Why helping kids be happy means letting them be miserable

You know my main priority for my children is not to make them happy. But what you don’t know is why I am sometimes happy for them to be miserable.

There was a time in my life – mid to late twenties – where it all looked like it might not pan out so great. A favourite grandparent died suddenly.  A relationship broke down. My job was killing me. I was broke.

My home was halfway through a massive rebuild which led to lots of holes in the brickwork. Which led to lots of rats. I was drinking too much and sleeping too little.

I was down and stressed and adrift but at that time, if someone had said “swallow this pill and it will make you happy for eternity.”, I like to think I would have politely declined.

Would you take the pill that guaranteed eternal happiness? And, assuming it wasn’t illegal, going to kill them or going to harm anyone else, would you give it to your kids?

I would not.

I would not, even if you take away the obvious challenge of ‘if you are always happy, you can commit all sorts of atrocities and walk away giggling’. Let’s assume the pill doesn’t let us do that.

I would not because I like feeling cosy after being caught in the hailstorm. I like that unhappiness prompts us to get out of disfunctional relationships and rat-infested houses.

I accept that at some points in our life grief and depression can be unbearable and I am grateful that there are medical interventions that can give us breathing space when this happens. But at all other times of unhappiness, experiencing the human condition, with all of its ups and downs is – for me – more desirable than just being happy.

I want night and day, I want the pain of labour to experience the pleasure of birth, I want to fail so I can become stronger, I want to know what it is like to not have much so I can appreciate the times of plenty. I want the same for my sons – although perhaps not the giving birth bit.

Not only do I want my sons to be equipped with an ability to identify which paths are the right paths, but I also want them to be equipped to decide when it is best to choose the harder route, over the more comfortable one. I want them to be strong enough to make it to the end of some of the tougher journeys. When they get lost, I want them to have the resilience to find their way back.

If they get hurt, of course I want to ease their suffering. But eliminate it entirely and replace it with unquestioning happiness? No.



21 thoughts on “Why helping kids be happy means letting them be miserable

  1. tara says:

    I’ve just found your blog & I love it. I couldn’t agree more. It makes me ponder how we help our children to become resilient? How the small acts of parenting on a daily basis allow them to grow in confidence in dealing with whatever life throws at them…


    • Mary says:

      Thank you Tara. I am new to blogging, so your encouraging words mean a lot. It’s great to find a medium where the questions i have can be indulged. Who knows, we might agree on some answers in the future!


    • Mary says:

      That manifesto is quite powerful isn’t it – thinking about how we treat ourselves in front of our children has to be good, right?

      Thank you for your lovely comments.


  2. weebluebirdie says:

    I loathe how my darker side can bring me down too easily sometimes. But I’m fortunate in being a Functioning Depressive, I only fall so far and reach a plateau where I can still get by. The flip side of my sensitivity to Life means I can also soar to giddiness just as easily. The quirkiness of Life puts me right back up there. I had great fun yesterday when I was on a train on a coastal line, my nose pressed up against the window when we went by coves with waves crashing below. In fact, I even wrote a Haiku and drew a wee sketch for my blog!! I’m fortunate in having enough Hope to know that I will lift myself out of the flatness. I wouldn’t take the happy pill either – I’d miss the kicks of seeing world differently.


    • Abby Boid says:

      Your comments mean a lot to me. I was very wary when writing this post of friends who do need to take medication to help them manage their depression, and I was worried that the whole piece of writing could come across as rather flippant.
      Hope – that’s so important isn’t it? And seeing the world differently – so long as our perspective is not destroying us, then I would not give that up for little Miss Sunshine’s tablet.


  3. itsallbuki says:

    Reblogged this on itsallbuki and commented:
    While we may all want to make our kids happy, we need to be mindful that the happiness they will appreciate and thank you for is not in today, It’s the discipline you give today and give both you and your children happiness and peace of mind in the future which surpasses the temporary misery you think you are giving today. I love this post so much, I had to share. Please visit the main post and be kind enough to leave her your thoughts on this.


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