‘I don’t mind what they do when they grow up; I just want them to be happy.’
Someone said this to me and I was a bit taken aback. Really? They just want their children to be happy. All the time? What does that even mean? And how can you aim for that? What kind of parenting produces a ‘happy’ adult?
I prefer imagining my boys happy than sad, of course (that said, who actually wants their children to be sad? Hoping your children – or indeed any people at all – will be happy is basically an empty remark). But I don’t really believe that they can be happy all the time. Nor do I think that their happiness is something I can aim for.
My husband and I have talked about the future, and we have a list of aims for our children.
We want them to be:
1) Independent – we want to set them up so that they can live without us. We want them to have all the necessary skills to live independent lives managing bills, housework and self-care.
2) Employable – we want to give our children the knowledge and abilities they need to get and keep jobs.
3) Able to make loving commitments – obviously we don’t know what their lives will be like or who they will love. But we want the boys to be able to live in healthy relationships with others. We want them to be able to fall in love, to show their love, to make a commitment to love someone else. We want them to be able to raise children of their own.
But, the truth is, that isn’t the full extent of our ambition. We also have short term aims. Today (and tomorrow, and so on) we want our children to be:
2) Listened to. Mainly by us, of course, but it is also my job to make sure they learn to listen to each other and don’t get ignored by shop assistants.
3) Supported. We want to give them everything they need: the coats, the gloves, the boundaries, the footballs, the felt tips, the acknowledgement, the plasters, the snacks, the routine; so that they can get on with childhood.
4) Challenged. We don’t want things to be too easy. Sometimes they need to stretch for a higher branch, to puzzle out a tricky word, to work out an agreement over sharing that new toy; sometimes I want things to be a little bit difficult for them. If the children are going to grow up over time, they have to do a little bit of growing every day.
Of course these are aims. I wouldn’t say that I always keep them all in mind or that we achieve everything I want to achieve every day. And if the boys grow up and don’t achieve all that we want for them, we certainly won’t love them any less. I hope that we won’t feel disappointed in our parenting either, but I can’t be sure.