I was swinging in my hammock swing reading a book the other day and daydreaming about having enough vegetables and fruit to sell at the farmers’ market. I was thinking that I would need a name for my little enterprise. One of the names that bubbled up was, “Mama’s Happy Homestead” (in keeping with the Mama Made Them “brand”).
But immediately a sarcastic voice popped into my head and put left “Happy” dripping with sarcasm. It made me think of the emotionally scarred children of hippies and fundamentalists whose parents idealistic lifestyle ended up not producing the perfect home that they intended.
And it got me thinking: “what makes a happy home?” How can we conduct our everyday lives to ensure that our homes really are happy?
I know the quote, “Ask yourself whether you are happy and you cease to be so.” (John Stuart Mill) And I think there is some truth to that, but not entirely. If I ask myself whether I’m happy, the answer always comes back Yes. Sure there are details that are missing from my “ideal” life, but I always find myself so tickled that I can raise my son and do work that I love from my own home, that all the other stuff doesn’t really matter.
But just because I am happy, doesn’t mean that my son is (or if I were married and had other kids that the rest of my family is happy). What makes a happy home?
Well, what makes a happy human?
Ha, I am in way over my head, so don’t expect any philosophical treatises on the nature of happiness or anything like that. Let’s keep it simple.
People need to be able to exercise their free will–even children! There are certain limits that we all live under, but children need to be able to feel like they have control over their lives. For us this means that my son doesn’t go to school unless he wants to (to date, he hasn’t wanted to), he isn’t forced to learn anything either. As a parent, it is a constant balancing act between the freedom we can allow and the things which we just can’t. But I have found that the more freedoms you allow, the more trust you gain that the kids can handle it.
A happy home begins and ends with love. And with love we come back to the idea of freedom. A love that controls, that constantly finds fault, a love that doesn’t know when to let go, isn’t the kind of love we want for ourselves, so it shouldn’t be the kind of love that we give our families.
But love also means time together, in fact that is the main way that children (and even adult partners) experience love. Wanting to be around someone. Enjoying their company. Doing things that they enjoy. These are all ways to show love.
Love also means acceptance. How many grown men and women still feel threatened because they feel that their parents do not accept them? Whether it’s their career path, their religion (or the lack thereof), their lifestyle, a lack of acceptance equals a lack of feeling loved. Love means not trying to make your kids into what you wish you were or even what you are.
There can be precious little happiness where we feel threatened. Whether this threat is from physical violence (spankings included) or from emotional/verbal violence, it takes a toll on our mental health. Twice I have lived in situations (as an adult) where there was tension, and you always had to watch your back and be careful what you said, and it’s a terrible way to live. Think how many millions of children live like that their whole childhood.
Safety also means just that: That someone is watching out for us. That there is someone to catch us when we fall. As a believer in freedom, it’s a constant struggle to find the balance between protecting and enabling. The answer (though far from definitive) is to let the child determine your level of involvement. For a baby that means you will be holding them a lot, because that is what makes them feel safe. As a toddler, they’ll want you around. As they get bigger, they will take more and more freedom, but rarely more than they can handle. The important thing is being around to catch them when they’ve bit off more than they can chew.
I have found that allowing my son to determine on his own what he can handle (from climbing on the playground equipment as a crawler to weaning himself to walking over to his friends’ houses on his own to crossing the busy road) has allowed him to become stronger and more capable every day. But I didn’t just throw him out there to figure it out on his own, which would have been scary and threatening. I spotted him on the jungle gym when he was just learning how to climb. I was there to nurse him or not when he needed it until he weaned himself. I walked with him many times to many different places before he started going by himself.
These are my top three things that make a happy home, and I feel that they encompass most other smaller things that I thought of as well.
Far from being a checklist, this list must be a constant reminder. Something we come back to again and again, especially when things are hard and busy, because they are a matter of course. Of course we want our children to be free and feel loved and safe, but we need to check and make sure that our actions are following our words. And as they get older (especially teenagers), check in with them and see how they perceive the happiness of their home and be open to what they say even if it is hurtful.
What about you? What do you think makes a happy home? Did I leave anything out?