The Importance of Being a Happy Parent

by Dale Easley

22 May 2003

This summer (2003) my older daughter will be six. My younger is three. As I've written about elsewhere (Click here.), this year has been particularly tough. I've worked through some things have kept me awake when I'd prefer to have been sleeping. Still, I'm glad to be finally making some progress, because I believe one of the most important things I can do as a parent is to be happy.

First, let me say that happiness is not something you can fake, especially not with a kid. They may not yet have the intellectual capacity of a smart dog, but they have amazing capabilities in tuning into your emotional state. If what you say doesn't match your emotions, they spot it. For example, I've seen numerous instances of kids pulling back from you if you are trying too hard to be their friend. (In that way, kids are like cats.) The kids (and cats) recognize that you are in it for yourself, not true friendship.

Kids' abilities to pick up on hidden cues are what makes being a happy parent so important. Basically it comes down to this: If you aren't happy, your kid is going to assume that world is not a very good place. They may also go a step farther and assume that the reason you are unhappy is something they did. Pretty soon, they're feeling down about both the world and themselves. Happy people tend to treat each other better, enjoy companionship, and be a lot more pleasant to be around. And no, I don't believe you have to be miserable in order to be creative.

What can you do if you aren't happy and faking it won't work? The first step is to admit the problem. Look it square in the mirror. If your unhappiness is severe enough, get help. It's the best thing you can do for your family. On the other hand, your unhappiness may be a message from a deeper part of yourself telling you that you are on the wrong track or, at least, in danger of derailing. In the latter case, there is no substitute for taking the time to listen to yourself, your inner desires and longings. I know life is hectic, but partly that's because we stay busy to keep from listening to ourselves. Find the solitude. (Click here.).

I've read many self-help books through the years, and a few have been worth their price. One that stands out in my memory is Happiness is a Serious Problem by Dennis Prager. The author's main thesis is that happy people have two dominant characteristics: a goal that they are working toward, and a sense of gratitude. For those of you working toward a degree at UNO, at least that one goal should be clear to you. As you work toward it, take a bit of time to be grateful to the people who've helped you get to this point. Maybe you could send them a postcard or something. (Yeah, I'm a corny guy.) You'll be surprised---writing the note will often do you as much good as it does the recipient. Regardless of how you do it, take the time to be grateful. You'll be happier, and you'll be a better parent.