Joyful people are a blessing to be around and the kind we long to imitate. To be filled with joy, resilience, and gratitude in any situation is what I pray for my children, but getting there is not that simple. I do know that joy cannot be forced. It’s more like a habit that must be learned and embraced. Similar to appreciation, it’s a mind set that comes naturally when life is going great but hard to find in a fog of disappointment or despair.
As loving parents, we are driven to make life as wonderful for our kids as possible, often shielding them from the tough stuff life throws at us. Ironically, in order to grow rich character and wholesome joy, life’s manure is exactly what we need. So, here are a few ways to love our kids through the muck in order to produce an abundant harvest of joy.
Balance anticipation with disappointment: Sometimes daydreaming about an upcoming vacation can wind up being more exciting than the trip itself, especially when ugly surprises (like bad weather or illness) come along for the ride. Without raining on your own parade, help your family build contingency plans into upcoming events. Encourage everyone to weigh in with suggestions so that each person will be better prepared for the possibility of disappointment.
Put others first: It never fails. You excitedly bring home a mouthwatering pastry from the local bakery, unveil it to the drooling ooo’s and ahh’s of your two children, and tenderly announce that, due to it’s tremendous size, your kids will need to share it. After unappreciative moans erupt from the greedy onlookers, a fight breaks out over who gets to choose their piece first, quickly causing you to regret bringing the darn thing home after all! Here is a recipe for peace and instant equality: ask one child to cut the pastry in half, and let the other child choose his piece first.
Do not get trapped in the Culture of Entitlement: When forced to face reality or partially fend for themselves, disappointment can be particularly shocking to the child who is accustomed to always getting their way or being rescued. When we (parents, teachers and caregivers) cater to a child’s every whim or struggle, we rob them of the chance to grow through the challenge. Instead of giving them what they demand, encourage them to give all they can give. Provide age-appropriate opportunities for them to do for themselves (make their own lunches, make their bed, have sports equipment ready for each game and practice). Teach them how to earn and save money for their wants, and show them the art of problem solving in tricky situations. Of course, use your parental judgement when it comes to keeping them out of real danger, but also be prepared to let go where you are able.
Rejoice in mistakes – they are the spinach of Popeye: Mistakes have a bad reputation. When reviewing graded tests and assignments, parents often zero in on the ones that were missed as the child sulks in embarrassment from across the table. Some children will even quit performing for fear of making mistakes (after all, you can’t get it wrong if you don’t even try). This, by the way, is the gateway to perfectionism- and I have never known a truly joyful perfectionist! Making mistakes is essential to learning, so show your child how mistakes build stronger muscles. Then give them the opportunity to correct their mistakes and demonstrate how they’ve grown.
Inventory the simple things and imagine life without them: It’s easy to take our “little” daily essentials for granted. Electricity, water, a cozy bed, a warm shower…when working, they’re easily overlooked. But once they are unavailable, our appreciation grows immensely. To help your family learn to appreciate even the little stuff, try living like colonial pioneers for a weekend, support a needy family for Christmas or back to school time, sleep on the floor (without a blow up matress!), or just take time to give thanks for your blessings and encourage your family to imagine life without them.