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Why Parents Shouldn’t Fall for Happiness Trap

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happiness-trapNothing makes all the sacrifices of parenting worthwhile than the look of joy on little John or Jane’s face at the end of the day.

Stained walls, broken dishes and muddy footprints are no match for that ebullient smile, the kind that makes all the parental pain drift away.

Dr. Deborah Gilboa cautions against our quest for what she calls the “happiness trap.”

“We all want our kids to be happy, but making that happen isn’t the road to parenting success,” says Dr. Gilboa, also known in the blogosphere as Dr. G. In fact, parents could be setting their sons and daughters up for trouble should they favor happiness over core values like respect and discipline.

Dr. Gilboa, a Pittsburgh-based mother of four, appreciates the pleasure of seeing those small, smiling faces looking back at us. She also understands the big picture.

“As much as I love my kids, and enjoy their happiness, making them happy is not my job. It’s not even my goal! My responsibility is to give my children the tools they need to be people of good character,” says Dr. Gilboa, author of the new book “Get the Behavior You Want … Without Being the Parent You Hate.” Then they will be able to find and make their own happiness in ways we can all respect and admire.”

Deep down, parents understand that plying children with Tall House cookies and Chuck E. Cheese tokens is a temporary balm, nothing more.

Dr. Gilboa says her five-year-old son would be happier than Pharrell with a nonstop line up Cartoon Network fare and Snickers bars. No tantrum could overwhelm that one-two combination. That would lead to nightmarish behavior in the long run.

“The problem is, if I raise him that way, I don’t really want to live with the results,” she says. “And you don’t want him to be friends with your child, or your teenager’s date, or your employee as an adult.”

Cultural expectations make honoring this parenting method a chore, she argues.

“From book covers to magazine articles to TV talk shows, our culture gives the message that ‘good parenting’ means happy kids,” she says. “That is absolutely not the case. When parents are doing their best, most important work, kids are rarely happy. Placing boundaries, enforcing limits, sticking to rules and expectations do not make kids happy. They do, however, make kids into good people.”

So the next time your son or daughter greets your decrees with a frown, or worse, don’t fear. They may not be happy at the moment, but they’re on the path to being responsible adults who will blaze their own joyous trail.

Photo credit: Christian Toto

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