I have many hopes and dreams for my daughter. As I ponder them, it occurs to me that the top of the list must be that she will be happy in her life. But what does that mean?
I think that many people (including me) often confuse "success" with "happiness". Now, they are pretty closely linked: I don't think that a person can IN GENERAL be happy if he is not successful (consider a certain well-known failed artist who parlayed his unhappiness into that little fracas known as World War II). The converse, however, is certainly not always true: people can be quite successful and at the same time deeply unhappy. How many famous and apparently "successful" people go mad, lose themselves in drugs and alcohol, or take their own lives? They are the victims of their own success or, perhaps more correctly, they've traded happiness for success.
I must guard against this with my daughter. I must not push her to do things that make her unhappy in the interests of making her "successful". I must not push her to live the life that would make ME happy. I must be on guard for signs that, while she might be bringing home good grades and awards and the other symbols of success, she is doing so at the expense of her happiness. This is a problem with some "elite" kids in our society: they are pushed to excel in academics, sports, extracurricular activities and their social lives so much that they start to become mentally exhausted or, worse, get the idea that their self-worth is so tied up with good grades, trophies, awards and being part of the "in crowd" that any failure makes them feel like a hopeless loser.(1) Patty Cogen notes that this sort of pressure is very common in internationally-adopted children as they tend to have parents who are very well-educated and materially successful and push their children to follow in their footsteps.(2) This makes sense: "This worked for us, so it should work for you." But is being v2.0 of me or my wife going to make my daughter happy? Maybe, maybe not. She will have to find her own way.
But there's another trap in this: raising a lazy or aimless child. I must try to teach her good work habits, to be organized, to set goals, to try hard and to keep trying in the face of setbacks. Amy Chua's "Tiger Mom" model is perhaps an answer to this: by setting the highest standards, by forcing the child to excel, the child will learn to do it on her own and, eventually, enjoy the fruits of being good at whatever she decides to do.(3) There is much to be said about this. But where to draw the line between raising a lazy, unmotivated daughter who is unequipped for adult life or raising a hyper-prepared daughter who is utterly miserable?
I want my daughter to be happy but I want her to be successful. How can I teach her to achieve this happy state?
Levin. The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and
Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids. New York: Harper
(2) Patty Cogen. Parenting Your Internationally Adopted Child: From Your First Hours Together Through the Teen Years. Boston: The Harvard Common Press, 2008. Cogen notes that there is another pressure that internationally adopted children must bear, one that comes from inside themselves: they often feel that their abandonment is somehow their own fault and they spend the rest of their lives trying to prove that they really aren't such bad or failed people to deserve such a fate.
Chua. The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. New York: Penguin, 2011