“Kids won’t make me happy.” I’ve heard that statement, or statements to that effect, thousands of times. Enough that I should, by now, have a response prepared. But when a guy said it to me a few days ago, I fumbled the answer. I failed him.
“I don’t know, man. Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s cool that you’ve got kids and everything. But, personally, I just don’t think kids would make me happy.”
That was his comment to me as we stood out in the cold, him smoking his cigarette, me secondhand smoking his cigarette. Maybe I just wanted to go back inside. Maybe I didn’t feel like having this conversation. Maybe I judged him for his selfishness. Well, I did judge him for his selfishness. I shouldn’t have — it was pretentious and arrogant of me — but I did. Whatever the reason, I offered a nonsense response. I spewed the same contrite, useless garbage at him that parents spewed at me before we had our twins.
“Oh, they WILL make you happy, dude. You don’t get it now, but when you’re a parent you’ll understand. Kids will definitely make you happy. Sure, it might be tough sometimes, but they’ll make you happy. Trust me.”
All of the pain, sacrifice, and suffering of parenthood dismissed with a shrug and a sigh — “it might be tough sometimes” — and covered up in a layer of rainbows, puppies, sunshine, and gum drops. And lies. Because that what it is when you tell someone that having kids will make them happy: a lie. Kids won’t MAKE you happy. Nothing will MAKE you happy.
My own kids do not, in fact, make me happy. I love them to death. I am a proud father. I am honored that God gave them to me. I am overjoyed. I am in awe. I am in love. I am happy. But my kids do not MAKE me happy.
Make: to cause, to form, to create, to formulate, to build. Synonyms: force, compel.
My kids don’t make my happiness. That isn’t their job. My happiness isn’t a responsibility that falls on their tiny little shoulders. Kids come into this world helpless, naked, and needing, yet so many of us immediately shove them into the Happiness Factory and bark commands. “Get on the assembly line and build me some happiness! Quick! Do your duty, sir!” This is precisely why many mommies and daddies are NOT very happy people. Many are lost, confused, and disappointed. They are anything but happy because they were fooled into thinking that they didn’t conceive a human — they conceived a little happiness generator. They were fooled, in many instances, by parents who know better. Parents like myself (although I’m no expert in the subject).
Happiness is a choice. It’s a decision. It’s something you achieve. It’s something you do. It’s an option you select. It requires your active participation every single second of the day. Happiness is not made. It is not constructed. It is not assembled like Ikea furniture. It is not contracted like a disease. It is not imposed, nor infused, nor purchased. It is not given to you. It is not birthed. You don’t stumble into it like a puddle of fun feelings. It is never permanent and absolute, except in Heaven.
You can be given a temporary hallucination of happiness. You can spend a few dollars on the street corner and buy a bag of something that will cheaply imitate a few of the physical manifestations of happiness, but that will ultimately leave you even less happy than you were before. Speaking of which, a lot of people peddle a bizarre form of kiddie-crack. “Oh yeah, just one hit of parenthood, man, and you’ll be flyin’.”
Funny, if kids are supposed to give me a happiness high, why are they sometimes such a buzz kill? Times, specifically, like when we’re on long car trips and they take turns screaming at a pitch so high it would make a dog’s eardrums explode. Or the times when they decide they’d like to get up and start the day early — at 2 AM. Or the times when I’d like to take my wife out for a date but we can’t find anyone to watch the kids. Or the times when they have their diarrhea set on a timer, ready to explode right as I’m taking off their diapers. If they are supposed to “make me happy,” what are they doing crying and crapping so much? Attention son and daughter: loud screams and messy diapers do not make Dad happy. Didn’t they get that memo? What’s wrong with them? They’ve clearly failed in their Divine Mandate to be the harbingers of my own personal happiness.
Or maybe no such mandate exists. Maybe no human being was put on this Earth to “make me happy,” least of all my children. The joy and happiness of parenting is like the joy and happiness that can be found in many good things: it comes from sacrifice, self denial, and self giving. It comes with work and effort. I have to be the sort of person who finds happiness in giving, and I will not automatically be that sort of person just because I had sex and made a couple of babies. In other words, my kids don’t make me happy to be a parent; I have to make me happy to be a parent. And I am. I am beyond words. But that happiness will decrease if I become more selfish, and it will increase if I become less selfish. If you want your kids to make you happy, you are asking your kids to make you less selfish. That is a demand that is, all at once, incredibly stupid, laughably absurd, and profoundly abusive.
And then maybe we should stop worrying so much about this happiness thing, anyway. I think the happiest people are the ones who spend the least amount of time whining about their desire to be made happy. They do a thing because it’s right, or because they have a duty to do it, or because it is interesting, or beautiful, or enlightening. They choose to find happiness amidst it all, but that was never the point. They aim beyond mere enjoyment, pleasure, and satisfaction. If your own happiness is the Alpha and Omega of your life, you’ll never do anything important or become anything significant in this world. Ironically, you’ll also never be happy.
The problem (one of the many problems, I should say) with parents who expect parenthood to “make them happy” is that they are always disillusioned when reality hits, and then they resent their children for failing to fulfill their impossible expectations. These people generally resent the universe for the same reason. They think all of creation was forged for the expressed purpose of rewarding them with happiness, and they will decline to do anything that might intrude or impose upon their Happiness Entitlement. They refuse to accept this harsh but liberating truth: it isn’t anybody’s job to make you happy. You don’t have any right to put your unhappiness at anyone’s feet but your own. Your happiness is your concern and yours alone.
There is an ocean of deep, lasting, transcendent happiness that is suddenly available to those of us who plunge into the stormy waters of parenting. But we have to choose to drink of it, and our cups of parental happiness will not be very full if we do not first empty them of our selfishness.
This is what I should have said, but I’m slow witted and clumsy, so I stammered some meaningless parent-slogans. If I could have that moment back, I’d offer something along these lines instead. Or maybe, more simply, I’d leave it at this:
Happy? Your kids won’t make you happy. The only thing your kids will make you, turn you into, and force you to be (at least biologically speaking) is a parent. Happy is your responsibility.
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I saw something the other day quoting Ellen telling people to be happy, and this person was almost dissing it. He was interviewing an elderly woman who said (paraphrasing slightly) “My generation was never focused on happy. We were focused on honesty, hard work, ingenuity, etc but we never thought about if we were happy or not. I suppose we were but we didn’t chase it all the time.”
Good quote. Something the younger generations should consider.
That is beautiful!
Happiness has to do with what is ‘happening’ in the present moment; happiness is fleeting. We can chase after happiness but, like a junkie searching for drugs, we will only be looking for the next temporal fix. Joy on the other hand is more permanent or continuous. Kid’s can’t make you happy, you are correct, in fact kids can make a person very unhappy at times. Kid’s, like a relationship with the Lord, will bring you joy though and that trumps happiness any day of the week!
‘But godliness with contentment is great gain.’ (1 Timothy 6:6)
Oh, for once I disagree somewhat. Kids do make you happy. Because having kids teaches you to love others more than yourself. And unselfishness is what makes you happy.
Uh, Jennifer… isn’t that pretty much what he said??
And still, there are people out there who just aren’t wired to be parents. And they should not be forced into being parents, just because that’s what the majority thinks they ought to do. Those kind of people will never be happy as parents. They will only resent the children they felt forced into having. Which does lead back to Matt’s point, that children do not make you happy. They can encourage the feeling of happiness in certain moments, and in other moments, they can encourage the feeling of wanting to bash your head into the nearest solid surface. But they, themselves, cannot make you, or anyone else, happy. People need to stop putting the control of their emotions into the hands of others. I get annoyed by people who say to someone, “you made me angry.” That person did NOT make you angry. That person did something that caused you to feel anger, and how you express that anger is your responsibility alone. When you think that someone has made you feel a certain way, all you’re doing is admitting that you aren’t courageous enough to take responsibility for how you express what you’re feeling. The only thing another person can do, is encourage a certain emotion, they cannot control how you act out that particular emotion. You, and ONLY you, can make that call. Learn to be accountable for your own emotions, and how you exhibit them.
That is only partly true. Outside stimuli always affect brain chemistry. An outside action will induce a response in your brain. You can choose how to react when presented with a certain stimulus but you cannot choose your brain chemistry. You and you alone are responsible for actions but not emotions. Unknowingly consuming LSD might make me rather happy or euphoric or what not and it would not be my choice to feel that way, but I’d still be responsible for my actions, just not my emotions.
I did not say that you could control your emotions, Golden Boy. I only stated that you control how you express those emotions. There is no bad emotion, there are only bad emotional displays, because someone hasn’t yet learned how to express their emotions in a way that is beneficial.
Hmm. I do believe that is exactly what Mr. Walsh said. Good point, though.
Happiness is a choice and you are responsible for your own happiness. Nobody else can make you happy long term. Things will not make you happy long term. Happiness comes from within yourself. Happiness comes from learning to be content and willing to see the good in situations.
It can also come with the help of a pill. Unfortunately, some people cannot be happy without medical intervention. My mother has clinical depression. She can surely be happy when she takes her pills, but when she goes off them, she can’t be happy in the long run. It’s not possible.
amen. My kids do NOT make me happy on a regular basis. When my oldest is whining, on a repetative “mommy” recording, and when my youngest wakes me up three times at night. My happiness is truly not up to them and sometimes even when I would choose to be happy, it’s not up to me either. But that’s another issue. My kids are also not my life. They are the focus of most of my life but they do not define ME as a person. At church it’s “oh you’re Marshal’s mom” and I say yes because I get it. But I also have a name. And a life. And goals and dreams that have nothing to do with kiddos. I love my boys but they aren’t who I am.
My kids also make me happy but it’s not their job and it’s not why I had them….I think they were a gift from God…and I’m blessed to have them….But I agree with you 100%….don’t have kids if happiness is the only reason.
By any chance did you happen to be paying attention in church one Sunday when the story of Elijah and Elisha was read from the Bible? Or are your posts just a fluke?
The Holy Spirit is funny like that. You’ll get the same message from two completely disconnected sources. It’s God’s way of saying, “just in case the first time didn’t get through to you, let me put it another way. Enjoy.” I love that about my God.
I get what you are saying, but I would have to disagree. Before I had my children, I was unhappy with life, with myself. My children have brought me so much happiness. And even though my husband and I may scrap by, live in a basement apartment, and our oldest son has autism, I wouldn’t change any thing. Sure I could be HAPPIER, but living the life I lived before my beautiful family I feel very blessed. When I have a bad day at work or don’t feel to well my kid’s kisses and hugs make my day and ALWAYS put a smile on my face.
Yeah–love definitely brings happiness! 🙂 I’m glad you found it!
Ha! Thanks, I really needed this today. I’ll admit that I also get caught up in the moment, wondering why they won’t reign in their absolute chaos (I’ve got 4 boys), because they’re making me so mad! You’re definitely right on. No one can make us happy…or mad, for that matter. It’s a personal choice.
I hear you, I’ve got four boys too and they sure do give me a lot of chaos! I also get caught up in the duties of parenthood and the frustrations and forget that happiness is my choice and not their responsibility.
You just nail it every time. I have 4 children and I think I am a much better person because I have poured myself into their lives. It’s never all about me.
This also applies once your children are grown adults. I have a parent that was “unhappy” all of my childhood because she felt no one loved her enough, did enough nice things (on a grand, expensive scale.) And it hasn’t changed now that we are adults. We’re still at fault for her feeling unloved, lonely, depressed, abandoned, etc., etc. It is an emotional void in which nothing you (the child) do is ever enough. It is exhausting.
Char, I’m so sorry. And I’m in a unique position to understand as I could have written this post myself. It describes my mother to a tee. There is one thing that has helped, though. The last time she threatened to stomp off, pouting for the umpteenth time because I wasn’t making her happy, I stopped chasing her, stopped apologizing for being me, and just simply stopped trying. I haven’t heard from her since. That was 7 years ago. Although it’s unfortunate and sad for her, I am completely relieved. No more drama. She is somebody else’s problem now. Sad but true. Just know that if it ever comes down to that for you, I think you will find a huge weight has been lifted from your shoulders. I hope this helps.
Been there….although not with my parents, thankfully. My parents are great. My boyfriend’s mother, however, sounds exactly like you describe above. It is exhausting to be around her. She drops in guilt at every opportunity and you cannot trust her words as she is usually trying to manipulate every situation to fit to her liking. Thankfully she is not very smart so we can almost always see right through it. Makes it very hard to be around her when if she would just back off and relax, we might actually enjoy her company, but she can’t do that.
Here is her latest quote fresh from Thanksgiving: “I have figured it out–parents who are terrible and are not good to their children seem to have adult children that love and appreciate them and treat them like gold, while good parents that tried their best for their kids end up with adult children do not love and appreciate them or treat them well”. What?????
All 3 of her children have told me that she regularly called them ungrateful kids, an embarrassment to her, and reminded them regularly that they would be out at 18 with no revolving door to return. In general, she was a decent parent–taught them work ethic, manners, etc. and family was important, but regularly reminding your young children how long you were in labor with them and constantly telling them that they should treat her better isn’t really a great way to win that long term loving relationship.
Makes me appreciate my parents so much more.
P.S. She always signs her letters “Your Sainted Mother” if that tells you anything. blech.
I am sorry you carry that burden, Char. I spent my life carrying around the weight of my mother’s unhappiness, always taking the blame for her emotional instability. I’ve chosen to limit my time with her because I find it easier to focus and make the time count rather than drain myself with no time to recuperate. You are spot on; it is exhausting. I’ve made it a top priority to be the strength my children can lean on. I had them to support them, not for them to support me.
I’m sorry, too, Char (and all of you). My mom doesn’t need me that much–I call her more often!–but I think I’ve both observed and heard about this phenomenon: parents inappropriately leaning on or needing their children, esp. teen/ adult children. I know someone who is still obsessed with getting her relationship with her daughter to where SHE wants it. Unfortunately, they are both living sinful lives–the daughter very immoral, very troubled; the mother unrepentantly clingy, refusing to acknowledge selfishness or commit to any church for any length of time (while still being upset that they don’t help her financially), and often in denial that God loves her. She says awful things like “You’re blessed and I’m cursed.” I say this after YEARS of friendship with her, hours of talking, hours of listening.
Anyway, she has no one else in her life except for her daughter and me and maybe 1-2 other friends, consistently. And the daughter does things like (apparently) agree to get an apt. with her mom, then flake out and not pay rent. The mom won’t “man up” and get her life together on her own. She really needs others in her life. Since her marriage did not work out, she needs church, friends, the family that she makes for herself…rather than to keep saying for the rest of her life that God did not give her a family.
I think perhaps that’s a phenomenon with parents who feel lonely, probably more often parents who are single, and most often it’s the moms, unfortunately. They turn to their children to be everything to them, to fulfill their dreams of “family,” and, well, the more obsessed you are with something, the more unstable you can be when you don’t have it.
Parents have to learn to be adaptable. And one of the adaptations is learning to love through all of those difficult times. Just like in marriage, we have to love them through their flaws and imperfections. Drive us insane they might but we can’t turn our backs on them–our spouses or our children–because of it, and that’s where the difference lies, I believe. You can look at the milk your kiddo just spilled on the carpet and rant and rave and turn red and steam from the ears or you can learn to at least, if nothing else, control yourself long enough to handle the situation like a mature adult; clean it up then sit the kid down and remind them to grab their cups with both hands and not walk around with it; whatever the hypothetical case may have been. This is something I’ve learned the hard way because I got one of two certainties from others: Kids will make you the happiest person on the Earth, or kids will tear your sanity limb from limb; but no one ever bothered to say it was up to ME on how I was going to handle being a mother.
To me, don’t ever be afraid to say it’s tough, to say you need a break, a nap, or a vacation. And people who make others feel weak or like horrible parents for speaking honestly about the difficulties of parenting need to take a second look, soften their hearts. And telling a parent who is reaching out for help “well, what did you expect when you had kids” does NOT help the situation.
Sorry for the rant, this is just a topic I feel strongly about.
I always enjoy your articles. This one reminds me of one of my favorite songs “Change Your Mind” by Sister Hazel. Look it up and listen to the lyrics I think you’ll agree.
I think his point is that no child should be born with a job…it’s not their duty to make you happy. Yes, they probably will make you happy. And there will be times that they do NOT. Either way, it’s not their responsibility…that places an awful burden on a child.
Taking it a step further this message also extends to the single person in want of a spouse or the couple who is unable to conceive a child. Contentment or happiness isn’t found in another person. It’s found in the One who gives or withholds the gifts in the first place. We choose happiness today because we know that He is good and does all things well. We trust that He knows what He’s doing.
Amen! Well said, LaLa. Well said, Matt, too. The kind of emotional neediness spoken of here in depending upon others to make our happiness for us cheats us of the very thing we’re crying out for. No one really wants to be around that kind of person, even if they’re your parent or relative or close friend. When you can come out of your selfish sulk and stop making it about you and you make it about serving others instead, you can find happiness that way. In my life I’ve found that great and lasting joy comes from selflessly serving others, not from focusing on me and trying to get mine.
I wish this were the overall tone of Matt’s message and not the singularly focused condemnation of “selfish” people who don’t want kids. Give grace to God because he is in charge, he will lead us on the path of right. Sometimes that’s as a mother of eight, sometimes as a Father of a congregation, sometimes as a Foster parent, and sometimes as the best auntie in the whole wide world to one very special little boy. Happiness is relative, and it can only be sought though yourself and through God.
I agree but would add that contentment is REGARDLESS of circumstances; happiness is BECAUSE of circumstances. That is why happiness is so elusive, and why true contentment can be achieved, particularly when you realize that it can only be found in God and living to please Him.
Parenting is the last reminder a lot of people have that life is actually difficult, that decisions matter and that your own happiness isn’t the end all and be all. Even our Founding Fathers would have said “the pursuit of happiness” is not the end all and be all, but something all men should be given the space to attempt.
I am not a parent. I cannot say anything sensible about the realities thereof. I just know that all the stories I’ve heard, and all the childhood incidents I remember, it sounds remarkably like the safety nets and soft corners removed from Real Life.
Reblogged this on BeeshaSIM.
Well put Matt! I agree with you 120%. If only more people could see things in such a way I feel that this world would definitely be a hell of a lot better place to be!!! Keep up the great work, wisdom, and information you feed us on such a regular basis Matt!!! Thanks man I look forward to reading more of your blogs on many many more subjects, keep on keeping on my man!!!!
As I have discussed many times, I don’t wish for my children to be happy as a primary goal. Paralleling Matt, I want my children to be responsible, productive citizens. If that results in happiness, great. But irresponsible, unproductive children are rarely happy, and by their status often erode others’ chance to reach that plateau. Examples? The drunk driver who kills a family member. The lustful chaser after casual sex that leads to the decision for an abortion. The drug user whose choice/need ricochets down the line to the death of one or many in places like Mexico. The lazy worker whose coworkers must pick up after him, raising stress levels and impeding health. I contend that Mother Teresa found happiness in being a responsive and responsible tool of God. So I want for my children in their chosen fields.
I’ve been reading a lot about what constitutes happiness. I’m a single and relatively young man. I want to be a dad someday. I think I’ll even be a good dad. I think my kids will bring me joy. I don’t think they will make me happy, but not for the reasons given above. I’m really interested in the notion that happiness is a life long goal and not a feeling or any kind of emotional state. What’s often assumed to be happiness is better described as contentment, joy, or having fun. Those things are all very personal and subjective. Happiness has an objective quality to it. It’s the result of living a good life. What is a good life? Well, that’s a longer topic for another time but it’s not necessarily one full of fun, excitement, or pleasure.
I reject the idea that happiness is a choice, no one is responsible for your happiness, etc, etc, etc. That’s too simple. That’s the kind of thing Dr Phil says for a 15 second soundbyte to sell his new book. It sounds nice and empowering but really doesn’t mean anything. We are not islands. Our lives are interwoven and the people that you have to live with can make your life heaven, hell, or someplace in between and you may not have a choice in the matter. Sometimes life gives you poop and you can’t make lemonade with poop. All you can do is try to use it as fertilizer and hope that something good will come of it at a later time.
I believe it is that simple. “Sometimes life gives you poop and you can’t make lemonade with poop. All you can do is try to use it as fertilizer and hope that something good will come of it at a later time.” True, but it still all comes back to the bottom line of how WE will choose to respond to those different situations/people…and that can make a world of difference in our outlook on & attitude about life.
for those who desperately want to be parents (therefore having children will make them happy), i would say that while your argument is great, it has a couple holes. but in reality, most people don’t think about the fact that 1 in 8 couples will fact infertility and spend all of their savings and several years trying to accomplish what so many people take for granted or choose not to do.
That is hard. I hope that more of them will consider adoption, rather than spending so much to try to have a child when we have so many children already in need of homes. Russell Moore in Adopted for Life has written some great things about this. My husband and I hope to adopt someday, perhaps a sibling group.
Many of them do, but most agencies won’t approve them until they’ve tried all the fertility treatments or completely given up on a future with a biological child. Throw in the large number of people who go through the adoption process only to have children taken from their arms (and no refund) it’s a very emotional and uncertain decision. 30-60k and no child. There are not nearly as many babies in need of loving homes as there once were.
I was in my early thirties when I discovered a simple little truth that has tremedously increased my enjoyment of life the last 25 years and you just stated it here for all to see. I hope they don’t miss it. Happiness is a decision. For the most part, we each have control of our own happiness. We determine how we will react to the circumstances that come upon us. Everyone has problems. It is how we respond to those problems that determines our happiness.
Exactly…..we chose, and if we want true joy, we chose Christ!
My kids don’t make me happy but I am happy that I have kids — even when they make me very unhappy.
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Seriously, I think you’re a little messed up in the head.
Reblogged this on outienz and commented:
“Kids come into this world helpless, naked, and needing, yet so many of us immediately shove them into the Happiness Factory and bark commands. “Get on the assembly line and build me some happiness! Quick!”
Happiness is a state of mind that every experience can either add to or take away from. Becoming a parent is more experience-rich than one can ever anticipate…
I like how the burden of ‘producing happiness’ is gently lifted from the shoulders of children in this blog entry.
It’s so very difficult to talk honestly about motherhood and fatherhood and raising children. If I mention the “good stuff” – they’re so cute! they’re such a joy! my life is so fulfilling! – it’s all true, but sounds somehow whitewashed. If I mention the “bad stuff” – they’re so exhausting! they’re so difficult! my life is so full of saying NO! – it’s all still true, but sounds too negative and off balance. As for trying carefully to include a little bit of good-&-bad in equal measure every single time I open my mouth— Ha!
So I appreciated this, Matt.
Kids might not make us happy…..but, grandkids sure do!
I’ve never understood the opinion that not wanting kids is selfish. I, personally, want a LOT of kids. I’m talking upwards of ten. One of my biggest dreams in life is to be a mother of kids and teens who have no one else to love them. Is it selfish of me to want that? Because, let’s be honest, I want that for them, but also for myself. I–me, Dorothy–want to share my life and love with a bunch of kids. It will make me happy to do this. And if it’s not selfish for me to do this, is it selfish of others not to do this, even though they don’t want what I want? Should I judge them and you, Matt, for not adopting?
I don’t think I should judge someone for not doing what they don’t want to do and for what could possibly make them unhappy. If a person isn’t cut out to be a mother or father (providing they didn’t already make a child and decide against parenthood after the fact), I don’t see how it’s any more selfish of them to not have children than it is for me to have my adopted dozen or for you to have your biological pair. Because, like you said, happiness is about making choices, and having kids is a choice.
Excellent post, as usual.
We are under the mistaken impression that God’s desire is for us to be happy. It’s not. He wants us to be HOLY. Now, His universe is set up in such a way that much of the time, if we are pursuing holiness, we will be happy, but certainly not always. The things that help us to learn to be more Christlike, to grow spiritually and emotionally, are often the hardest things we can experience – like being married to the same person for decades, and parenting difficult children, and coming to terms with lousy childhood experiences, and having a crotchety boss, etc. etc. etc. But when we make it our goal to become holy rather than happy, along the way we achieve contentment, which is far more important and more lasting than happiness.
Nice one Matt. My daughter does not always make me “happy” but being a parent has given me a fuller, more meaningful life. And this knowledge, that I am part of something beyond myself, makes me happy with my life overall. Which is, in my opinion, much more important than trying to be happy in every moment.
sometimes people are a little bit daft (myself on occasion, no exception)…i can see how this post relates to all facets of life, not just parenting, but my faith in others seeing it is minimal…any chance you want to rewrite this with a ‘general’ twist on it? like kids, life, money, relationships, experiences, employment…the whole gamut…none of it MAKES you happy? id like to repost that…or at the very least my favorite ‘sock it to ya’ excerpts…
I love my kids, but I agree, happiness comes from within. From just being. No one can make us happy, not even our bundles of joy.
Amazingly, this idea is what got me through a horrific breakup and custody battle. I am a non-custodial mother, due to a culmination of a lot of procedural technicalities.
During the period of my life in which I was losing him, I felt like I was losing my happiness. Like my joy was being ripped forcibly from my chest. I would dwell on how unfair life was, how I managed to be unlucky enough to be a part of a statistic so small (mothers who don’t get custody and aren’t unfit) they don’t even get support groups. I cried a lot – at home, work, grocery store, gym. When my 4 year old was moved 4 states away, I would go into his room, hold his toys and curl on the floor, sobbing until I passed out. I had no happiness, and I thought it was because the source of my happiness was gone.
The problem with subscribing this type of responsibility on a child, or person, or even inanimate object, is if that source ever goes away, using this logic it is impossible for you to ever be happy again. This is a very dark train of thought to take.
The first holiday (Thanksgiving) I spent without him, I pushed everyone away and stayed locked in my apartment, crying on my couch. I was miserable. Then Christmas came. This is about the time when the light bulbs starting coming back on, that something was wrong and I that I needed to take action to fix it. I decided that my selfishness was unacceptable, and that if I was going to be miserable, I could at least try to make someone else happy. I volunteered at an orphanage Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. I made cookies, a big dinner, sang songs, rubbed little stranger-kids backs as they fell asleep, watched them open presents. And I didn’t cry, a little spark of happiness ignited in my heart.
Soon after I became a volunteer court appointed child advocate. Courts only play lip service to the “best interest of the child” and kids really need someone on their side. None of this brought my son back – none of this changed the fact that my “source of happiness” was 12 hours away, but I was happy. I felt useful, productive, like I was making an improvement in the lives of others.
Self-worth and happiness are inseparable. Over the past 3 years, I’ve realized that more than anything, it is not the job of a parent to “be happy” but to raise respectful, accountable, well-adjusted children. Happiness is a by-product of the work, not the child.
I love your comment about parents who end up resenting children because they find that these children do not make them happy. I see so much of this in parents. So many articles about how having children is so hard and let’s all count our hardships and how miserable it can be and count down the hours until bedtime.
I get it – parenting is extremely challenging. I don’t deny that and there are certainly moments when I want a break. But, these fleeting moments don’t (and shouldn’t) define my relationship with my children. For a vast majority of the time, I adore the time we spend together. It is filled with laughter and hugs and smiles and LOTS of joy (and dancing, lots of dancing).
I can’t help but think that people who spend a vast majority of their time frustrated with the parenting experience are the ones who had children to “make them happy” or because they thought that they “should” have children without ever considering that they had a choice in the matter. And the ones who end up losing out are the children who grow up feeling resented by their parents instead of loved.
Reblogged this on Dramatic Momologue and commented:
I’ve never reblogged anything until today. I read this guy’s posts fairly regularly. This one resonated pretty loudly today given how things have been going under my roof lately. I hope that those of us out there that really need to see this see this. That is all.
Inspiring young man! It is a also a reminder of how many teachers are just children themselves. It takes someone strong to stand up for his beliefs. Yay for him being a role model!
Awesome! Just waiting for you to post it to Facebook so my husband might come across it and might read it…hoping hoping hoping.
Cut & paste! ;o)
Reblogged this on With Cream and Sugar and commented:
Spending this past weekend with Jessie, a newish mom, (she’s been at it for a little over a year now, none of which we got to be near her for) was so enlightening. No one truly close to me had gone through pregnancy and motherhood until now. And it was mesmerizing to watch Jessie, this girl I would dig mud pits with for potential robbers, be a mother. She really did exemplify the glory of parenthood. However, when she was finally able to pull herself away from baby, as her husband sweetly took care of the toddler and a research paper, us girls were able to really pick her brain about the past year. And she shared honestly, about the incredible parts, about the really hard parts, about identity, and expectations, about the things you THOUGHT you could ballpark about parenthood.
So it was really interesting to get back on this thing after a nice long break, and find this blog. I know that I so often have moments where I could kick myself for things I did or didn’t say. I’ve pretty much mastered the conversation where you drive away spewing perfect knowledge at your windshield. So I can empathize with the author on this one. And how perfectly he says it all.
I’d also like to share a comment that was left of the author’s blog. The comment describes a man interviewing an elderly lady about happiness on TV. Her response was, “My generation was never focused on happy. We were focused on honesty, hard work, ingenuity, etc. But we never thought about if we were happy or not. I suppose we were, but we didn’t chase it all the time.”
There’s something to learn from that.
A good friend of mine, who raised six children, once told me; “Children will bring you to extremes of emotion that you never could have imagined, both happiness, sadness, anger, etc.” They definitely are not “happiness generators.”
It’s a slippery slope when you start depending on others to make you happy. Joy is a choice and I completely agree. There comes a point when some go too far to depend on others to bring them joy and almost always leads to depression and pain because humans and circumstances are all faulty and out of our control. All we can control is ourselves.
Well stated, Nicole.
Amen! Happiness is, and always has been a choice, not an entitlement.
“You don’t have any right to put your unhappiness at anyone’s feet but your own. Your happiness is your concern and yours alone.” And in an America where we point our fingers at everyone else for all of our problems, this is a sentiment that needs to be shouted from the highest pinnacles of society. Thanks for starting that shout right here.
A big thumbs up to that!
The only thing I disagree with in this blog is the phrase: “(at least biologically speaking).”
My 2 children were adopted (we’re actually in the middle of adoption #3 now), so even NON-biologically speaking, your kids make you a parent. 🙂
To expect your children to make you happy or your spouse or any one else, is too heavy a burden to shoulder on another. I have 4 amazing kids whom I have and continue to experience a depth and range of emotions with; through all these years of having them in my life. I not once after giving birth looked at any of my kids and thought ‘hmmm how are you gonna make me happy, tiny one?’ What I did think as I beheld them fro the first time, “wow! I hope I can love you,, lead you and guide you the best way I know how. And, God, help me to do this!!!’ GREAT post!!!!
The beatiful thing here that many people will miss, is that happiness is not dependant on any other person, it is a choice, and a choice that extends far beyond the world of parenting, but even into courtship and friendship. No one else will make you happy, you have to make your own 🙂
About this guy you were talking to: he has no business being a parent until he gives up his smoking anyways.
Few things make me feel like punching somebody’s lights out like parents who love their cigarettes more than they love their children.
Very thoughtful and true post. Thanks!
Thank you for this. My husband and I have been trying to get pregnant for four years, and I must admit, I need to be reminded that having children isn’t the key to my happiness. I do, however, take offense when I hear parents complain about their children, and how tired they are, and how they have no time for themselves. Having never been in a parent’s shoes, I really shouldn’t judge. It’s just hard to hear someone seemingly take something for granted that you have longed for and prayed over for years. But you are absolutely right…having children won’t make me happy. When approached with the right attitude, parenthood (much like marriage) should sanctify us, making us more into the image of Christ.
May the Lord bless you with children. I appreciate your point about complaining about kids. There’s a good article on that here: http://www.fathervision.com/what-happens-when-we-complain-about-our-children/
Wonderful article, thank you for sharing!
Thanks for this post. Another witty and insightful article, Mr. Walsh. It seems that American culture despises anything that doesn’t make it happy, kids don’t make us happy, so we despise kids. Here’s an article that explores that idea more: http://www.fathervision.com/the-curse-of-hating-children/