Could it be that by protecting our kids from unhappiness as children, we’re depriving them of happiness as adults?In other words, in order for an adult to have a chance at happiness, he has to get doses of unhappiness (word used in the article: "devastation") as a child, dealt by or at least not stopped by his parents. Sort of like a vaccine against unhappiness. One psychologist quoted in the article describes the phenomenon of "psychological immunity," where kids should get used to settling for any crappy hand they get as early as possible in life. When parents step in and try to "fix" everything, he says, the kids won't learn to "adapt to less-than-perfect situations." The effectiveness of the unhappiness vaccine could be easily verified, because the kids with the most miserable childhoods should be the happiest adults. Right?
In my opinion, unhappiness will be caused by two types of things for each of my children:
- Things I can fix. Like when there's a rock in her shoe, or she is hungry at 2 am, or she doesn't want to be with someone who makes her uncomfortable, or she has an ear infection.
- Things I can't fix. Like if she gets an incurable disease, or someone dies, or a natural disaster occurs.
As for the second type of unhappiness situation, caused by something unfixable, I'm pretty sure no one would recommend giving our kids "practice" for these situations. Instead, we wait until, inevitably, life hands them one of the real things, and then we comfort them as best we can.
Therefore, I don't need their unhappiness vaccine at all. Instead of thinking unhappiness now will lead to happiness later, I'm going with this method: More happiness now. After all, there might not even be a later.
Here's another disturbing quote from the article:
The message we send kids with all the choices we give them is that they are entitled to a perfect life.No one's life is perfect. No matter how much you do for your kids, they will not always get what they want. But the message I am sending my kids is that I will do anything I can to make them happy (without infringing on the rights of others, of course). I hope they will grow up to continue to do the same for themselves and other people.
I want my kids to know what "happy" feels like. Now. When it's relatively easy for them to be happy. How else will they know what to look for later?
More from me on Gottlieb’s article:
Part 1: If My Kid “Lands” in Therapy
Part 4: One Vaccine My Kids Definitely Don’t Need