Can Growing Up be Fun?

A friend mentioned casually one night that one of the most useful things we can do for our children is to show them how much we enjoy our own lives. "Think of what makes you happy," she said, "and figure out how to have more of that."

What a simple idea, yet how profound. Our children's main idea of what adulthood will look like for them is what they see in their parents' lives. Is that picture something to look forward to, or something to anticipate with dread?

What did my children see in my life, I wondered? Hard work, responsibility, a decent relationship with their father, respect for others, patience (sometimes), a willingness to be fair. Not a bad lot to look forward to, I thought, but certainly not real attractive or fun.

I started thinking about what makes me happy. Ice-skating on a frozen pond in winter--wonderful, but not something I can share with them very often. An undisturbed breakfast with the newspaper--a rare occurrence as well, and one that, by definition, can't happen when the children are around to see. Putting out a good piece of writing--but that, again, works best alone (it's in the middle of the night right now). Being of use to others, helping people untangle the threads of knotty situations and live their lives with more power--fine sounding words, but how do you share such a love with small children?

As I listened to myself consider, and discount each thing that came to mind, I began to wonder if maybe I was really a failure as a role model. Yet the problem seemed to lie more in the discounting. Nothing that made me happy, that voice said, could possible be of any use to my children. What if I took the opposite position: anything that makes me happy is of great use to them, no matter how fleeting or profound. In that case my love of ice-skating, even if seen rarely, will be noticed, and telling them about it, as well as showing it, makes sense.

What if I told them every time I was happy (and there are usually such moments, even in the most humdrum and gray--or even terrible--days)? "I am having such a good time taking this walk with you." "I love the illustrations in this picture book." "isn't the moon beautiful!" "It's so exciting seeing you learn to cook." Often I let those times go by unacknowledged--depriving both them and me of that chance to notice how full of good and rich moments my life is.

And what about those loves that seem too abstract, or "adult," or happen when the children aren't there? What a good challenge, I began thinking, to start sharing those too. Some could come pretty easily: "I just read such a good letter from my sister." "I sure do love your Daddy." "I'm going to teach a class now because I always do on Monday night--and because it's work that I love." "I'm so glad that we can have people from other countries staying in our house." Even as I write, horizons are starting to open. Why not notice how much I love life? Why not share it?

Why not try the ones that are even harder? "I'm really proud of the job I did helping a little girl in pre-school this morning." "I'm so pleased that a man I work with has come to trust me a lot." "I'm buying this for my friend in Uganda because she does such good work and I want to be a part of it." Why not? At worst the context would be missed and it would go over their heads--but they would surely get, and remember, the tone of pleasure in my voice. Or they might ask questions--and we would get a chance to talk about what I love.

In either case, I would get to notice--and I think that's the key. If I can stop and notice what makes me happy, rather than just living each day as a series of obligations to be performed to the best of my ability, then they will surely start getting the idea that adulthood is another very good stage of life.