Is an average childhood the secret to happiness?
I don't know about YOUR kids, but mine are all those things and more. Actually, I do know about your kids...they are those things, too.
But recently I've stumbled on discussions about different descriptors that might ultimately make for happier adults, which is, after all, what our kids will be for most of their lives.
Average. Good enough. Failure, even.
A few links for context:
Losing Is Good For You, by Ashley Merryman for the New York Times
How To Land Your Kid in Therapy, by Lori Gottlieb for The Atlantic
Average Kids Kick Ass, by Vicki Hoefle
Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy, by Tim Urban for Wait But Why
OK, so right. At this point, we get that helicoptor parenting and "everyone gets a trophy" at worst stunts kids' growth, and at best drives everyone nuts. We intuitively understand that our kids don't need the Platinum Deluxe Supercharged Elite Extra Padding Vitamin-Fortified version of every single thing or activity in their lives in order to grow into contributing members of society.
But average? Really? Is that what we should aspire to for our kids? Is that what we should encourage them to believe about themselves?
In my opinion, yes and no. I say "in my opinion" (even though it's obvious because THIS IS MY BLOG) because there's no reason you should take what I say as gospel for your family. But it makes sense to me as a parent.
Yes, they are average.
Yes, because the world is big and life is long. Setting out into the world with a sense of entitlement or an inflated ego is a recipe for pain. There's no red carpet waiting, no easy A, no air-conditioned shuttle to Fulfilled Adulthood idling at the curb. Growing up requires strength, resilience, a dose of chutzpah and a bigger dose of humility.
Our kids need to have under their belts the ability to:
- work hard at a thankless job
- handle boredom and routine
- accept and deal with scarcity
- cook, clean, fix stuff, and handle their money
- cherish and nourish their relationships
- know the difference between joy and entertainment
A child only gains those skills by wrestling with them. And he will wrestle with them...it's just a matter of when. Frankly, it's easier when you're a kid and you've got parents nearby who love you and are footing most of the bill.
So yes, our kids need to know in their bones that, in the scheme of the Universe, they are going to have to work hard, really hard, at supporting themselves, and in finding the meaning and the joy in their lives. They'll have to flip burgers or go to night school or live in crappy apartments. They'll have to keep themselves healthy and save up for vacations and used cars. They'll have to be scrappy and smart and worthy and they'll have to mess up and pick themselves up and keep going.
No, they are not average.
Which brings me to my no above. No, I'll never tell my kids they are average. Because they're not. I see the light that emanates from within each one. I revel in their gifts that only I (and their dad) may notice. I'm practically bowled over by my kids' potential energy.
I'm not saying they're better or more deserving than everyone else's kids. I'm saying that I cherish them for who they are. I see them, and they're amazing. And they're not even done cooking yet. (Are we ever?)
To me, there's no greater gift that letting your kids know they delight and amaze you, and that they teach you new things about the world every day. That's not average. On the hard days they are bound to have in the near or distant future, I want them to know that in their bones.
I will teach my kids -- through words and action -- that the world owes them nothing, and that they will have to work and possibly struggle to find their places in it. Their specialness is not a free pass to success or happiness.
I will also teach my kids -- through words and action -- that they are precious to me. They are extraordinary, special and unique.
Your kids are, too.
If this all sounds good but you're asking yourself "how?" grab a copy of Minimalist Parenting, the book I co-wrote with the extraordinary, special and unique Christine Koh.