Friends can feel threatened when we start to make new decisions, especially when those decisions are different from their own. That’s tough – uncomfortable, even – but it’s downright easy compared to the feeling that what will make you happy will make the people for whom you’re responsible for unhappy.
What do you do if your happiness seems to be making your kids unhappy?
1. Ask yourself: Is your happiness really making them unhappy? (Probably not.)
I believe that what is good and right, what comes from your gut and not from your ego, cannot prevent someone else from experiencing what is good and right for them.
It might make them uncomfortable. It might force them to adjust. It might put them in a position where they have to take responsibility for their own happiness. But it won’t prevent them from being able to find happiness. That applies to our children as much as it does our spouses, parents, and friends.
For me, this is a good litmus test to see if I’m pursuing sustainable happiness that is in line with my values or chasing a short-term thrill in a desperate attempt to fill a hole (because I’ve gotten them confused).
For example, my son had a few misgivings when we decided to move to Pittsburgh last summer. He wanted to go back to Florida or Iowa, two places that were comfortable to him, and he was certain that he couldn’t be happy in a new school. I was confident, however, that he would be able to adapt and make new friends. Furthermore, I believed that in the long run he’d have even more opportunities for happiness and that we as a family would thrive in Pittsburgh.
We made the move, and he bitched about it for several months afterwards. Now he loves it.
That being said, the kid has had a lot of change in his life over the last couple years. I’m not packing us up and moving to Mexico or traveling around Asia for a year any time soon. As much as I love to travel, I think that dream really could interfere with his ability to feel safe and secure right now. So we’re staying put at least until he graduates – and I’m confident I can be happy with that.
2. Acknowledge that they’re feeling unhappy – and that it sucks.
What we do affects the people we live with. Part of owning your happiness means taking responsibility for the consequences of it – including the short-term discomfort it might cause other people.
This is one of the reasons happiness takes guts, and one of the biggest things that prevents people from choosing happiness: because it is not always easy to accept the consequences.
It’s not easy to admit that you’re choosing your happiness over their immediate comfort.
It’s not easy to let your kid talk about how hard it is to make new friends. It’s not easy to let your kid say that they wish you were home making dinner instead of out taking a class. It’s not easy, but it is fair and healthy to listen to their feelings.
Resist the urge to tell them that they are choosing to be unhappy. That’s insensitive as hell and not helpful.
Let them feel their feelings.
3. Trust that they will figure it out.
The key to being able to own your happiness is being able to trust that other people are just as capable of figuring out their happiness. It’s an essential element. You can’t own yours while also thinking you have to manage everyone else’s. We’ve only got the internal resources to manage one person’s happiness: if you choose yours, you have to let go of theirs.
That’s not easy when we’re talking about your children. It is, in a sense, our job to help our children find happiness. It’s our job to teach them how to be happy, and it’s our job to put them in situations where they can be happy.
But ultimately, and this is the hardest part of parenting I think, it is up to our children to choose happiness for themselves.
When they are little they do this pretty easily. As they get older, their needs get more complicated and so does their happiness. And this is when it becomes even more important that we show them we have confidence in them.
4. Keep teaching them how to be happy.
I feel like this is a step I’m just starting to figure out for myself. In the past, I’ve tried to talk to my kids about happiness and I’ve tried to model happiness for them, but I haven’t always focused on teaching them the life skills that will help them figure out happiness.
I’m working on that now.
Both of my kids have to do a gratitude practice every night. Emma has a gratitude journal designed for kids, and Devin makes a voice recording on his phone that he emails to himself and me. Devin thinks it’s dumb, but I’ve told him that this is a skill that I believe is important for him to learn. I feel like it’s just as important as teaching him how to make his bed or wash a dish.
There’s a fine line between teaching kids the skills they need to be happy and trying to make them be happy. There’s also a delicate balance between taking care of them and teaching them how to take care of themselves as they get older. We also have to try to juggle taking care of ourselves with taking care of people who really are dependent on us.
That’s a lot of balancing and juggling – and I’m pretty sure I screw it up a lot of the time.
But then there are the days I get it right. There are the days when I see my daughter be compassionate without succumbing to people pleasing. There are the days when I see my son be alone without being lonely. There are the days when I see glimpses of the healthy, whole, happy people they might grow up to be.
And I know that making myself happy is playing a part in that.