Happy Is As Happy Gives…

Well, isn’t this something? Check out this article in the Pacific Standard: “Do Children Make Us Happy?

They do, especially when parenting in a “child-centric” manner: 

Child-centric parents prioritize their children’s needs and wants over their own. The hallmark of a child-centric parent is self-sacrifice. The researchers define the child-centric mindset as one in which “parents are motivated to maximize their child’s well-being even at a cost to their own and are willing to prioritize the allocation of their emotional, temporal, financial, and attentional resources to their children rather than themselves.” 

And this:

In this study, the researchers again found that… child-centric parents… experienced more positive emotions when they were taking care of their children than when they were doing other things. These parents also experienced less negative emotions when they were taking care of their kids. Child-centric parents also derived more meaning out of their interactions with their kids. When they were not with their kids, these parents experienced less meaning and positive emotions.

I’ll just make the leap: according to these findings, being an at-home parent should yield tremendous happiness.

And if a new purpose in life–a new reason to sacrifice, or give, and transcend what you want for yourself–does not manifest by the time one’s children are grown, one would seem to be set up for unhappiness.

Even regret.



buyer’s remorse

Yesterday, the children convinced Daddy to take them to the store. They had money, you see (they were convinced they were rolling in it!), and wanted to spend it on toys. My husband thought this was a perfect opportunity to teach them a few things. Man was he right.

Our daughter had about $10.50. Our son had $7.00. Our daughter knew exactly what she wanted to buy, and she even knew the store that carried it. Off we went. We reminded them of their choices: spend all their money, spend some of their money and save a little, spend none of their money and save it all.

The store didn’t carry our daughter’s dream toy after all. She looked at other things, but nothing caught her eye, nothing was the right price… Our son kept rifling through various items, checking the prices. Every single thing he wanted had an “8” in front of the decimal point. “Can’t get it,” (toss back in bin), “Can’t get it,” (toss back in bin), “Can’t get it,” (toss back in bin)… I was really proud of them, of our younger one, especially.

We headed to another store with traditionally lower prices. They studied, examined, and revisited. They tended to gravitate toward the largest toys, all on the lower shelves. The toys they could afford? High up, where few young people can see or reach. Not surprising, but aggravating nonetheless.

After about 15 minutes, our daughter found something that she could barely afford. She was about 25 cents short, because she had a Euro coin in her piggy bank, and had reasonably counted it as a U.S. quarter–all the quarters look so different from one another lately (and we had no idea that she’d found a Euro coin… Daddy must have dropped one). Watching my husband explain to our baffled daughter that she had to use the right currency was pretty cute. Because of the misunderstanding and the clear demonstration of her ability to budget (“I have the right dollars, but now, not the right cents. I can’t get it.”) Daddy offered her a cash advance for the work she would do for him over the weekend (really, really light yard work) to cover the difference.

Meanwhile, our son was in dire straits. Nearly nothing interested him that cost less than $7.00. I reminded him, “you don’t have to get anything, you can save your money, and do some more work, earn some more money, and then get what you really, really want.” But, he’s barely six years old. “I have to get something, Mommy.” He was so troubled. I pointed out the two things that just barely interested him. He pondered, and decided to get one of them, for $2.99. I said brightly, “You’ll have money left over to put back in your piggy bank.”

At the cash register, he held his little toy and his baggie full of money. His sister, behind him holding her much larger toy, said, “Wow, I was able to get so much more. I probably had enough to get what you really wanted, but I wanted this, so….” I told her that wasn’t very nice to say. (My husband reminded me that this was all part of the lesson.)

By the time we made it home, he was dejected. His sister offered, “He’s not very happy with his toy. He wishes he hadn’t gotten it and wants to get something else.” I told them the toy was already opened, the packaging had been thrown away, we couldn’t really return it now.

This morning, before he’d even had his breakfast, he asked if we could go back to the store. I said no… He was so sad. He took his remaining money out of his baggie, and put it back in his piggy bank. Those happy clinks of coins… not sure if they offset his wish to do it all over again. I hope they did. He’s working on a birthday wish list now. And I have a feeling he’ll be angling for more yard work.

Those moments add up

Guess what? Toddlers, who recognize at a fairly early age McDonald’s golden arches and similar ilk, can actually end up with different behavior if they watch different shows — prosocial versus antisocial, for example — on television.

They did this study to confirm this. I read it with interest, since our kids, at 5 and 8, are the geeks in their school who still watch “The Octonauts” and “Jake and the Neverland Pirates,” and who have yet to see any movie with a rating beyond “G.” Our daughter was grilled the other day by a third grader about various “bigger kid” or “grown up” shows, boy bands, movies: she knew nothing. And was utterly nonchalant about it, thankfully.

But something else in this little study about television and young children hit me. Hit me hard.

Consider this passage from the New York Times article on the study:

Until she began participating in Dr. Christakis’s trial, Nancy Jensen, a writer in Seattle, had never heard of shows like Nickelodeon’s “Wonder Pets!,” featuring cooperative team players, and NBC’s “My Friend Rabbit,” with its themes of loyalty and friendship.

At the time, her daughter Elizabeth, then 3, liked “King of the Hill,” a cartoon comedy geared toward adults that features beer and gossip. In hindsight, she said, the show was “hilariously funny, but completely inappropriate for a 3-year-old.”

Now, I try hard to understand why people do what they do. Why would a mother let her three-year-old watch “King of the Hill?” Maybe the mother liked the show, and the three-year-old was awake, and the mother wanted to spend time with her three-year-old, laughing. I for one adore the sound of a three-year-old laughing.

“At the time.” That laughter was beautiful.

In “hindsight.” The two probably could have laughed together at something else.

Sometimes I fear we all risk spending so much time living in our moments, enjoying our present, that we forget moments don’t last, and that moments, once past, can add up to an experience that is less than fantastic.


This “Debbie Downer Moment” has been brought to you by the letter W. For Worried.

I’m worried about a lot these days. It’ll pass… It’s just a moment I’m in.