Ran across this TedTalk by Jennifer Senior: For Parents, happiness is a very high bar. Jennifer is a writer for New York Magazine and author of “All Joy and No Fun” which essentially discusses modern parenthood. Her thesis is that parenting has now become burdensome due to the pressures of culture to ensure that our children have these incredibly happy childhoods.
I think she hit the nail on the head when she says that parents are genuinely confused as to what is expected of them and how to approach parenting. In the past, children were economic assets—birth them and put them into the fields to pay their way—which extended well into the 1940s. It was not until the 1950s that parenting began to shift. This correlated with the interest in child development research by BF Skinner and others and childcare books written by Dr. Benjamin Spock who was the ‘go to’ guy to learn how to parent a baby and young child.
From the 60s on, child development has become its own science. Parents have at their fingertips enormous data showing how to give their child every advantage. And much of this information is very good and useful. But then the concept of a “happy” childhood emerged and it has become its own obsession with parents thinking this is a vital component on the way to a successful adulthood. It’s as if they fear any disruption in that happiness could produce horrible outcomes and must be prevented at all costs.
This is setting up a lose-lose for everyone. First, an all happy childhood is not what we want for our children. This teaches them to expect to live in a fake world because the real world is not all happy and never will be. Trying to give them 18 years of ‘all happy’ and then sending them out into the real world does not prepare them for a successful adulthood.
The catch in all this really forces us to ask one very important question: what is a successful adulthood? Because that really helps us know how to help our children achieve it. Currently our culture has tied success to the story of grow up, get a job, spouse, house, cars and kids and then you’ll live happily ever after. And we’ve certainly done that for the last 50 years. But as the 2000s began, that definition of success was changing because it turned out that story didn’t really work out to be all that happy after all! With these questions, parents were left stranded in figuring out how to parent their children and thus, happiness became the centerpiece of childhood and not so much adulthood. As Senior notes however, it sets a bar for parenting that is impossible to achieve and left parents floundering.
Which bring us back to wholeness. Not yet in the common lexicon, it is the replacement for happiness. Helping your child work towards wholeness is what parenting is all about. It teaches each child to know themselves as a physical, emotional, thinking, sexual and spiritual being on a life-long learning journey to adult success: wholeness. Parents can start teaching their child this from birth through 18 and then feel confident that their child can carry it into their adulthood with a solid foundation.
All wholeness will have happiness in it, but not all happiness will have wholeness in it. Wholeness becomes a shared responsibility between parent and child as the child grows older and realizes that one day soon they’ll have to take over their life and wholeness gives them a framework that will support them for life.
So, let’s change the bar—from happiness to wholeness and discover the satisfaction and joy of living in a world that teaches our children that wholeness trumps happiness because it gives you a solid foundation for building a dynamic life.