I live in a home with two teens and two preteens. In the South, where I live, people tend to respond to this fact by saying, “Oh, bless your heart.”
Yes, bless my heart. Bless it with happiness and strength. For, if there is a theme for our lives right now it is this: Moods rule. Everyone has one. And believe me, they are not afraid to use it.
One moment they’re up. Then, they’re down. They need me to be there for everything, yet they want me to disappear. One minute, they need to talk (Right now! Right this very minute — and no, it cannot wait). Then the next minute, they don’t want to talk about it at all! And God forbid I should ask if something is wrong. It’s none of my business, I’m told.
Emotions blow through my house with the unpredictable force of a hurricane gale. And then leave just as quickly, leaving a peace in their wake that makes you wonder if perhaps you imagined it all.
If I relied upon their happiness to feel happy myself, I would be on one hell of a wild, screaming, nausea and whiplash inducing roller coaster ride.
But I don’t. I can’t be held hostage to their emotions. Or anyone’s emotions really.
Of course it goes without saying that I am happy when they are happy. I rejoice in their happiness. It’s what I want for them more than anything. But I can’t be unhappy when they are. It’s not that I want to ignore their unhappiness. I actually want to be compassionate about their unhappiness. But if I sink when they sink, how can I help guide them to back to the surface where there is fresh, life giving air to breathe?
We have to understand that having compassion for someone else’s sadness or anger or frustration or fear, is not the same as experiencing those emotions on their behalf. When we are compassionate, we are in the lifeboat offering a hand out of the water. We cannot jump into the water and drown to show solidarity. What good would that be?
We can be compassionate and still maintain our spiritual happiness. Spiritual happiness is not the same as incidental happiness. It is not a giddy life-is-a-bowl-of-cherries kind of happiness. Spiritual happiness is a happiness that validates the truth that life itself is a gift. Spiritual happiness is rooted in gratitude for the simple blessing of being. Spiritual happiness is not dependent on the moment-to-moment ups and downs of life. It is a constant. Because life is constant. And though we may lose sight of it, it is always there for us to return to.
There is no greater gift we can give our children than being happy and compassionate people. Because in being spiritually happy and courageously compassionate, we are there for them if and when they need us. And from our example, they will learn that when the wild ride of adolescence subsides, they are also happy and compassionate people, because we have shown them it is possible — and what’s more: worthwhile.
So today I offer you this: Offer your children your happiness. As a gift. No strings attached. They don’t have to accept it. They just need to know it’s there.
I promise you, some day they will treasure it.