Mommy Cheerist: Do parents have a moral obligation to their children to be happy?
Do parents have a moral obligation to their children to be happy? First, let’s consider a few things about “happiness.” Dictionary definitions of “happy” include concepts such as pleasure, contentment, and joy. But these definitions are superficial emotional descriptions that fail to address the source of happiness. Is the source of happiness located inside or outside of your skin? Is happiness based on situations, things, and others, or is happiness based on your perception of those situations, things, and others? Being unhappy can be considered “difficult” if you view it as an unpleasant state that happens to you, but, alternatively, being unhappy can be considered the “easy way out” if you view happiness as something that you achieve through hard work and courage. Happiness is an ongoing battle to be waged, rather than an emotion to be awaited. It is common for us to say, “I feel happy,” but perhaps it would be more accurate and empowering to say, “I think happy and therefore I feel happy.” The struggle that is “life” relentlessly brings minor misery and sometimes great tragedy. Knowing that, we ought to fight the temptation to easily give up our happiness to the external influence of negative situations. And we ought to fight like our lives depend on it, because in some very real way, they do.
All animals (including human animals) are “hard wired” for survival. Of course our survival instinct is expressed physically (e.g., needs for safety, food, shelter, sleep), but it is also expressed emotionally. The first words of most babies often relate to the survival-based drives for security and access (e.g., “mama”, “dada”, “more”). There are two types of dissatisfaction that pervade the human existence throughout the life cycle. There is “Useless Dissatisfaction” about unimportant and/or uncontrollable events, and there is “Useful Dissatisfaction” about important, controllable events. “Useless Dissatisfaction” should be reviled, while “Useful Dissatisfaction” should be revered. “Useful Dissatisfaction” is that which propels us to do good deeds, accomplish great feats, and right the wrongs of the world. So “dissatisfaction” in and of itself is not directly related to happiness, and, in fact, those who experience high levels of “Useful Dissatisfaction” can indeed be very happy people. “Useful Dissatisfaction” is a source of motivation and truly a great blessing.
How do “Useful” and “Useless” dissatisfactions relate to parenting? Specifically, so much of what children do is “unpleasant” (e.g., whine, have tantrums, destroy property, defy, lollygag, fight with each other, etc.) and these things are essentially out of our direct control as parents. Therefore, beware! Parenting is ripe with opportunities to experience “Useless Dissatisfaction.” But knowing the value of “Useful Dissatisfaction,” parents should focus on controllable aspects of behavior management, and recognize the importance of their role and limitations. It is the parent’s job to set behavioral boundaries, but it is the child’s choice whether to comply or break the rules. It is a parent’s job to provide healthy food, but it is the child’s choice whether to eat or not. It is the parent’s job to give educational opportunities and guidance, but it is the child’s job to explore, fail, succeed, and find his own strengths.
The parent who “gives in” to the futility of “Useless Dissatisfaction” will feel frustrated and then be unable to provide Junior with the foundation needed for successful adaptation to life’s relentless onslaught of minor misery and occasional tragedy. By contrast, the parent who cherishes “Useful Dissatisfaction” and turns the “nuisances of life” into the “lessons of life” will give their child the ultimate gifts of resilience and happiness.
Do “Maximum Strength Parent” parents have a moral obligation to their children to be happy? We believe that the answer is “yes.”