I saw an article posted today titled “5 Keys to Your Child’s Happiness.”
It was posted by newtips4mamas (twitter) but is found on Oprah.com: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/5-Keys-to-Your-Childs-Happiness/print/1
So states the title, the article is about 5 keys to having happy children. What I find interesting is the research at the beginning of the article that states that a huge majority of parents in 67 (!) countries wish happiness for their children far above all else.
And with my regular level of chutzpah, I think they are getting it wrong.
Or rather, I think the Torah instructs Jewish parents to take a different view, with a different priority.
We need to raise kids to be good, not happy. We need to raise children to do the right thing, to be good and to do good. There are many, many, many times in life that doing that which is right and good does not make us happy.
My husband brought this concept up to me years ago, quoting Dennis Prager as his source. Prager has an article on raising good children in his book Think a Second Time. (As a side note, I don’t agree with lots of things Dennis Prager says, particularly his views on plastic surgery, but about this I think he is on the mark.)
He writes: ” The problem with regard to parents raising good children is not that most parents don’t want their children to be good people. It is that few parents actually make their child’s goodness their primary concern. Most parents are more concerned with their child’s being a brilliant student or a good athlete or a successful professional. ” (pp. 36-7)
Maybe what he would say today is that based on Oprah’s research, most parents are more concerned with their child being happy.
There is something deeper than happy, and I am not sure what one would term it in English. In Hebrew, there are several words for “happy”. Sameach, merutzeh, mapsut, .. . there are more. One of them is to feel “shalem”, which means whole, complete, at peace. I think this kind of happy comes from doing and being good. From knowing your source. Knowing your purpose.
But not immediately. It doesn’t make a young child happy or shalem or anything other than pretty mad to have to share, wait, give instead of take, act selflessly, etc.
However, by raising our children in a Torah path, to be serving our creator and living by the rules of right and wrong contained within halacha, we are training them to be good.
One of the mitzvot contained in that halacha… is to be happy. Not the happy described in the article on Oprah’s website. Not the “I am the most loved, most special, most tended to child” kind of happy… the happy of purpose, of meaning, of being good – and knowing why.
Of course I want my children to be happy. Of course I want them to experience more joy than sorrow and to feel the words of “Modeh Ani” right down to their bones every single morning. But I just don’t agree with the apparently thousands+ of parents they seem to have polled that this is the number one priority, number one wish.
I will suffer on the side as they experience the nisyonot, challenges, that Hashem sends their way. I will hope that they can see all of those future challenges as gam zu l’tovah – Hashem’s will, and ultimately for the good.
I will continue to prioritize their childhood being a development of their goodness… and hope and pray that with it, from it and through it….comes happiness.