Many times as parents we could fill in the blank to the sentence, “I just want my daughter to be _______,” with the word, happy. I think we also know that the words, safe, responsible, honest, well-adjusted, could be close seconds. Let’s face it, at the very least we don’t want our children to be unhappy. When things happen that are hurtful or disappointing or even painful, we may know in our heads that it is part of growing up, but we feel in our hearts that it shouldn’t happen to our children.
Many of you have heard me quote Wendy Mogul at our grade level parent meetings. She says and writes, “again and again as parents we are asked to take the long view”, to which I have replied to the air in the privacy of my home or office, “but it is so hard to take the long view.” In a recent New York Times article, by Lisa Damour, entitled, “Don’t Make Your Children the Exception to Every Rule”, she suggests that it behooves us to remember how to ensure our children’s real happiness. Short term happiness can be followed down the road with a feeling of emptiness, if every hard knock is answered with a way to make it better or by suggesting that it may be due to unjust treatment or an unfair policy. We want to be there for our children, and we want to be on their team. This natural instinct should not imply, however, that we should pose as their shield in all of life’s woes and/or rejections.
Dr. Damour reminds us that “happy adults enjoy good emotional and physical health, have relationships that make their lives better (not worse), and have a sense of competence and control in their endeavors.” She goes on to say that research indicates the “childhood precursors of adult well-being – the traits we see in children who go on to become happy adults – we find the driving factor is childhood conscientiousness, not childhood happiness.” Children need to develop self-control and discipline. When they make mistakes they must learn to take responsibility for their actions instead of pointing blame or ducking behind a parent who is angered by the situation or the process.
We all know adults who don’t think the rules or even the law applies to them. Lisa Damour calls this “exceptionalism”. We also know adults who are honest, responsible and caring. As we strive to teach our students to “live honorably”, we are trying to take the long view with your daughters. It would be much easier to keep them happy in the short term, and leave the long term to someone else. As parents, we all need help in “again and again, taking the long view.” Being there for each other and learning from so many of you, as parents, has always inspired me. We must remember to give our daughters a long and wide road to get it right too.