“I just want you to be happy.”

How many parents have uttered this line?

How many children have heard it?


as parents…

When we say these words, are we setting up our children for a lifetime of disappointment?

What does it mean to be happy?

Tick- tick-tick precious seconds are accumulating as I’m waiting for you to come up with a sufficient answer…

What is happiness? How do we achieve it? Why do we want that one thing, above all others, for our children? What does it really mean when we say we want them to be happy?

First off- is anyone happy all the time? I know I’m not. I broke my favorite mug a few weeks ago. It pissed me off. I was having a conversation with one of my closest people and I said something that annoyed them- neither of us is really happy about that. I could continue with all the other things that recently annoyed me, but you get the gist. We can’t be happy all the time.

And this beats around the bush that I’ve been blogging about for a month: our kids expect to be happy and when something takes work, or doesn’t end up according to plan, they get depressed. They wonder what is wrong with them – they wonder why they can’t be happy…because their parents just want them to be happy…and deep down no kid wants to disappoint their parents…

Some kids don’t look for a job, or a career, or their own apartment, because having to do these things might not make them happy. Who wants to go to work at a specific time every day and do work? That certainly doesn’t make most people happy…

Even when things go right- the partner, the career, the car, they wonder why they are not in a perpetual state of bliss. Their expectation is that, like everything else in their young lives, happiness is supposed to be 24/7/365.

I may not know what happiness is, but I certainly know it’s not 24/7/365.

So why do we say “I just want you to be happy”?

Why don’t we say- ‘I want you to pursue happiness- go for the things that will fulfill you and help you grow and learn. I want you to live a life with few regrets, while knowing that everything comes with a price, whether literal or figurative. I want you to know that it’s OK if there are times when “happy” isn’t your predominant emotion- being happy all the time is too much of an emotional burden.

With all the words in our language- how did we become so focused on HAPPY?

Why don’t we try another word- How about as parents we say:

I just want you to be resilient.


I want you to be happy 50% of the time.


Just be the best you that you can be- in whatever form that takes.


66 thoughts on “The Worst Parenting Mistake

  1. A friend of mine said his goal for his children was that they be independent, responsible members of society and if that happened he felt he did his job. Happiness is often a choice, not even a result of circumstances – I have met people in countries who had little, but they were content and definitely happy.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. That’s a great goal. I think I’ve set my daughter up with same thing. She gets that if you live a full life, you will not always be clicking your heels in joy…but it’s a good life. Like now….she’s not too thrilled about the last twin weeks of semester and four 15 pages papers that count as finals……but she knows that when it’s over, the semester will be done and she can sleep….

      Liked by 3 people

  2. You can’t be happy if 1)you are constantly comparing yourself to others, 2)you have no concern for others and do not do anything to help others ,expecting nothing in return, 3) you have unreasonable, unrealistic expectations of life and other people, and 4)you aren’t willing to suffer through the pain of work, growth, failures, uncertainty, etc. To be happy , you must be willing to grow. Growing causes pain. Fact!

    Liked by 4 people

  3. happiness is made of moments. I tell my kids when i push them to do something that i want the best for them – not that i want them to be happy – and i tell them to enjoy the nice things while they’re present, those things never last. Wow, i sound pessimistic.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Are we overthinking the use of the word happy?
    Perhaps, like so many other words it is more of a symbol used to convey the general sense of well-being and contentment that we hope our children will feel if they are attempting to live their best life.
    I’ve likely said that word to my kids, but the meaning was never meant to convey constant joy, or impart that they would never experience a range of feelings about all aspects of life.
    In my case, it was meant exactly the way you mentioned- to instill in them an overall sense of worth and pride in whatever it was that they chose to do. I think they understood that, but you make me wonder if many do not. Are kids, young adults taking that word too literally?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think they are. I think that’s why we have so much substance abuse, eating disorders, suicide. Kids become distraught when they dont understand why they’re not happy…it’s the whole expectations thing again


  5. I think as parents, we want to frame their journey, but it doesn’t work that way, of course. We can’t control what happens to them once they’re out in the world, so you’re right, we should be pursuing the language that best suits the realities as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I like this quote from Fred Rogers and I think it sums it all up for me (I say it to my grands all of the time …

    “There’s no person in the whole world like you, and I like you just the way you are.” -Fred Rogers

    Liked by 3 people

  7. We seem to live in such a child-centered culture now. Everything revolves around making children happy and removing challenges and obstacles from their life. This is a disservice and I wish parents would rethink how they can best raise children to be resilient, tenacious adults who don’t wither at the first sign of failure. After all, how can a person really appreciate happiness and joy without something in which to compare it to? Focusing on gratitude for what we already have can go a long way in stemming the *happiness* of having the latest shiny, new thing.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. You summed it up perfectly. So many people want their kids to go through life with no obstacles or heartache. How do you know what’s good if you don’t have a full life of experience? Kids need to learn. I saw a quote the other day….it was something like “getting hurt is the only way to truly learn”

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve always just expanded the “I want you to be happy” with the idea that it means that they follow their hearts and do what is right for them, rather than following someone else’s ideas of what should make them happy. This is something I talk to my kids about a lot because we’ve had way too many situations in our family that prompted it. For me it is more about not sacrificing their own happiness in order to please others (that includes me or their dad). The end goal isn’t that they are always happy, but that, overall, they have made choices in their life along the way that made them more happy than not. They have, sadly, had front row seats to witness how hard it is sometimes to make the choice for happiness, but they’ve also gotten to see the rewards for those choices.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Of course we want our children to be happy.BUT, all while they are growing up we need to teach them that life isn’t easy. There will always be challenges. They won’t win every basketball or soccer game, they might get a B now etc. I also found that involving my children in organizations where they helped give back to the community, saw people who had less than they did, gave them proper perspective and broadened their understanding of others. . In choosing a major for college I let both my sons select their own majors. (My parents gave me ultimatums and I remember resenting that. ) Both my kids chose diverse careers and appear to be extremely happy and successful. However, I did tell them that if ever their jobs or relationships made them miserable then they should not be afraid to re-evaluate their goals or direction in life.

    I think most parents try to provide a realistic, yet nurturing environment for their children while they are are growing up. As a teacher I had to do that in the classroom to prepare students for higher education as well as being able to interact socially,. As a parent I did that at home as well. Fortunately,Its worked out pretty well.
    Then again…Happiness is pretty relative. At this stage in live I have cancer. I can teach my children and grandchildren that we can create our own happiness even when things seem pretty scary or hopeless. Our roles as a parent or grandparent never stops. We will always be setting examples for our kids. We can’t lose our sense of humor or our ability to create goals.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the whole “everybody gets a trophy “ mentality is damaging. Many parents try to sugarcoat life, and I think that’s set up unrealistic expectations for many. Kids need to learn to deal with all their emotions, good or bad…

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Your last line is the best. “Be the best you can be…” That or “Live your best life.” Definitely can’t be happy all the time and sometimes the “bad” things that happen can actually turn out to be good things.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Excellent post LA! I love your last line – Just be the best you that you can be- in whatever form that takes. That one line sums it up for me. And yes, I have wished happiness on my family and kids and myself for that matter. But happiness is an inside job. You can’t make someone else happy nor can we have happiness 24/7. Great points!! I love when you write thought provoking posts! You do a great job!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I would say that “happiness” is an individual choice. I don’t think any functioning young adult thinks they have to be happy 24/7. When I told my children that I wanted them to be happy they knew that I wanted them to make choices in their lives for themselves not what others thought was the best route. If you are “happy” 24/7 you could possibly be overmedicated.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. LA have you ever seen the movie ‘Secrets and Lies’? One of my all time favourites I watched for the umpteenth time last week (Amazon Prime), a quite brilliant film and Director Mike Leigh’ finest work with restrained acting, devoid of ALL sentimentality and with a message that can be taken any number of ways. I’ll give no spoilers but Secrets and Lies definitely has resonance with this post……………. I think you’d enjoy watching.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. My daughter and I just had this conversation and it ended in what is happiness. We concluded happiness means something different to each and every one of us. I personally think fulfilling your passion equals happiness. Love this post!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I don’t remember my parents ever saying they wanted us just to be happy, they wanted us to get a good job and be able to support ourselves and move out and get on with our lives. I don’t think happiness even entered into the equation. But then when we were young we were hopeful, the future looked bright, I don’t remember anyone being unhappy or depressed like kids are today. Maybe they expect too much?

    Liked by 3 people

  16. I had to ask my son about this one, he thought for a moment and said ‘you have never said you want me to be happy, you always say’ ‘What ever makes you happy, but remember to enjoy the sun you have you have the rain.’

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I think rather than wishing happiness for our children, the more important goals would be wishing that they be productive, satisfied with their decisions, and capable of knowing how to achieve and plan for those things. And I agree, independence is a large part of this.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Society seems to have forgotten that happiness is a peak state, just as sadness is a low state. Personally I’m a great believer in striving for contentment, as it allows for visits up to the peak ground and to the low ground. The middle ground is actually a rather enjoyable place to be. If our normal state was to be happiness, where do we find our high? And by the same token, our low of sadness would be a terribly big drop.

    As with others, I agree the best advice a parent can give a child is to be the best they can be.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Like the first comment said, my parents were much more focused on making sure I would be responsible and independent. They weren’t happy and I can’t recall them using such a phrase. I like all your suggestions, though!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Super agree. I like “Be the best in whatever you undertake”. Not just for parents to say to their children but all relationships in general. Maybe the one saying it is just trying justify their behaviour that occurs when they see a loved one “unhappy”. But happiness as a goal is so subjective and fleeting. Better to build grit, resilience.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Sadly, I think parents say, “I just want you to be happy” because we are convinced that if our kids just did what we want them to, then they’d be happy! And as you say, that’s nothing more than a burden for them.


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