Making My Children Happy Isn’t My Job

That sounds outrageously harsh, doesn’t it?  But it’s true.

As a mom and home educator, I have certain responsibilities regarding my children.

  1. I am responsible for keeping my children healthy.  We provide nutritious, balanced meals on a daily basis.  We take them to the doctor for check-ups and, if needed, sick child visits.  They have weather-appropriate clothes and shelter.
  2. I am responsible for keeping my children safe.  We teach them how to cross streets safely.  We make sure the youngest especially wears her bike helmet as she’s mastering riding without training wheels.  I teach them stranger danger and self-defense skills.
  3. I am responsible for teaching my children everything.  Sure, I teach reading, writing, math, and so forth, but I also teach them the Bible, how to do what Jesus instructs, how to cook, and all sorts of other good homemaking skills (not just “girly” stuff, either).  The Teacher writes in Proverbs, “Train up a child in the way that he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  From the moment our children are born to us, the process of their leaving us begins.  It’s such a depressing thought, but this is necessary for them to become independent future adults.  Everything we teach them is what they will carry into adulthood.  If we teach compassion and generosity, then we will one day have adult children who are compassionate and generous.  Those who spoil children so that they learn they’re the center of the universe have adult children who are petulant, spoiled, and self-centered.
  4. I am responsible for disciplining my children.  Again, the Teacher:  “He who spares the rod hates his child, but the one who loves his children is careful to discipline him,” and “Discipline your children, for in that there is hope.”  This is not a biblical mandate to beat our children for disobedience.  The imagery here is that of a shepherd.  A shepherd uses his staff (“rod”) to guide the sheep and to protect them from predators.  Our task in disciplining our children is to guide them to make right choices and to protect them along the way.  Just as a shepherd would not beat the sheep who strays from the herd, we don’t beat our children for straying from our instruction.
  5. I am responsible for treating my children with compassion as I teach them.  Paul tells the fathers in the church at Ephesus, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  While this verse is directed to fathers in particular, I believe it applies to mothers as well.  Some versions say “do not frustrate your children.”  As we teach our children, whether it’s as parents nurturing spiritual development or home educators teaching the joys of physics, we need to be mindful not to frustrate them to the point where they cannot learn or do not wish to learn.  Some frustration is good; we are often astute enough to see the top levels of our children’s potential, and setting the bar just to that point encourages children to reach for that height.  I often see this with my older daughter.  I’ll give her a math problem that is just a little out of reach for her.  I watch in near agony as she struggles with her angst with it and with me.  She tries a conventional method for solving the problem, and it doesn’t work.  Then she angrily marks through all that work and stubbornly starts over from a new angle.  Frustration turns to determination leads to exaltation as she grasps the problem.  If I spared her that angst in my attempts to keep her happy, then I would have also denied her learning, advanced cognitive growth, and the feeling of achievement.

Beyond and above all this, I am to love them.  I truly believe my children are a blessing from the LORD.  I love them in so many ways, day in and day out.  Snuggles, stories, teaching, quality time together, general silliness…  All these moments add up to a lot of love and a lot of great memories.

While I do love them and make many memories with them, the one thing I will not do is make them happy.  That’s just not in my job description.  My favorite undergrad Psych professor told us repeatedly for 2.5 years, “If your children like you all the time, you’re doing something wrong.”  The point he was making is, “If you discipline your children the way you should, they will hate you sometimes, and that’s OK.”  I’ve taken that to heart in a way that drives my kids crazy.  We’ll set a limit on their behavior, and one will say, “I don’t like you right now,” and their dad and I will high-five each other right in front of them.  (Mean, right?)

This came up today.  I was out to lunch with my best friend, my second Mom, and my friend’s daughter.  The daughter had had an attitude from the moment her Grandma picked her up, before church, during church, and then here we were at lunch, and the attitude was still with her.  I’d had enough.  I’m not used to children having such bad attitudes, especially out in public.  We were getting ready to bless our meal, and she was mouthing off about hating to pray.  I murmured “One moment” to my friends and told the daughter to cut the attitude now.  She did, we blessed, and lunch was great.  Later in the afternoon, my friend said, “She wasn’t happy about that.”  I replied, “Her happiness is not my concern,” not because I don’t love her, but because I do.

My children are happy, because they choose to be happy.  They feel loved, safe, secure, and that helps them feel happy.  They have boundaries on their behavior (which they sometimes push), but when it comes to what they can do, of what they’re capable, of what they are able to achieve, there are no boundaries.  The sky’s the limit for them!  Why?  Because I’ve spent more time giving them love, safety, security, and discipline and not bothered with ensuring their happiness.  Children whose parents don’t discipline them because they don’t want them to be unhappy end up with no sense of boundaries and they’re fairly incapable of creating their own happiness; they’re dependent on others or on having their own way to have their happiness.  Put bluntly, being willing to piss off our children as we create them to be productive, enjoyable future adults will help our children choose to be happy.

So, go out and make your children angry at you with your discipline.  Holy crap, is that hard to do!!!  Seriously, I know.  I’ve cried heartbroken tears over how my daughters have spoken to me in their anger, but I also am aware I made my mom cry with my angry teenage words.  Parenthood isn’t for wimps.  Yank up those big girl panties (or big boy undies, whichever suits you best) and dive into disciplining those young’uns in love.  Set boundaries.  Correct bad behavior.  Get ’em good and mad.  Then hug those kids, even – especially – if they’re big kids, taller than you, and tell them you love them forever.

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