What is the most important thing when raising a child?
Is it to make them a good person? Or to keep them happy?
I was out with the kids this weekend and watched as a child was quite content playing dress-up and creative play and then was given a cheap toy from the gift shop because “it was only $2”.
The kid immediately grabbed it and started playing with it. The other adults who were with the child questioned if she needed the toy and the gift giver said “Well, as long as she’s happy, that’s the most important thing.”
But she was happy before, when she didn’t have the toy. Now it just seemed like it was a different thing that was occupying her. She was happy either way.
Why do we give gifts? And most especially why do we give gifts to children?
Is it to make them happy? Or is it to give us the impression that we had a role in making them happy. Or perhaps it’s because we ‘know’ that we are happy when we get new things, so we think it would make them happy too.
Miss E. has a fair number of toys, I will freely admit that. Not as much as some, but more than is probably necessary. Yet, she doesn’t ask for more toys and is quite happy with imaginative play.
Obviously as a parent or a family member of a child, you want to make them happy. But how we decide to do that can vary and can have a huge impact on the child, one we may not initially consider.
By giving gifts, do we enforce the idea of happiness through things? Do we kill the imagination in the child?
By focusing only on the gift giving or toy purchases, we reinforce that the best way to be happy is to be a consumer.
I would go further and argue that, as a parent, your primary goal shouldn’t even be to keep your child happy. Your goals as a parent should be to give your child a good life.
Now what is good? That’s a question that has been debated for many years by many people. It’s the basis of much philosophical and religious debates, and I’m not about to say I have an answer.
Giving in to your child’s every desires and teaching them can actually be bad for them. (See the Marshmallow Experiment – which suggested learning delayed gratification early in life correlated with success later in life.)
I don’t mean to come across as a “spare the rod, spoil the child” type of parent, because I’m really not.
But when it comes to raising my children, it means keeping them safe, and letting them know they are loved and cared for. But that might mean they fall when running and get a skinned knee.
It means letting them experience life and develop their own personality. But that might mean they make strange decisions and have their feelings hurt.
It means teaching them how to live in balance with society and the world. But that might mean they don’t always get their way.
Many parents want to keep their child happy, but by focusing on only making a happy child, they may lose the opportunity to make a whole child.