“Really? Who’s speaking?” I asked.
“Rick Weissbourd!” she said excitedly, “He’s the author of a couple of great parenting books and he’s talking about raising moral and happy children. He’s from Harvard.”
“Hmmm….I’ll think about it. I’ll look him up,” I replied, a bit skeptically.
Now, time for a confession. The stated topic of “raising moral and happy children” was a bit off-putting to me. I’m not sure I can articulate exactly why, but somehow the keywords “moral” and “happy” were hot buttons for me. First off, an expert telling me how to raise moral children sounds political. Or religious. Or both. Who’s this guy from Harvard to tell me about my family’s morals? And as for happy, well, like many folks in this field I’m a bit burnt out on watching parents push happiness on their kids. Do I want my child to be happy? OF COURSE. Who doesn’t? But like morals, every family’s definition of happiness is a little different, and discussions thereof are almost always a minefield.
When the time came for the speaking event I gave my colleague (who is a consistently wise individual) the benefit of the doubt and showed up for the Lunch and Learn event. The punch line? Man, was I wrong! In no way, shape or form was this some tweedy Harvard guy telling me how to be happy. Nope. What I saw and heard was a real live PARENT above all, who was burnt out on the exact same things as I and many of my peers were. The gist of his talk (in my words, obviously) was “Let’s stop pushing our kids to be HAPPY and start showing them how to be GOOD. Being good is more important than being happy, and being good doesn’t always make you happy. It can be hard work. But it’s worth it.”
Did that resonate with me? As they say in my native Wisconsin, You bet! In the last year or so, countless experts and parents alike have noted that we parents are trending towards hovering over our young children with questions like, “Are you happy, sweetie? How are you feeling? Why do you feel that way?” and five minutes later, “Are you happy now?” And as Rick detailed in his talk, bucking this trend as a parent can feel like swimming upstream sometimes. When everyone around you is going this route, or praising their child for every move they make, going against the grain risks giving the impression that you don’t care about your child’s happiness.
Another key point I took away from Rick’s talk was that kids are smart. Very, very smart. And intuitive. Did I already know that? Sure, but he reminded us, the audience, that when we give false praise, pretend to be happy, say one thing and do another, or treat our children like they are not emotionally complex individuals, they see right through it. Almost every time. If you’re a parent, you know how intuitive your kids can be – they often trump the adults around them in this category.
So when it came time to talk about which parenting experts we wanted to invite to speak at our Centennial Family Fest event, guess who was first on my list? Dr. Richard Weissbourd of Harvard’s School of Education and Kennedy School of Government. He’s the author of the acclaimed book The Parents We Mean to Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development. I strongly encourage you to override any skepticism or doubt and join us for his insightful talk at 10:30 or 11:30 on Saturday, April 6th. For detailed event schedule information, visit: http://www.bostonchildrensmuseum.org/calendar/2013-04-06 .