Remember that card game we used to play called ‘Happy Families,’ where you had to match cards to build a complete nuclear family? Despite the myriad ways in which that game is now appallingly politically incorrect, its core message was: obtain happiness to win – and complete families make for convivial living. Really?
We live in an age of single parent households, for heaven’s sake. In 2013 The South African Institute of Race Relations reported that only 33% of our children live with both parents, but, as I was always at pains to stress with my own children: we may have had a single parent home, but we did not have to be a broken home and, unlike the card game, we can prevail even in our ‘incompleteness.’
The remnant of that ancient phenomenon ‘the diligent parent’ in me is still drawn to articles entitled ‘5 Ways to have a happier family’ and ‘10 tips for raising teens with no issues.’ (I read a cute one that ran out before the strained writer reached 10 points, so it remained ‘9 strategies for emotionally stable adolescents’) Now far be it for me to knock the conscientious pop psychology of a favourite magazine or negate the zeal of a well-intentioned newly minted counsellor, or, God-forbid, challenge the oeuvre of esteemed academic research, but, seriously, ‘stable adolescents’ is an oxymoron at best and at worst a denial of an integral aspect of human growth: coping with change. I met a doctor once who asserted quite calmly that teenagers were clinically insane. I wouldn’t go as far as the good doctor, but I have yet to meet a human being without ‘issues’ let alone an adolescent who doesn’t run the gamut of emotions from delirious buoyancy to Gothic angst in one day – unless he is in denial – but I suppose we could all do with being ‘happier.’
What many fail to realise that oftentimes the route to real, profound happiness is not a Brady Bunch adventure or Pollyanna-like family fun. That primrose path leads to overindulgence which borders on believing in the Kardasianesque illusion.
For what it is worth, my next few posts will identify some of my discoveries along my Odyssey as parent, educator and school leader.
They may help you, appal you, or inspire you. Or they’ll just make you laugh at my ineptness and allow you to pat yourself on the back with amused schadenfreude about not being as bad as ‘that woman who thinks she knows what’s what.’