While awaiting a connecting flight at Dallas Love Field, this writer observed a number of small children traveling with their mother. They were a fine looking bunch, and all seemed cheerful. A male flight attendant then commented to their mother, “As long as they’re happy, that’s what’s important.” However, while the sight of happy children is wonderful indeed, their happiness is not the measuring stick of successful child rearing.
Having a child’s happiness as a parent’s primary goal is not conducive to successful child rearing. Clearly, children are not happy when being disciplined; so a parent seeking his children’s happiness at all costs and all times would not discipline his children. Yet proper discipline is crucial to a child’s upbringing: “Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell” (Prov. 23:14). Parents are warned, “Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying” (19:18). But refusing to discipline children and giving them everything they want spoils them, and leaves them never satisfied. Parents who do everything in their power to maintain their children’s happiness usually have miserable children.
A major problem with using happiness as the measuring stick of successful child rearing is that “happiness” can be very ambiguous. The Oxford American College Dictionary defines “happy” as “feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.” While it is certainly true that “he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast” (Prov. 15:15) and that “a merry heart doeth good like a medicine” (17:22), making happiness the ultimate end has justified many unjustifiable means. Some are able to find pleasure in immorality, such as recreational drug and alcohol use or extramarital sex. However, those who continue therein “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), and thus “shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12). Some take their pleasure at the expense of others; yet such shall eventually receive miseries (Jas. 5:1-5). And many of these find themselves very content in their unjustifiable means of seeking happiness. Others may indeed “show pleasure or contentment,” but they are truly neither pleased nor content. After many a teenage suicide, the dead child’s parents have lamented, “But he seemed so happy!” As Solomon found long ago, true happiness will never be found unless one determines to “Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl. 12:13).
The flight attendant who made the statement “As long as they’re happy, that’s what’s important” likely was not attempting to provide sound advice for child rearing. He probably was expressing his appreciation for the sight of happy children, a sentiment shared by this writer. However, there are far too many parents who do make their children’s “happiness” their nebulous goal. Let each parent instead heed the inspired instruction, “And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). No, children’s apparent happiness is not what is important; what is important is that they are taught to become faithful Christians for the remainder of their lives.