Are you the problem-solver in the family? Maybe when your daughter comes home from school complaining about a conflict with a friend, you’re the one telling her how to handle it and what to do — and in the same breath, offering her a cookie to cheer her up? (Okay. Full disclosure…that’s probably me.) Or if your 3-year-old refuses — daily — to put his own shoes and sweater on, you jump in and do it for him so he won’t melt down and will instead stay happy as he walks out the door. (Okay. Also me.)
If those scenarios sound familiar, you’re likely the person adopting the role of the “family happiness manager” says Dr. Marilyn Heins, a Tucson, Ariz.-based paediatrician and founder of Parent Kids Right.
“We have this feeling that we have to have happy kids all the time and that’s an unrealistic parenting expectation,” says Dr. Heins. “Parents are their children’s ‘family happiness manager.’ They’re not their children’s pal. They have the role to nurture, love and help their child become a grown-up person.”
Moms in particular, notes Dr. Heins, tend to be the ones sometimes even micro-managing their children’s happiness. “They always want everything to be alright, so if their child is frowning and saying they don’t have time to make their beds this morning, well, off they go,” she says. Instead of managing our children’s happiness, we need to remember that our jobs are to prepare our children constantly for independence and how to manage life’s challenges. “I know so many parents are busy today, and so many parents find it easier to smooth things over and do it themselves or let it go undone, but they’re not doing their children any favours,” she says.
In short, she’s given us as parents that gentle push to not always fret about their happiness and to get over our own worries that our children will have to come nose-to-nose with the same challenges we might have faced in our own childhood. And who wants that for their child? If anything, Dr. Heins reminds us to focus on independence-building and encouraging our children to develop the skills they need for life — whether that’s learning how to make a bed, or manage the class bully.
So how can we stop being our own family’s happiness manager? “You have to ask yourselves — is it working, what you’re doing?” she asks. “The five things no parent has the power to make their child do is eat, poop, fall asleep, grow up the way you dream they’ll grow up or be happy. You can facilitate happiness, but you can’t make them feel happy. They can only do that themselves.”
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