Wednesday, March 13, 2019

I {still} don't want my children to be happy

"I want them to be happy," she gushed. "I want to be supportive of everything they want to do, but I do want them to have somewhat of a normal [life]. Finish out high school, college experience -- maybe because I didn't have that, I really want that for them."  
    - Lori Loughlin, 2016

I am the mother of five children, ages 8 to 15. This means that over the next decade of my life, college admissions are going to consume a great deal of time, energy, prayer, and probably, angst.

Knowing what awaits me, I have been intrigued by the scandal that broke this week about parents bribing college officials for their children's admission.
This article has very detailed, and very damning, information.

It is appalling. Prime examples of horrifically bad parenting. Even if we could afford to do what they did - which we can't - we simply never would. Easy to feel superior, isn't it?

Allegedly many of the children, some of who have graduated and are in the workforce now, had no idea that their parents had schemed in this way. Perhaps they first discovered that a significant portion of their identity was a lie when they checked twitter this morning.

Gosh, what a tsunami of emotions those kids must be experiencing.

Some of the parents, no doubt, paid thousands of dollars and told thousands of lies because the image they wanted to present to the world starkly conflicted with the reality of their son or daughter's academic abilities or inclinations. Sometimes their teens were active participants in the felonious charade. For those parents, I'm sure this was just the pinnacle of a lifetime of glamorized obfuscations which started within days of the births of those disappointing newborns.

But for some, maybe, it wasn't like that.

For some, maybe, they had good kids. Kids who didn't get in trouble, who did their homework, studied for tests, took ACT prep classes, and despite their best efforts, just didn't make the scores to get into the school of their dreams.

This could be my son in a couple of years.

Shep is a really good kid. A conscientious student. Usually with a straight A report card.

And Shep wants to play college football, ideally for Texas A&M. He wants to play college football with every fiber of his being. He works as hard as he can, obsesses about his weight, spins hours trying to improve his skills.

In three years, he will find out if all his efforts paid off.
They might not.
And my son might be devastated.
And then so will I.
Not because I care about football (I really don't), but because I care so much about Shep.

A friend told me recently, "a mother is ever only as happy as her unhappiest child" and I can attest to that truth. The bigger my kids get, the bigger their hurts get. I've sat by helplessly when one was in pain, whispering encouragement, rubbing backs, and praying desperately long after they've cried themselves to sleep. I've wished so hard that I could change their situations. I've wished that I had a genie in a bottle who could grant the wishes of my child's heart and spare us both from the ragged aches we were experiencing.

For some parents, the sham "Edge College and Career Network" appeared to be that genie. So those parents took the stopper out of that bottle and filled it with dollar bills, because they didn't want their child to be hurt. Or embarrassed. Or unpopular. Or to feel left out.

They just wanted their child to be happy. 

Which reminded me of a little something I wrote nearly a decade ago, when these kids who will be leaving for college so soon still had recess every day and the vast majority of their heartaches could be solved with a lollipop and a good nap.

I really need to reread this in this stage of parenting, to remind myself that, as much as unhappiness hurts, unhappiness is the inescapable reality of this fallen world.

And when I try to cheat the system to make their unhappiness go away, what I am really doing is cheating them out of the opportunity for their Creator who loves them more than I do to use their pains and disappointments as catalysts to mold their characters, to teach them to pray, to experience his grace, to learn the uncomparable blessing of contentment, and to eventually, someday, to weep with gratitude and relief when looking back on those seemingly unanswered prayers.

Now, more than ever, I need to remind myself that often, when I cheat my children of their unhappiness, I cheat them of their holiness. 

Here is that original post:


I don't want my children to be happy

Dear Shepherd, Sissy, Maggie and Ikey,

Recently we were told by people whom we love and respect why they oppose our plans to adopt. One of the reasons given was that we would not be able to pay for your college education.

It's true.

You all have college funds - college funds which recently took a terrible hit - but "they" say that by the time you're 18, college will cost anywhere between $200,000 to half a million dollars each. You might as well know now, we won't be covering that. I'm telling you now, babies.

The people said that the day would come when you would look at us with resentment because you had to apply for school loans while many of your friends got a free ride from their parents.

Maybe you will. Maybe you'll resent us. I really hope not. But maybe I should tell y'all now why your dad and I have decided to do what we are doing.

I know you're going to think I am going off topic (I do that a lot) but several years I saw a story on a TV show about how the latest trend was for parents to give their daughters boob jobs for high school graduation (I don't know what they gave their sons.) When interviewing one of the moms, she said, "I just want my daughter to be happy." And as I tossed a throw pillow at the television, this really huge thought occurred to me: I don't want my children to be happy.

My goal as your mom is not your happiness, sugars. In fact, I spend at least half my day making you unhappy. If I had a nickle for every tear that falls in this home on a daily basis, we wouldn't need to worry about college tuition at all.

Happiness is fleeting, sweet babies. That means it doesn't last. It's a quick feeling that comes from a funny movie or a heart shaped lollipop or a really good birthday present. It's great. I love to be happy. But happiness is a reaction that is based on our surroundings. And our surroundings are so very rarely under our control. Even when - especially when - we think they are.

So no, I absolutely don't want you to spend your life chasing something that has so little to do with your own abilities. You'll just be constantly frustrated.

There are two things I desire for you, precious loves. There are two things that I spend most of my time as a mother trying cultivate in you. Happiness ain't one of them. (This means, sorry, no boob jobs for you.)

The first is, I want you to be content.

Being content is so much different from being happy. Being content is not based on your surroundings. Being content comes from within. Contentment is a spirit of gratitude. It's the choice you make to either be thankful for the things you do have, or to whine about the things you don't have.

Being content and grateful leads to consistent joy.

As you know, because I've told you lots of times, Paul talked about being content. Paul said that he had "learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want." And Paul was in some rotten situations, kiddos, really rotten.

How could Paul be content whether he was in prison or if his life was literally a shipwreck? Because Paul was constantly seeking to be in the will of God instead of his own, was constantly sacrificing his own comfort for the sake of the gospel, and was constantly being confirmed, strengthened, and blessed by God because of his obedience. He was given a supernatural power - that means something kind of like magic, God magic - to do things that most other humans could not do. And guess what? The bible tells us (in Ephesians 1) that God will give you the exact same power! If you want it!

Which leads me to my second desire for y'all.

I don't want you to be happy. I want you to be holy. That means, I want you to seek that God-power to make you content. I want you to want the Kingdom of God more than your own kingdom. And that's hard, babies, that is so hard. And that usually means passing up a lot of what the world considers happiness. But it means that you will achieve blessings directly from God that most of the world never dreams of because they are too occupied with the achieving the perfect birthday present!

This means you may be poor, 'in want' as Paul said, and that's okay. It will never, ever be okay with the world for you to be poor. So you'll be up against the world. But not your dad and me, loves, because it was never our goal for you to be wealthy - at least not in the way that the world considers wealthy.

Darlings, we love you so much. You will never even grasp how much we love you until you have children of your own, and then you'll get it, and then you'll apologize for the ways you treated us ;) But our goal is not to please you. Our goal is to please our Heavenly Father. And nowhere in the bible does the Lord command that we save our money to send our kids to college.

But the Lord does command us to care for the orphan around fifty times. He does tell us to care for the poor around 300 times. He does tell us that when we care for the neediest, we are caring for Jesus Himself. And in chapter six of the book of Matthew, He tells us to seek His kingdom first, and let Him worry about the rest, like college tuition. Because it's all His anyway.

They said that one day y'all would resent us for using 'your' college money to go and get your sister out of an orphanage in Ethiopia and bring her home to you.

But I know my babies. Even at your tender ages, I know your hearts, and I have already seen you weep for the least of these. I know the prayers I offer up to God that He and not the world would shape the desires of your hearts. I am trusting Him to answer those prayers.

So, sugarbears - I just don't believe those people.


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