miscarriage, an adoption, and a high-risk twin pregnancy that nearly bested me. After all that, you can bet your whatever that I am grateful for my children. Does this mean that I “enjoy every moment”? No, it does not.

I hear that phrase often. A lot of us young (young-ish?) mothers hear it. We hear it in the grocery store, in the check-out line during a tantrum. We hear it at church, when our kids are going three different directions and one of them is saying, “Don’t sing, Momma!” We hear it. Often, the woman who is saying it is a little older than us and has a dreamy look in her eyes. I can tell that she has forgotten what it’s like to be in the trenches every day. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe she’s just realized that the trenches don’t matter and that time passes quickly. (Insert any overused cliché here!) She might be right.

I have heard other moms complain about this “enjoy every moment” thing on blogs and in person and in articles. I am not the first to write about it. Of course we don’t enjoy being up to our elbows (literally?) in poop. Of course we don’t enjoy multiple tantrums in one day (or hour). Of course we don’t enjoy fixing dinner/showering/facebooking while three children cry. Of course we don’t enjoy seeing our husband’s stress and disappointment when he opens the door after work to chaos, dirt, no dinner plan and a wife with dead eyes. So, no, we don’t enjoy every moment.

I used to feel guilty about that. But Okayest Mom is setting the bar lower. Okayest Mom has had an epiphany.

I went to the LDS temple, which is a peaceful place that we Mormons go without our children. It is not church or Sunday services – it is special. I was there for the first time in two years, after the IVF/bedrest/birth/recovery (I need an acronym for that). I was pondering my Mommy Guilt, and I knew it was not a spiritual feeling. I wondered how to deal with it. This scripture came to mind: “Men [& women] are that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25)

“Have joy” was the phrase that warmed my heart. It doesn’t say that we are supposed to be giddy at all hours of the day. “Have joy” maybe means that we feel the joyous moments, that we find joy in our moments. “Have joy” is a thing you can DO, not an emotion that you are supposed to feel. Does that make sense?

For those of you who are not religious, the other phrase that came to mind was from Bob Dylan’s song “Most of the Time”: “I’m halfway content most of the time.” That sums it up pretty well too. He isn’t doing cartwheels either.

If we can be “halfway content most of the time” and find moments that “have joy”, then we can drop the guilt for not “enjoying every moment”. It’s my new goal to REALIZE when I have joy, and appreciate it. I want to notice that moment when I have that momma-gushy-feeling where I feel like I could eat my kids. I want to notice that moment when they squeeze me and I want to die. I want to notice that moment when I know I would take a bullet for them. I want to notice that moment when they say “I love you” or “I’m sorry” or “I like your underwears”.

I’m gonna realize those moments, feel them and appreciate them, and move on.

 

bono

(Okay, okay, here’s me actually ENJOYING EVERY MOMENT. Me + Bono!)