09 October 2013

Is an average childhood the secret to happiness?

Princess Grace Bianca with Trophy
Princess Grace Bianca with Trophy. (Photo included with a wink.) Photo credit: Precious Lady Salsa Small Dog Boutique
Exceptional. Special. Unique.

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 enoughFailure, 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.

#HelpWomenAtRisk fundraiser for EthiopiaIf 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.

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Your comments

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Raising an average child sounds a bit like tolerating a problem. It's a case where semantics are important. You tolerate a rock in your shoe ... you tolerate an inconvenient line at the market. We should have expectations for our children to shine in whatever way suits them. Expectations doesn't mean college as the only path, it is one of many. I have high expectations for my children as moral citizens, as creative thinkers, as future parents. I have, it's true, high expectations for higher education. I want them to be the best they can be. But if you love your child unconditionally, and you nurture the best parts of them and nurse the rough bits, then the average/expectations is irrelevant. Allow your child to flourish while she learns routines, that mundanity is sometimes part of life, that someone has to do the dishes and maybe you raise a person who can roll with life, rather than roll over others or allow herself to be rolled over.

I think, when we begin to project our wishes onto our child, and forget that who the child is vs. what the child could be are different things, then we helicopter, we hover, we over-schedule, we demand, and we excuse. (This last is important. All too often I found, as a teacher, parents were ready with two scenarios -- it's not his fault or how can I, the parent, fix it ... I would add to some of the interesting articles you posted, that we need to understand/teach about consequences. What happens when you slack off at work? What happens when you don't pay a bill? What happens when you don't share toys?)

Agreed:
"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."

I've found the childhood in new condition from you. It's real and true.

I think the fast paced lifestyle has us expecting a whole lot from our kids. If we just slowed down and let them do what they want to, we will have much more creative, excelling future generation that we can feel proud of. Branding them as "average", "above average" and "below average" is uncalled for. I also believe that an "average" or normal childhood is the best childhood.

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