What's Tony Thinking

All We Want Is for You To Be Happy


“All we want is for you to be happy.” It’s a line that parents often say to their kids. Is it a helpful sentiment?

I suppose it depends a good deal on the context and the relationship. I can imagine it could be expressed in a kind and loving way. But I can also imagine otherwise.

It could mean, “Will you please stop having issues and just be happy?” “Will you stop bothering me/ us with your questions, confusion, irritability and screw-ups, and just get happy!”

I mean who doesn’t want a happy kid? A happy child is a true delight. But who gets a kid that is happy all the time? No one, so far as I can tell.

“All we want is for you to be happy,” may be a the original passive-aggressive move. It sounds nice, even loving. But it can contain within it a judgment. “Clean up your act,” “straighten yourself out,” “stop bothering me” — be happy.

Is there a better alternative?

How about this? “I love you and will always love you, no matter what.” My guess is that this is what most kids, and people, need to hear, and not, “All we want is for you to be happy.”

As loving and concerned as “All I want is for you to be happy,” may sound, it has the distinct ring of what Scripture calls “the law.” You must be happy. You should be happy. For God’s sake, will you just be happy!” It comes with a judgment and an expectation. Way worse, it can be a way of saying to a kid that unless they manage happiness (or fake it), they are responsible for a parent’s unhappiness.

“I will always love you, no matter what,” is on the other hand, what Scripture calls “grace.” It’s a gift. You are loved, no matter what. You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to do anything. It is just how it is. As your Mom or your Dad, I am hopelessly bound to you in love and devotion, even though you may — and surely will — drive me crazy at times.

Being a parent is, as the writer Wendell Berry once observed, “a blessed trial” and “a vexed privilege.” It asks a lot of a person and a couple  — and it gives a lot as well. But what it asks most of all is that our love is not conditional, not a reward for good behavior or achievement or happiness. It abides. It doesn’t mean you never correct or discipline a child. It does mean that your correction and re-direction does not invalidate the baseline of “I will always love you, no matter what.”

And, if you as a parent, fail at times in this respect, well, parents too need forgiveness and can ask for it.

Can such a love be abused? Sure, just ask the father in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15: 11 – 32). I’m sure it felt crappy when his younger son insisted on having his share of the estate right this minute (in the norms of ancient culture effectively treating his father as if he were already dead), and then went off and wasted all of it. Such a love can be presumed upon, take for granted, misunderstood and betrayed.

But it is also only this kind of love that allows a child to grow up secure, free and maybe even happy.


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