We Can’t Make Our Kids Happy

I had an epiphany about myself. It wasn’t brought on by a life-changing event, but it was definitely one of those moments that makes you wonder how you’re parenting skills created socially acceptable offspring.

Randi had just finished her shift at the shaved ice shack. She walked in the door and announced she was hungry and tired, so she was gonna eat and take a nap. She pulled a wad of bills out of her pocket and traipsed to the refrigerator.

“Tips were good today,” I said.

“I smiled a lot and kept my opinions to myself,” she said back.

(This is a great quote for the journal! CLICK HERE if you missed that post.)

Suddenly her expedition into the depths of the  fridge halted. She stood up and her body melted.

“What’s wrong?”

“I left my phone charger at work.”

You don’t need to have a teenager to know this was a crisis; all you need is to own a cell phone. 

I suggested she go get her charger. But she was hungry. And tired. And a round-trip into town would take like 20 minutes.

And she was tired. And hungry.

So she’ll get it another time, she says.

And I did know my child was tired. I could see it all over her face, in her eyes, in her slumped shoulders. I started to imagine maybe she could get by without her charger for now.

But then I began to worry the charger wouldn’t be there if she went back for it another day. And I started adding up the money we’d spent replacing lost or broken chargers over the years. 

But I knew she was tired.

And oh so hungry.

So I felt bad and decided she should eat, she should nap, and she should go get her charger another day.

But…then I thought about my own charger…which would be missing when I needed to plug in my phone that night…because Randi would need to charge her phone, too (and break the 11th commandment in my house: “Thou shalt not take Mom’s charger or laptop power cord–lest ye die”). And you know if my charger crossed the threshold of her bedroom, it would disappear into the abyss and I may never see it again.

Even then, for just a moment I thought, “Oh, let her eat. Let her sleep…Maybe I’ll just go get her charger for her.” And it happened…


What was I thinking? Why was I even questioning whether or not she should go back to get her charger? 

Well…because I wanted my daughter to be happy. Of course.

I didn’t want her to be sad. Or uncomfortable. Or inconvenienced. And happy meant food. Happy meant sleep. Happy did not mean a trip back to town. 

But happy also meant…

  • not making her be responsible
  • not holding her accountable for something that is kind of important in her world
  • letting her escape consequences

I was probably making this a bigger deal than necessary…but it’s the principle of the thing, right?

So as soon as she finished eating, instead of getting into bed, she got into her car, and that night we both charged our phones, so anyone in the world could reach us for any reason imaginable at any moment should they need to. (Whew! Crisis diverted.)

But that little ah-ha moment really got me thinking.

How many times have I made a questionable decision simply because I wanted my girls to be “happy”–and maybe overlooked more important considerations? 

(I think this must be why I’m terrible at grounding my girls. They always get off early for good behavior.)

It isn’t the big things where I fail. I can recognize those pretty easily. It’s the little things–letting the girls do something or not do something…even though I wished they would or wouldn’t…but I do anyway because it would make them so happy.

Like taking Randi through the drive-thru to get a burger (because she loves burgers) instead of making her eat nutritious leftovers from last night’s home-cooked meal waiting in the fridge. 

Or paying another campus parking ticket for Kelli, who isn’t convinced her parking permit only authorizes her to park in one lot or that a no parking sign means NO PARKING, even if it only takes a few minutes to run into Starbucks. But I know Kelli is working part-time to afford her own expenses, and her bank account is barely breathing on a ventilator…and if I pay those little $10 fees for her (that added up to $120 her first year!) she will be happy (but still parking where she shouldn’t.)

You know that feeling when you’re saying yes on the outside but thinking “I…don’t…know…about…this” on the inside? (Or am I the only one who gets that?)

But happy isn’t a bad thing, right? Absolutely not. 

Unless happy works against my kids developing the character traits that are important for people to have…like responsibility, like accountability, like understanding consequences (and changing behavior accordingly). You know. Those same traits that seem to be disappearing in our society.

And I don’t think this means that every time one of these situations arises that it is now my duty to make sure my children aren’t happy…because we have to pick our battles, right?

But I do think it means my perspective has shifted, that my desire for my children to be happy must balance with their need to develop into responsible, accountable humans who understand that their actions (or the lack thereof) have consequences…even with the little things.

What we mommas want most is for our babies to be happy, right? And it’s awfully tempting to let that interfere with good decision making sometimes.

So I think I’ve decided I’d rather my girls be less happy now (about the little things like phone chargers and $10 fees) and more happy as adults when life is all about the big things–like being employable and staying out of prison.

(And I’m sure when Randi reads this, she’s going to wish I would just smile a lot and keep my opinions to myself.)

Now for your entertainment…if you haven’t seen this video yet, you have to watch it!

I’m kinda feeling like a weirdo right now. Am I the only mom who sometimes lets her children’s happiness override her better judgment? Make me feel better! Share your confessions in the comment section!


The MOM Journey News

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  1. Belinda says:

    This hit home in soooo many ways!!!

  2. Sandy says:

    Loved this because I am guilty. It is not fun to watch your kid’s unhappy or inconvenienced or struggle with things specially when you can make a difference but it doesn’t help them in the long run. They can’t learn from mistakes, things that hurt, bad choices that they have to make right and the consequences that go along with it. I always want to step in and help but I have to step back and let them learn through it all. God does us the same way, he has to allow us to make mistakes and learn from them. That’s the way we learn and grow to become who he wants us to be. We have to do the same thing with our kids.

    • Karen says:

      You’re right, Sandy! How many times have we gone through something–and maybe asked God “why?”–only to look back and see how the experience grew us, changed us, made us better? We can’t interfere with that same kind of growth for our kids. I don’t like some of things I’ve gone through–that have “grown” me–but I also wouldn’t change them (well, not most of them anyway)! HA!

  3. LM says:

    You nailed it Karen….another battle us MOMS deal with. The question we always have to answer “Is this the battle we must fight?” I agree, it is about the principle of the matter. Are we going to fight this battle or that battle? Which one is the important one to win so that we are putting our kids in the position to be the best adults they can- to be positive, productive citizens in society, I know I have messed this one up a lot. However, when you have friends/moms you are doing life with to help you raise your kids, it is always a good thing to bounce ideas/thoughts/beliefs off them so you can make a better choice. Some of the best advice I ever received was from friends and moms who “been there, done that.” Great post!

    • Karen says:

      My favorite part of this…”when you have friends/moms you are doing life with to help you raise your kids”…so BLESSED in this way!

  4. Sheri says:

    Such truth in your words. My daughter is constantly forgetting her lunchbox at school or even forgetting to take it to school. The first time or two I’d loan her my box or bring her lunch to her at school and then one day she made a comment about it not being a big deal because I could just bring her lunch. Right then and there I was like no way sister I’m done with this it’s my job to teach you to be responsible and that’s what I’m going to do. So from that point on when she forgot her lunch not only did she eat school lunch but she had to pay me for the cost of that meal. She learned quickly to be more responsible.

    • Karen says:

      What an awesome mom you are! I love it…especially paying for the meal! I just read an article this morning where the author said one of his regrets was how many times he and his wife told their kids “don’t forget…don’t forget.” He said they needed to let them forget more.

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