Life Coach Tal Fagin says that every parent she knows wants their children to be happy and they worry about it. Tal suggests they take the time to explore what “happy” means to them.
As a coach, it is not my role to give advice. I listen. I ask questions. I encourage clients to think deeply and differently about themselves and their circumstances. Much of the focus is on a client’s thoughts and beliefs, their perspective on life. Sessions are intended to help people see things in new ways, each question like a subtle turn of the kaleidoscope, making the whole picture look different.
Oftentimes, the picture people wish to shift is not their perspective, but the behavior of other people in their lives.
Recently I have been working with a lot of parents. The issues vary from family to family, but the over-arching theme is the same:
I love my child, but…
They want them to be more confident, more passionate or more social. They worry that they lack direction, discipline or a sense of responsibility. They wish they would put down the video games, pick up the books, double-down on their commitments to school or sports. They fret that they don’t have enough friends, or the right friends or any friends at all. They wish they would take better care of themselves—eat differently, sleep differently, text less, connect more deeply.
These parents yearn, above all, for said child to ditch those pesky, troubling habits that are bound to get in their way, to show the outside world all of the amazing and delightful qualities the parent sees, but fears that others won’t. They want them to be and do their best.
They are brimming with love and good intentions, and riddled with anxiety.
I always start off by asking them what they want most for their children. Some will have longer, more elaborate answers than others, but all will express some version of:
I just want them to be happy.
The problems arise when this simple fact is complicated by fear. Fear that our children—if not properly guided or steered—will fall behind. Fear that the world is harsh and competitive, unfair and unpredictable. Fear that we may not be doing things right, we may be pushing too hard, or not pushing enough. Fear that if we discipline them, they won’t like us. Fear that if we don’t prepare them with everything we’ve got, they won’t succeed.
Fear that they might never get to happy.
Happy, of course, means different things to different people.
For some, happy is gaining admission to the right school. For others, it might be making the team or looking a certain way, attaining the right level of earning power or social status. Others focus on health and wellness, finding the right life-partner or pursuing the right career.
At some point in my life, every single one of those things appeared on my “Happy Life” checklist. It wasn’t until I achieved them all—yet still felt more empty than fulfilled—that I was forced to reconsider.
In my experience, whatever happy means to you—whatever you perceive to be right or best for yourself or your beloved offspring—it is always worth taking the time for further questioning and exploration.
I would invite you to take a moment, right now, to flesh out your happy place. Close your eyes and sit back in your chair. Take a deep breath. Picture yourself and your family at some point in your ideal future. What does it look like? What does it feel like? If you are a parent, I invite you to consider what your hopes and dreams for your children are. What do you truly want for them, and why? What is your role in their blissful future?
Much has been written in the past few weeks about the college admissions scandal. I am not going to weigh in here, nor am I going to analyze or judge the parents involved. Their actions have given me pause, however, and sparked quite a few meaningful conversations and worthwhile questions.
Every parent I know wants the best for their children. What separates all of these well-meaning, devoted parents from those caught up in this latest scandal? What is it about my generation that has given rise to so-called “helicopter” or “snow-plow” parents?
How do we go about providing the best life possible for our children? And what does the “best” life look and feel like?
I can’t answer these questions for you. Each one requires a personal response. One thing I do know: if your ideal life requires lying, cheating or otherwise engaging in illegal activity, you are probably headed in the wrong direction. If your actions give rise to shame, embarrassment or an intense need to keep secrets, these are also strong indicators you might want to reconsider your course.
Beyond that, the “best” life is simply not a One Size Fits All endeavor. Neither are success or happiness. We all have to figure out our ideal for ourselves—to live according to our personal values and priorities and model for our children how to do the same.
If you are a parent or are thinking of becoming one—or you are otherwise interested in taking a deep dive into your own values and priorities—I would invite you to consider the following:
There are no requirements to becoming a parent, and yet, it is the greatest responsibility most of us will ever undertake. What do we owe our darling dears, and for how long? What do we owe society as a whole as we endeavor to raise the next generation? What is the secret sauce to raising kind/compassionate/capable/hard-working/honest/ambitious/insert-values-of-your-choice-here future citizens?
When is our love supportive, and when does it stifle? At what point does our involvement become more a hinderance than a help?
What is the right balance between caring for our children and carrying them?
I can’t answer any of these questions for you either. The answers, again, are incredibly personal, nor would I presume to tell anyone how to be a parent. As for me, I am incredibly fortunate to have three resident expert children, ranging in age from 8 to 13, whom I have been able to consult. I asked each of them a simple question:
What makes parents good parents?
Their answers felt just right to me. Also, it made for a fun and eye-opening little exercise. If you have children around, you might consider asking them for yourself. Otherwise, here is what my cuties had to say:
Parents should be nice, but not too nice. Sometimes kids need a little tough love. It might seem like we would rather always do whatever we want, but that would be bad. Sometimes it feels good to have someone older make the rules and set the boundaries, otherwise we might just eat chocolate all the time or be spoiled brats or get into trouble.
Parents should teach you everything they know. They should help you with the things you need help with, but let you do things by yourself when you can. They should support you, especially by providing the basics (like money and food and a place to live), but they shouldn’t do everything for you. They should respect you, and let you make your own decisions when that is appropriate.
Parents should be there for you—give advice or share their opinion, but also to listen and respect your opinion. Sometimes, they should just give you space. They should also be there for you when you make a mistake. It feels good to be able to talk about it, to go to them with questions or to get comforted, without having them make you feel worse. It feels good to know your parents are always there for you, that they love you no matter what. Not all kids have that. I think that the love is the most important part.
I have my marching orders.