Monday, September 24, 2012

The Gift of Observation

Sunday nights sometimes make for the most melancholy posts; or, maybe just the sappiest ones. But I was thinking, today, about how people over-complicate one aspect of the ridiculously complicated job of parenthood: what they want for their kids. Me, I just want my boys to be happy. That's a cool place to settle into.

I don't wish for riches or fame for them. I don't consider it my duty to raise kids who "make a difference" or who become models of charity and goodness. I hope they exemplify good things, but I rather they be happy, in, at least, a "do no harm" kind of way. They must eventually decide if they want to be world-changers; that's the only way it can be sincere.

If I start plugging things into their lives -- things that I think are elements of future happiness for them based on what makes me happy -- I can screw up terribly. If I am going to help guide them into happy lives, I need to watch them. The best I can do is to point out, to them, what seems to make them happy. Because, isn't part of so many people's problems the fact that they don't recognize what really makes them content? -- and then that they replace what would be the true elements of personal happiness with some pale substitute? Sometimes, an outside view can clear up the internal lenses.

For instance, today my older son was outside "making weapons" in his "blacksmith shop" (shaping sticks into points by rubbing them on rocks) and I strolled out there. He had been working for quite a while. I made a point of saying: "It's good to spend time by yourself sometimes, isn't it? You seem to enjoy time alone sometimes."

I got a pleasant "I guess so" back, and he went back to making a wooden ("steel") broadsword. But the point is made (literally by him; figuratively by me). I have seen this in him -- he does enjoy playing alone, often. Solitude seems to be something that centers him. Recognizing this source of contentment now might serve him well in the future.

I'll be honest: as a guy who loves solitude, I'm happy to see this quality in my son. But I didn't point it out because of my own penchant; I pointed it out because it seems it makes him happy. If I noticed a love of Algebra (heaven forbid), I'd point that out, too. It's about him, not me.

I know I can't sculpt a shining tower of happiness for my boys, but maybe I can hand them the tools. The important thing is that I don't try to feed them happiness on my terms, as part of some egocentric wish that I fool myself into thinking is selfless parenting.

So many people fail at this.

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