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Happy

Air Date: 02/22/11 Cheryl can be reached at 775-331-6723 or at cheryl.erwin@sbcglobal.net   Something has been bothering me for quite some time now, something I haven't been able to put my finger on. I talk to parents in my office, in schools and churches, and in professional workshops. I field questions on the Internet, on my Facebook page, and from magazine writers. I'm convinced that most of the time, parents actually know what they should do about their child's less attractive behavior but they don't do it. They're almost afraid to have expectations or to follow through with an agreement.             The result, as you may have noticed, is lots of confused, exhausted, irritable parents-and lots of, well, shall we say "spoiled" children. What I haven't been able to figure out is why so many loving, intelligent parents don't do what their heads and their instincts tell them to do-to stand up and really be a parent to their child. But now I think I understand. The problem is happiness.             I think most American parents operate on the assumption that if they're good parents, their children will be happy. By that reasoning, if their children are unhappy, even momentarily, they must be doing something wrong. Musn't they?             Actually. . .no. This may be shocking news, but it's okay for kids to be unhappy. In fact, sometimes unhappiness is part of how children learn, a natural result of parents doing what parents should be doing. Let me explain.             Many of the parents I talk to have acquired the idea that family life in the 21st century should be like a Norman Rockwell painting or one of those television ads about how taking your kids out for fast food will somehow equip them to become healthy, successful adults, and guarantee they'll have glowing memories of their childhoods. It actually doesn't work that way. Parents seem to believe that if children don't get what they want, have to struggle or work hard, or are disappointed in any way, they've failed at parenting. I sometimes suspect that parents believe crying may be fatal to children and so they avoid it at all costs.             All parents want their children to be happy, and there's nothing wrong with that. But like it or not, happiness tends to be a temporary condition. You can be glowing with happiness at 9 in the morning and be frustrated and grouchy by noon. Happiness can be dictated by which team won the Super Bowl, by what you had for lunch, or by whether you can afford the shoes you want. If that's true for adults, it's even more true for children. A child is, after all, a child. He may know what he wants in any given moment, but he doesn't always know what he needs or what is actually good for him. Eating pizza and chocolate at every meal might make a child happy but it's unlikely to make him healthy, so serving nutritious food and working with a child's finicky appetite is a parent's job. And yes, I know parents who speed to the drive-through window on a regular basis because they want their child to be happy, to not cry. Do you think there may be a connection between "happy" and the crisis of childhood obesity in this nation at the moment? I do.             So let's be clear. Being a parent is challenging, sometimes confusing, and often extremely hard work. You have to have a clear vision of the skills and character qualities you want your child to acquire during his years in your home. You have to have a good working knowledge of discipline, and some basic parenting skills. You have to make time in your life for listening, teaching, and serious conversation. And you sometimes have to deal with the unexpected-with pain, sorrow, disappointment, and even heartbreak.             If your parenting compass is set on "happy", you may have a child who knows how to get what he wants-but that child is unlikely to grow into a healthy, capable, compassionate adult. Instead, consider this. Who do you want your child to be when he's 25 or 30? What skills will it be important for him to have? What kind of character do you value? What sort of relationships do you wish for your child? If your goal as a parent is to raise a successful adult, then your child will experience occasional disappointment, frustration, and sadness. There may be days when he doesn't like you very much, when he thinks you're mean to insist on education, respect, patience, hard work, and all those other old-fashioned values. You can and should offer empathy, encouragement, and love. But sometimes, happy just isn't enough, not for you and not for your child. The belief that "I should always be happy" has led to more adult misbehavior than perhaps any other idea in the history of humankind.             Being a good parent requires courage, perseverance, and the ability to deal with challenges. Yes, sometimes your child will cry and you'll feel terrible. But those moments pass. You and your child deserve more than mere happiness. For KUNR, this is Cheryl Erwin.