I’m blogging. I feel younger already. My children will be so impressed. It took me a while to get comfortable with this idea. I’m 62. I didn’t even want to go on Facebook—my staff had to convince me to join. Now, of course, I have 297 friends and find myself getting caught up in all of my FB family drama.
I have spent my life raising children. I’ve raised five of my own, and they would probably tell you they have always had to share me with the kids at work. I’ve dedicated my entire 40-year career to mastering the science of child and family development, reading most of the books and going to countless trainings. But the most important lesson I’ve learned—and tried to teach—is such a simple one. It’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. Every child is entitled to happiness.
I remember doing a presentation once on helping children with their anger. I said something like, “We all want our children to be happy.” And there was a woman who stood up and said, “No, I don’t. I want my child to do well in school and succeed.”
In my world, a world where children come first, happiness is a gift that every child is supposed to receive. It doesn’t matter where they live or what their circumstances are. Happiness doesn’t have to cost anything. Children want the very small things, like their parents’ time. They want to go for a walk in the park and play on the same swings they played on yesterday and the day before. They want to run up and down the aisle in church when they’re not supposed to. They want to blow bubbles and have you catch them, or make you a cupcake and sit with you while you eat it.
Every day, I work with young people who have suffered in ways nobody should ever have to suffer. For them, sometimes happiness is simply surviving it all. And it’s our job to help them survive it—the abuse, the neglect, the poverty, the trauma. A former client, who is now in his 30s, told us that the first time he remembers being happy was when he was four years old and he got to sit in Santa’s lap. He was homeless then, living in our Greentree Shelter, and he was able to find childhood happiness.
Children can be happy even when they’re angry or irritable, when they’re jumping up and down saying “no,” defying you, driving you crazy. They can still be happy in those moments as long as they feel safe and cared about. One young girl painted a picture for me and I put it on the wall in my office. She came into visit once and started crying. I asked her why she was crying. She said, “You put it on your wall.” I told her, “It’s beautiful—of course I put it on my wall.” I knew in that moment that her mother had never put her pictures on the refrigerator or hung them in the house. And here she was, 16, crying, simply because I had.
Childhood happiness is important—in fact, it’s the most important thing of all.