This week I came across a TED Talk that I would recommend to any parent, whether your child is just learning to walk, is just starting school, or is old enough to have a family of their own. It was a talk by a woman named Jennifer Senior called “For Parents, Happiness is a Very High Bar,” in which she discusses how the aim of the modern day parent is to provide their children with happiness, and how that aim is one that causes stress more than anything else.
(If you’re having trouble watching the video above, you can watch the TED talk here)
This talk struck me particularly because I have never heard anyone who could blame the hardships of parenting on wanting children to be happy. You hear it time and time again, from every parent you meet, even from your own parents: “I just want my kids to be happy.” But Senior questions, what does happiness look like? We can hardly control our own happiness, and yet this elusive state of being is something we take full responsibility of in our children?
And this goal not only puts in parents hands something that is practically impossible, it also means that everyone forms their own judgment about what creating happiness looks like. Our society is full of parents putting down other parents for parenting differently than they do. Married homes look down on single parent homes. Gluten-free homes look down on homes that order pizza on Friday nights. Some homes stress academics over extracurriculars, others the reverse. Everyone achieves happiness in different ways, and so everyone parents differently to pass happiness down to their children.
In Senior’s talk, she comes to the conclusion that rather than pass down happiness in our children, maybe we should pass on decency. Morals. Work ethic. Things that will allow children to find happiness in this world for themselves. I agree with her. I raised my son without consulting thousands of parenting books, and without concern for the judgment of homes that might be raising their children differently than I was.
When we take “happiness” out of the picture and fill that role with something concrete, maybe we can take the judgment out of parenting, take the stress off of parents who feel they aren’t doing their jobs if their children aren’t always 100% happy, and maybe we can even raise children that will be be good, productive, and dare I say it, happy members of our society.
What did you think of Senior’s TED talk? Do you agree or disagree with her stance on parenting? Let me know in the comments!