“What’s the matter with him?”
Arthur’s mother, looking exhausted and furious, fixes her eyes on her ten-year-old son who sulks quietly beside her on the couch. Angry tears appear in the corner of his eyes, trickle down the sides of his face, and fall silently onto his red high top sneakers.
“I take him everywhere. Soccer on Tuesdays, guitar on Wednesdays, tutoring and karate on Mondays. How could he possibly be depressed?”
Arthur hastily wipes his eyes with the back of his hand and begins to stab at the carpet with the tip of his sneaker.
After several sessions, Arthur is still angry and withdrawn. What could possibly be bothering him?
“If you could wish for anything in the world, anything at all, what would it be?”
Arthur thinks for a moment.
“Anything in the world?” he asks.
He closes his eyes tight. Kids love this question. The most popular answers I hear are: to have super powers, to be a movie star, to be able to freeze people (whenever they want), to own a time machine, to be a sports hero, to have more wishes, and…well, you get the idea. Arthur’s wish blows me away.
“I wish my mother was happy.”
Despite all her super-human efforts, Arthur knows the reality of his mother’s life. She has given up pursuing her own interests and gives all her energy to him. While this may seem like a noble mission, it’s a terrible burden for Arthur. Why? Because she’s living an unhappy life and he knows it.
When a child arrives in my office looking frazzled and burnt out, I often find the parent in the same condition. The parent blames the child; the child blames the parent. Neither accepts responsibility for their status of their relationship.
What value can possibly be derived from this spirit of blame and complaint? As parents, is this the legacy we want to pass on to our children?
When parents devote themselves completely to their children without tending to their own needs, it raises an important question: What are we teaching our children by living a joyless life? Chronically stressed-out parents model for their children that life is a fundamentally unhappy enterprise, something to be endured rather than enjoyed. What’s worse, children like Arthur sensing their parents’ unhappiness, secretly blame themselves for it. They see themselves as disappointments, failures in their parents’ eyes. This attitude soon becomes their view of themselves in the world. When this happens, depression is almost certain.
The first step toward raising a happy child is accepting that your child’s happiness is profoundly linked to your own. Revitalizing your relationship with your kid begins with a good look in the mirror.
Modeling for your child how to live a fulfilling and joyful life is an essential part of good parenting that is too often overlooked. Parents who enjoy themselves communicate to their children that life is an adventure, full of challenges and surprises. Parents who complain and blame their kids ultimately disempower and undermine their confidence. What’s worse, when faced with obstacles, their children collapse into feelings of powerlessness and uncertainty.
This doesn’t mean you abandon our child while you pursue our own interests. You have to strike a balance; commit equally to your child’s happiness—and to your own.
As Arthur’s story demonstrates, every child wants a happy parent. That’s why tending to your own joys and passions is a crucial part of good parenting. Cultivate the seeds of happiness in your own life and they will blossom in your child’s life as well.