Recently I read a very interesting article from the Atlantic (thank you Jirraffe!). The article is called How to Land Your Kid in Therapy and it asserts that the nurture-you’re-child’s-self-esteem-and-happiness-at-the-expense-of-everything-else culture of the past generation might actually have backfired. The author talks about a surprising number of adults, in therapy, “who reported that they, too, suffered from depression and anxiety, had difficulty choosing or committing to a satisfying career path, struggled with relationships, and just generally felt a sense of emptiness or lack of purpose.”
Now this article was interesting to me as a parent, who hopes to veer her own daughter away from a similar fate but by the end it was clear to me that I identified more with the adults in therapy affected by their own upbringing than the current parents concerned for their children. I saw myself in the author’s clients, sitting on her couch, battling depression and anxiety and struggling with a general state of “just not happy.” This article was about me.
Now my parents were not of the variety that sheltered me from the disappointments in life. Still, I will admit to expecting more happiness from my life, more fulfillment from my job, more general enjoyment from my days. I do assume that my life should make me happy. That it’s not only completely possible but that I absolutely and unequivocally deserve it.
And you know why I believe that? Because I was I was told that, by everyone, all the time. I still am.
Except that the older I get and the more I learn about the world, the less I believe it. In fact, I’m beginning to suspect it’s all a load of crap. Where do we get off teaching our children that they can be whatever they want to be? Does it benefit them to believe that they can, and will, find a job that both fulfills them and affords them the quality of life they desire? Honestly, I don’t think many of those jobs exist and the people who are fortunate enough to have them are the exception, not the rule.
The reality seems to be – from what I have gleaned from my short three decades in this world – that most people trudge through 40-50 hours a week at a job they might like (if they’re lucky) but more likely tolerate, just to have a smidgen of free time on the weekends and the opportunity for a week away twice a year. Most of the time they are struggling to feed their family, provide healthcare coverage and keep a roof over their head. Having a job they love that also affords them a decent living is at best a luxury, at worst a dream-never-come-true.
I’m not blaming our parents for this discrepancy. Maybe they truly believed that we could have it all. They likely had so much more than their parents, if the trend continued their children could have their cake and eat it too. They didn’t foresee the economic crash and the continuing downturn. They weren’t told that their children’s generation would be the first to have less than they did. I don’t think they meant to lie to us, but in the end, I believe they did.
Recently Mel asked “what’s the best and worst thing about being an adult.” Mi.Vida and I promptly agreed that financial responsibilities and stresses were the worst but when it came to the best, our opinions diverged drastically. Mi.Vida believes that the best part about being an adult is you can do or be, whatever you want. I couldn’t disagree with that more.
If that were true I could quit my job and become a writer. Maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow or next year, but some day, if I worked hard enough, I could do it. That is what I was taught and that is what my partner still believes. I used to believe that, I honestly did. Now, frankly, I don’t. My new goal is maybe, if I’m very lucky, I can make enough writing that I can teach part time and write part time. But be a writer? Have my writing pay my rent and insurance and childcare? That is anything but a given, no matter how hard I work. The idea that someone might assume so strikes me as absurd.
In more ways than not, I have lived a charmed life. I was given everything I needed and infinitely more. I set goals and worked hard to achieved them. I went to the university of my dreams. I became a teacher in a good district. I thought I was building the life I wanted. Now I’m not so sure that teaching is for me. I want to stay home with my daughter, I want to write. I want to take pictures and travel to Spanish-speaking countries. I want to do so many things but the reality is I can’t. I also can’t leave my job. And even though teaching is probably not what I want to do, deep down in my heart, the reality is it has to be enough. In all likelihood I am going to be teaching for the rest of my life and I will have to find a way for that to make me happy.
And why shouldn’t it? I enjoy my job as much as I don’t. It’s difficult and stressful and monotonous but it can also be fun and inspiring and challenging. And of course I have breaks during the year and the coveted two months of summer. I chose this profession because it was compatible with a family and when my kids are in school, it will be. And while I’ll never earn much, I can make choices that would ensure job security and the ability to pay my bills. That is more than a lot of people can say. Heck, that is more than 99% of the world can say, who am I to be disappointed?
I’m also fortunate enough to have the choice to write, in my free time, if I’m inspired to do so. Why don’t I focus on that luxury instead of wallowing in the fact that it can’t be my job? Why do I always want more? Was I taught seek unattainable fulfillment? I certainly wasn’t taught not to expect it.
I believe we are encouraged to want too much. Our consumer culture is driven by desire and as parents we haven’t and don’t do enough to counteract that. We need to teach qualities like “perseverance, resiliency, and reality-testing” which the Atlantic article asserts actually lead to success and fulfillment. We need to teach our children, and ourselves, to weather disappointment, to go without. We need to teach gratitude, appreciation, generosity and selflessness. These are skills that will benefit them and us, that might some day provide contentment.
The reality is, we might not get to be what we want to be, or we might have to sacrifice greatly to get there, and the same can befall our children. If certain lessons are learned; that frequently life brings disappointment, that sometimes their is no just reward for our efforts, that we must be grateful for what we have and stop continuously looking for more, that sometimes we won’t be happy, maybe, just maybe, we will wake up one day knowing how to be satisfied with our life.
And maybe some day, if we’re very lucky, we can learn to be truly happy with what we have.