(2 minute read)
It’s a hard truth, especially for a new parent, but the fact is that it’s our children’s job to disappoint us. They have their own life to lead, and it’s not very likely that they’re going to live it the way anyone else, parents included, want them to live it.
Pretty much everyone has high hopes when their child is born. We want our kid to be smart, but not so smart that they’re considered weird, because of course, we want them to be popular. And we want them to be honest, despite our own occasional lapses in that department. We want them to be a well accepted member of the group, except when the group does things we disapprove of, so they should be resistant to peer pressure. Let’s not forget discipline and self control, the ability to work hard, but also have fun. We’d also like to have them within normal limits in the height and weight department.
They should worry appropriately, but not be too anxious. Unless we’re modern and open minded, we also want them to be straight. (Even if we are modern and open minded, who would wish on their child a sexual orientation that could get them executed in a dozen countries and imprisoned in dozens of others?) And while we’re on the subject, we want them to have a happy and stable marriage, and perhaps children of their own who are equally successful and well adjusted. And a good career, at least reasonably well paid but certainly successful in their field, so we can drop hints to our friends about how terrific our kid is turning out to be.
When you think about this list of requirements, it’s pretty daunting. When we look around us, how many people meet all these criteria? Not many. And when you allow for the fact that an awful lot of people are keeping up appearances, and are actually struggling far more than they let on, the numbers get even smaller. And the chances that we will raise a child to meet our expectations in all these areas are pretty slim. Yet hope springs eternal: when our child is born we are determined to provide just the right mix of love, discipline, encouragement, healthy food and opportunity that will enable them to grow up just the way we want them to. We’re in denial: just because there are few adults that fit our bill doesn’t mean anything about our ability to raise our child to meet those requirements.
Some of us may say “I don’t care what my kid does, as long as they’re happy.” That sounds like a low bar until you consider the fact that happiness isn’t the default setting in the human psyche. Life is challenging for everyone, and all of us — our kids included — are going to have rough patches. In our heart of hearts, we all have impossible wishes for our children.
Imagine though, that somehow you had a child who not only was happy, but also fulfilled all your other hopes. Successful, popular, smart, hardworking, fun loving, disciplined, etc. etc. The perfect child, except for one thing — they didn’t really care about you at all. Few phone calls, fewer visits, and no affection. I doubt many of us would trade that for a child who, however flawed, cared deeply for us.
And perhaps that is the trick to happy parenting: raising our children not so much to fulfill our inevitably unrealistic expectations, but rather, loving them as they are, and have them love us, warts and all, in return.