I was reading an interesting article about Pixar today breaking down the character relationships in Toy Story in a paradigm of parenthood.
So even as, on one level, Woody and Buzz act as children to Andy’s parent, on another they act as parents to Andy’s child: His happiness is their responsibility, and they will resort to the most-extreme measures imaginable to ensure it.
I think that’s something a lot of people believe today, that parents are responsible for their children’s happiness. And yes, absolutely, my children’s happiness does depend a lot on me. If mama isn’t happy, nobody is. And I want my children to be happy.
I can’t make them happy.
And their happiness is not my top priority.
I think many people of my generation—we poor millennials—were raised in this paradigm. But then we reach adulthood and suddenly we don’t have a cruise director who’s in charge of making us happy. Happiness is not only a choice, it’s a skill.
Happiness is a skill.
It’s one we have to learn and practice and we do need to start in childhood. It’s something we have to learn for ourselves, like tying our shoes or riding a bike or long division. And like those skills, we learn it with tutelage, but heavily through our own effort. If we’re never allowed to struggle or make an effort, though, we won’t learn that skill, and we’ll be wearing the emotional equivalent of Velcro sneakers well into our thirties. (I saw an adult, older than me, trying on Velcro sneakers at the store last week. No, sir. Just no.)
Millennials are seldom accused of being well adjusted or well equipped for life. I think cultural norms of parenting, a backswing from our parents’ parents’ parenting, probably did most of us a disservice. (Mom, Dad, I don’t mean you, or us. Obvs we’re doing okay 😉 .)
Even children are in charge of their own happiness. Making my children happy—while very nice—is not my primary function, and ultimately it will not be up to me. I want to teach my children to be happy. That’s absolutely part of parenting. But let’s not forget our goals as parents: we’re fostering well-adjusted, independent, capable adults, not permanent children who depend upon us for their every happiness.
(That may not be anything like what the author intended in his passing comment on the topic, but I just had this brain wave.)