Happiness isn’t the Goal in Raising Teens

Happiness. Our society is obsessed with it. “Do what makes you happy!” Culture markets happiness to us with the intensity level Billy Mayes used to market us Oxy Clean. And we buy it. We will go to great lengths, spend copious amounts of money, dispense hours of our time, and pour endless energy into our pursuit of achieving this happiness. You can’t buy happiness, as the saying goes, but it most certainly sells. 

As loving, protective, and involved mama bears we take our kids’ happiness to a whole new level. There is absolutely nothing in this world more devastating to a mother’s heart than seeing her children in pain (or even mild discomfort). We instinctively want to swoop in and make it all better. We want to hand them their dream world full of simplicity and fun and success and watch them thrive. Unfortunately, that’s not how the world works and this truth becomes increasingly more clear (and painful) the older our babies get. 

The teen years provide so many instances that our kids will experience less-than-happy feelings. Friends will betray them and relationships will end.  They won’t always make the team, and we will at times say no to the latest and hottest trend that they “need.” They will begin to have to earn their place in life through hard work and determination rather than coast on their cuteness alone. In our minds, we understand this. We know it takes trial and error, mistakes, and struggles to grow and learn. But in our mama hearts, we desperately resist this idea. We want to create an easy trail, a smooth ride, and a perfect childhood. 

So we do our best to give them the latest gadget, the dream birthday gift, or the ideal vacation. When our kid comes home with a lower grade than they expected or when the coach gives an honest critique of their game and we want to march in and remind those teachers and coaches just what a shining star our baby truly is. And don’t even get me started on the things we’d like to do to the boy who broke our daughter’s heart. 

We work our tails off to give our kids the world, but in the end, the world will never be enough. Because here is the problem with happiness being the goal… it never lasts. Happiness is a fun, but fleeting emotion. And if teenagers have taught me anything, it is that emotions are unpredictable and they can turn on a dime. When we go out of our way to make our kids’ lives as smooth and happy as possible, we are robbing them of the actual lasting payoff to hardship: character, virtue, and contentment. 

The lessons they learn from the unpleasant parts of life create resilience and ingenuity as they learn to overcome them, traits that will serve them well when they are out from under our protective wings. Allowing our kids to face failure and disappointment creates the chance for them to grow their own tools to cope and recover from mistakes. If we rush in to save them and make their way easier, they can’t learn how to independently solve their problems and make their own way.  They miss out on the confidence that comes from knowing they are capable of handling hard things. 

We do our kids a disservice when we place their happiness above their character. Character rarely develops in the easy parts of life. And happiness? A life void of character, strength, and resilience will never be happy. Someone who is constantly looking for happiness will come up disappointed every time. Because the world isn’t always happy, and it is rarely easy. 

Of course, it is natural and perfectly okay to want to see your child happy. I’m not saying we should force our kids into a miserable and extra difficult adolescence. There can absolutely be times when we indulge their requests or give them a little extra help. After all, it is important to create an environment where we can be their safe place and we all love watching our kids’ faces light up when they receive the perfect present. But remember too, there is so much more to life than just that fleeting moment of happiness. 

Remember those bumps along the road are invaluable lessons for our kids to reach a greater goal. How we respond to their failures, their disappointments, and their hardships will shape their ability to recover from them. Happiness can’t be the goal, because happiness is not a final destination. The goal is strong, capable, self-assured, thoughtful, and joyful humans. And those things can never be reached if we don’t step back sometimes and let our kids learn them from the bumps in the road. In the end, lovingly giving our kids the chance to experience the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the easy and the difficult, the happy and the unhappy will produce stronger and healthier adults who are prepared to take on the challenges of this world. And knowing they can handle their future with character and strength can make us all feel better, and yes; happy. 

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