I hold a silent grudge against New Year’s resolutions, knowing somewhere in my psyche that the beginning of the year isn’t some Golden Ticket to enlightenment, but rather a good excuse to make promises to myself that I rarely keep. Perhaps, I wondered this year, my past resolutions have simply been too transparent. Sure, they sound wholesome – I’ll use my expensive juicer and make Chlorella smoothies every morning, I’ll skate ski after work – but really, all those vows are simply a veiled way of saying, “I’d like to fit into my skinny jeans.”
So to start 2010, I’ve made a new kind of New Year’s oath. It has nothing to do with my chocolate-stuffed exterior, and everything to do with my subtly starved interior.
In the quest for that all-important halo of “success,” in which you’ve molded a picture-perfect family, reached the apex of your professional aspirations and you still fit into your skinny jeans, you can lose sight of what might actually make you happy. And isn’t happiness, really, the ultimate goal?
As a baby-shower gift, a girlfriend gave me a subscription to the online parenting publication Growing Child. On the first of every month, I receive a series of essays and parenting tips focused on my child’s current stage of development; this month’s issue includes “How to Avoid Bedtime Uproar” and “Learning by Imitation.”
It also includes a section called “Growing Parent,” whereby you can dissect your own development as a parent. The timing of this month’s essay couldn’t have been more fitting.
It begins: “All our lives we look for the things that can give us happiness, but all the while that very feeling lies within us. Real happiness comes not from riches but from doing something worthwhile.”
It goes on to describe being a parent as the most worthwhile job you could ever have, and how your actions as a parent dictate how your child sees him or herself in the world: Do they feel worthwhile? By developing an early conviction that their very existence is valuable, children tend to grow up into adults holding a healthy “self-concept.” Self-concept, or the belief in one’s worth (or lack thereof, as the case may be) plays a big role in a person’s life achievements, or happiness. High-concept people bounce back from adversity. Low-concept people don’t.
The essay describes self-concept not as something a child is born with, but rather something that develops over time, and is shaped almost entirely by a child’s home life.
“Homes where each family member is valued, where there is freedom to take risks, and where there is permission to grow and change, are likely to produce high self-concept in children,” it says.
Motherhood is the most important, fulfilling, worthy job I’ve ever had. It’s also the most difficult. It can be so damn hard to not let stresses over money (and the desire to have more) and marriage (and how living with someone you love can drive you crazy) get in the way of what really is important.
Happiness bounces haphazardly around the life of a mother of a 2-year-old. It’s peeking out of the closet, waiting breathlessly for you to find her. It’s banging on a Little Tykes piano, screaming “Dance ev-y-body!” It’s at the dinner table, wearing mashed potato gloves.
My New Year’s resolution this year is to catch these cheerful little tumbleweed moments and celebrate them for what they are: The pint-sized components of a truly happy year.