Parenting principles that foster happiness
Happiness and parenting: good goals, right?
There’s so much written about discipline and training, character development and education, we can sometimes forget the one ingredient that makes it all work: happiness.
I’m not talking about hedonistic vices either.
I’m talking well-being, peace, joy, safety, freedom, contentment; that deep abiding sense of “home.”
We all crave that—adults and kids alike!
As the parents, we get to set that tone every day with the choices we make. Our kids don’t have many choices. They live in the state you picked, the neighborhood you chose, the house you bought or the apartment you rented. They are either in school or not based on your research and decisions. They eat the food you buy, they wear the clothes you provide, they play with the toys you permit.
Recently my teenage son lamented the fact that I didn’t start him on violin at age 3 so that he could one day become a composer. Why didn’t I know that he would want to do that? Of course, he understood why I didn’t—but he was feeling the full weight of MY choices for HIS life.
So our kids are pretty much sidecar riders on our vision of what makes a good, satisfying life. And they know it! They feel it every time you remind them to brush their teeth or finish their scalloped potatoes or stop putting pennies in their noses.
Yet it sometimes feels to you and me that the kids run the show! They throw up thwarting behaviors at every age—pushing the bedtime line back, wanting to stay on the computer for another ten minutes, asking for cookies right before dinner, losing their soccer cleats on the day of the big game.
It’s infuriating and tiring and demanding to constantly make judgments about what they can and can’t do. At some point, it appears that the easiest course is to simply set up the schedule, the system, the program and enforce it. I remember a friend of mine said, “I don’t get why my kids won’t just go with the program! We’d all be so much happier if they would simply cooperate.”
I laughed. Apparently they wouldn’t be happier. That’s why they don’t go along! They have their own ideas of what makes them happy. We continue to imagine there’s a specific map that will ensure peace for us while providing structure for them that creates minimal chaos and maximum order.
Let me let you in on a little secret: There is no spoon. There’s no map either.
When I wrote The Writer’s Jungle, and named it such, my hope was to help moms understand how to survive and navigate the jungle-like landscape of a child’s writing life. There’s no clear path. What is there instead? Minute by minute decisions based on principles that take the child fully into account each step of the way.
Parenting works the same way.
There are principles that create a context for a satisfying home life for all, but they require minute by minute navigating with your child’s input and personality fully taken into account. Here are the ones that have worked in writing and in my kids’ lives. You’ll have others (and I hope you’ll share them in the comments section).
Notice and affirm your child’s
quirky, insightful, unique voice.
Enjoy it, affirm it, cultivate it, mirror it, share it with others and show it off. In other words, pay attention to the things your child says and fall in love with him or her every day that you can!
Pay attention to pain.
When someone says, “I hate this” or “I’m bored” it means…. “I hate this” and “I’m bored.” It doesn’t mean, “I’m lazy and pretending to be bored.” If your child were bleeding from a scraped knee and said, “I scraped my knee. It hurts,” the conclusion you would draw is “He scraped his knee; it hurts.” In relationships, it’s important to take people seriously. When they communicate pain, when they say they’re unhappy, they mean it. Solutions can be found once we allow the other person the full opportunity to explore what is stopping him or her from successfully enjoying whatever the experience is.
Discipline is not done to a person.
It’s cultivated by the individual. Discipline is supported by external structure but is governed by internal motivation. (You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make her drink, idea.) Flexible routines make it possible for structure and motivation to coincide. Schedules rarely last. Punishment never leads anyone to self-regulated discipline, and mostly drives opposing impulses underground while fostering resentment.
Eye contact and physical touch every single day matter,
even with teens (or perhaps, especially with teens).
These are freebies. Our kids are home with us. Touch them often. I had one mom confess to me that her son asked her to rub his shoulders before he started writing and she told him “No, this is school. I can’t rub your shoulders. Get to work.” Ironically, one of the steps for freewriting is to rub your child’s shoulders before he starts writing.
Create opportunities for fun.
That means several things. You must be willing to tolerate messes, chaos, changed plans, silliness, loud noises, taking too long, going too fast, going too slow, spending money, excessive talking, changing the use of an item for the purpose of the fun (snow saucers become slip n slide rides for pet bunnies), wasting food, wasting materials, trusting your kids with adult toys (video cameras, saws, sewing machines), breaking things, losing things, and failure. If you do all this, fun happens.
So let’s boil these principles down into five easily retained ideas about kids:
- Enjoy them.
- Take them seriously.
- Make a flexible routine.
- Touch them.
- Have fun.
Tomorrow is Tuesday Teatime (a great way to do all five!) and we’ll have new photos posted from yet another Brave Writer family to share. Then on Wednesday, I want to hear from you some of the ways you apply these principles in your home. I’ll share some of the ways we’ve done it over the years, too.
I’ve loved all the feedback about this series. Keep it coming!