Whatever Makes My Child Happy is Not the Right Answer

“The things I do for my kids,” I thought with a half eaten Big Mac in one gloved hand, and piece of wilted lettuce in the other. “But this tops them all.” I stood on a stool leaning into a food court’s garbage bin. I was not happy!

Somewhere in either my bin or the one my husband bent into, my adolescent daughter’s napkin-wrapped retainer got tossed along with enough food to feed hungry children in at least two of the countries their cuisine represented.

I wiggled my nose and tried to satisfy an itch by rubbing it against my raised shoulder. Elbow deep, hanging over a metal container big enough for my entire body to tumble into, I searched. Grosser even than the stomach flu that once hit all four of the kids at the same time, I was on a mission. I grabbed another handful of mall garbage. Mixed in the wrappers and cardboard boxes, half eaten Chinese, chicken drumsticks and pizza crusts, I gingerly unwrapped wads of paper napkins.

Oh yes, this topped them all. Anger simmered like the noodle dropping off my latex covered hand.

“Happens all the time,” a worker said with a smile. She leaned against a dirty wall, her arms crossed, surveying. Was that a grin on her face? I didn’t smile back.

Of course the truth underlying our hunt really was much deeper than the wells of tears that spilled over my daughter’s cheeks and dripped off her chin. It centered on our bottom dollar. The dental charge of a newly fitted retainer was clearly visible in our minds. We could see the zero’s like circles around our pupils, we could hear the numbers shout in our ears. Oh yes, there was no doubt the retainer pursuit through the yuck had a lot to do with our own happiness.

Still, I hear it so often.

“I just want my child to be happy.”

Parents, our mission is not to make happy children. 

Of course we desperately want them to be happy. It’s an ache in our soul when they aren’t. But, sometimes procuring our children’s contentment is a shortsighted route to making us as parents happy.

Rummaging in the garbage for happiness rarely produces it. 

My husband and I are now parents of adult children. But it still applies.

Parents are called to disciple their children to Christ, and granted when they are adults it will look differently than when they were children under our care.

However, “whatever makes them happy,” may attempt grace but abdicate what is a difficult and uncomfortable God given role of parenting.

Joy is the byproduct of a Spirit filled life, in the mix with words like long-suffering, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Galatians 5:22; (NKJV)

Our children’s joy is forged by persevering through life’s difficulties in God’s strength. Parental encouragement toward that accomplishment continues. Its process, although full of love and grace, may include pain.

Someone recently said, “One of Satan’s greatest lies is ‘a selfish life is a happy life.’”

Joy is short-circuited by happiness when it outweighs desiring godliness. When sight wavers from the value of eternity, it lands smack dab in temporal, a false veneer instead of a solid foundation.

Sometimes the task gets messy. 

When we yield our children to God, we also give Him the right to etch our hearts with their tears. This is the kind of love that loves without reservation or condition, yet grieves over what grieves the Father.

It does not happen once in a baby dedication, at the foot of a hospital bed or when they pledge, “I do.” It happens daily as we trust Him with their happiness whether babies or adults. His love far surpasses our own, and his wisdom knows how to accomplish what we cannot.

If you are wondering, nope, we never found the retainer. And we weren’t happy.

*Photo by Senjuti Kundu on Unsplash

8 Replies

  1. Ajitha Reply


    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Thanks Ajitha!

  2. Rebecca Thesman Reply

    Great ending to a serious post, Sylvia. Your wisdom is beautifully expressed.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      You are a great encourager Rebecca. Thanks!

  3. Michelle Adserias Reply

    GREAT perspective on parenting! Thank you for putting it out there! By the way, I feel your retainer pain. One child, 5 retainers; 2 lost, 2 broken, 1 shrunk because she boiled it in an attempt to sterilize after she dug it out of the garbage!

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Thank you Michelle! Your retainer story sounds even better!!

  4. Elizabeth Bradley Reply

    There is so much truth in this. Thank you for the ways you encourage with your words. I love the way you described joy as the by product of a Spirit filled life. Just what I needed to be reminded of today.

    • Sylvia Schroeder Reply

      Thanks Elizabeth. I need it myself!!