philip larkin this be the verse Raising Happy but Unsuccessful Children?

Raising happy but not successful children?

Just throwing a bit of fairly ham-fisted pop psychology out there…get ready for lots of rhetorical and possibly unanswerable questions…

My long term parenting goal (can you have parenting goals? Am I losing already?) is to raise happy children. In the grand scheme of things, the worst outcome I could imagine for my adult child is a life of unhappiness and sadness. Regardless of whatever petty and supersilious annoyances I might have on a day-to-day basis…

“I don’t like that girl he’s knocking around with”

“But why accountancy, of all things?”

“I wish he’d just pull his damn trousers up”

“Would you just rinse the cereal out of the bowl when you’re finished?!”

“Don’t you treat this house like a hotel”

…ad nauseum, I don’t care how they live, what they do, what choices they make – as long as it makes them happy and doesn’t hurt anyone else.

I want my children to be confident, loving, happy within themselves, and well able to communicate their feelings. I want them to learn about the things that they want to learn but also expose them to a broad spectrum of ideas and interests so they know the breadth and depth of life and what’s out there for them to experience and make their own. I want them to feel and know that they’re loved. Even if they don’t want to come for dinner on Sundays.

Obviously, I’m not wholly responsible for the happiness of my future adult children. People make their own choices and live by them. But being a parent means you are responsible for how they grow up. I’m reminded here of the Philip Larkin poem “This Be The Verse”. (“They fuck you up, your mum and dad“…remember it now? ๐Ÿ™‚ ) It’s true, but the opposite can be true as well. This is why we freak out at the notion of the responsibility of parenthood. I’d say we’re all fairly clear on what we think our own parents did wrong and what they did right. So the challenge is set!

So let’s say you raise happy children who grow up to be happy adults, does that mean that they won’t be successful? Now, when I say “successful”, I mean, President of the United States successful (completely impossible for an Irish child I know but stay with me), Steve Jobs successful, Oprah Winfrey successful, Melissa Meyer succesful,ย Richard Branson successful, Madonna successful, Adriana Huffington successful, Anna Wintour successful. Do highly driven, motivated people come from well balanced, happy, loving, nurturing, accepting homes? Or do you need a parent with high expectations and standards, be it encouraging or pressurising, hot housing or supporting high achieving from childhood? Do happy children grow up to be happy adults with a-okay, run of the mill lifes, jobs and experiences? (nothing wrong with that, by the way. In fact pretty damn good).

The reason I like the attachment parenting philosphy is because it’s gentle, empathetic and intuitive but at the same time recognises that your children are individuals who need to be nurtured to realise their own wants and desires, whatever they may be. I like parenting this way because it feels right to me, not because it’s the way I think it should be done. It’s also a nice way of parenting. I don’t like shouting and screaming or fighting and laying down the law in a “my way or the highway” style. I also don’t like forcing anyone to do anything they really don’t want to do. I think there’s reasonable ways of avoiding the stress of all of that negativity. Not easy ways, mind you, but other ways nonetheless. What will the consequence of this parenting be? I have a friend who wants successful – read very wealthy – children. Her hothousing plans are already in place. What’s the consequence there?

So here are my big pop psychology questions:

  • Does my parenting style mean my children won’t reach their full potential?
  • Does a child need to have a “lack” in their lives to develop the hunger they need for super success – a lack of love, a lack of acceptance, a lack of confidence or validation maybe?
  • Do children need strict discipline and an overbearing supervision a la Tiger Mama to raise themselves above the crowd?
  • Can you be successful and happy or does a strive for success mean you never are?
  • Does any of the above matter?

philip larkin this be the verse Raising Happy but Unsuccessful Children?

I think the answer to the last question is probably “not if your children are happy“.

18 thoughts on “Raising happy but not successful children?”

  1. I think it all depends on how you measure success. If someone can earn enough money to live comfortably, and afford the things they love, then I count that as success. If you’re a multi-billionaire and don’t have anyone you can call a true friend, I think you’ve missed the point of life.

    I think the chances of anyone becoming a success to the lofty levels you’ve mentioned (Oprah, POTUS, etc.) are similar to their chances of winning the lotto, so to be honest I don’t give it much thought! Certainly there’s no grand hothouse plan!

    1. A ha, but you forget we’re Irish Lisa and therefore have an extraordinary amount of people who enjoy international success. Frankly, I’m surprised there’s anyone left in the country to work in Tesco!

        1. Yes, yes, those two exactly. Well, Niall Horan is more a marketing success ๐Ÿ˜‰
          But seriously, we have world class, internationally known writers, poets, playwrights, musicians, golfers, rugby players, athletes, soccer players, actors, entrepreneurs, business people, technologists, scientists, the list goes on and one. Statistically speaking we have more international awards and recognitions than our 4 million population can justify. Irish people are amazeballs ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. I’ve always assumed it was precisely because there are so few of us that it is easier for a certain percentage of us to achieve fame internationally. The novelty factor I guess.

        That and our national desire to lay claim to anyone whose ancestors ever so much as set foot on this island. The O’Bamas anyone? ๐Ÿ™‚

        Joking aside it’s an interesting point and one I hadn’t really considered. Now that I do, my answer is no. I don’t hope for that kind of success for my children. I think in today’s world, the spotlight is more of a microscope, and I’d hate for any of my children to have to live in the public eye. If that’s the path they choose then I will make my peace with it when it happens. But I’ll never wish it for them.

  2. This reminds me of how I felt when I left school: so many people were desperate for the points to do law, medicine, vet, whatever – something that would lead to a “profession” straight away – but I just wanted to do Arts because I wanted to study the subjects I enjoyed. (Nothing wrong with going straight into a profession, of course, but because you want to, not just because you got the points.)

    I tell my kids, and will keep telling them despite the “grad school or bust” mentality that seems to abound in this country these days, that you don’t have to know what you’re going to be when you grow up as soon as you leave school. Many people I know are still working that out, and having a lot of fun – and even success – in the process.

    1. I think you’re right Kate. Happiness and fulfilment are where it’s at. I’m thinking now maybe “high achievers” is what I mean. (Although that doesn’t sound as good a headline ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

  3. I think the incredibly successful people tend to be a big damaged either beforehand or as a result of all that goes with the incredible success. I wouldn’t wish that for my children. I genuinely want them to just be happy, no matter what that means. Buuut having said that, I had an inbuilt assumption that they’d be reasonably smart, and I know I’d be worried if they weren’t! So am only all easy-going about this to a point!

      1. Hmmm, yes I know what you mean. But I wonder are they damaged because of their upbringing – it must have a significant influence?

        On your other point, I’ve a feeling you’re not alone there. We genuinely want them to be their happiest but I think a small part of us also wants them to also be “their best” ๐Ÿ™‚ Irish mammies, wha’?

        1. Oh god a HUGE part of me secretly wants them to be the best, even at the silliest things! I got my five year old’s first ever school report the other day and it mattered so much, far more than I thought it would at that age. But she doesn’t know that. Anyway, turns out that drama and music will not be in her future ๐Ÿ˜‰ My MIL will not achieve her dream of grandkids on stage via my 5yo!

  4. We have a saying around here – into every life a little rain must fall – meaning that in order to be truly happy you need to experience the opposite emotion. I think it’s more of a success to be able to have values, be in touch with your emotions and pass on these to your children. Perhaps you are passing on your success to your children? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    1. I never heard that saying before Caitriona. I think it’s very true. As the other saying goes, you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Unfortunately it takes a certain amount of loss and hardship before you really appreciate what you have.

  5. Seeing as you ask the question, there is very good psychological research out there on just this topic. Taking 3 broad styles of parenting: Authoritarian (take my road or the highroad as you refer to it) breeds highly ‘successful’ adults in the sense of high achievers with perfectionistic standards and problems with low self-esteem. Permissive parenting (no rules, few limits, let the children do what they want) breeds adults with high self-esteem but poor motivation and difficulty accomplishing things in life. Authoritative parenting, which It think attachment parenting is closest too, even though they are definitely not the same, breeds adults with healthy self-esteem, who place reasonable demands on others and themselves, and tend to attain the goals they set for themselves. Authoritative parenting is all about providing plenty of attention but maintaining boundaries/limits, so not permissive, but rather negotiating the rules with their children while always maintaining the parent as deciding adult role. I like to think of Abraham Maslow’s theory on self-actualisation. To be fully ‘actualised’ human beings we need first to have basic needs met which go in this order, safety & security / love & affection / belonging / self-actualisation.

What do you think?