If you ask any parent what they want most for their kids, I'd wager a bet that they'd say "happiness." Too bad there's no manual to tell you how to make that happen. Though that doesn't mean there aren't ones that try.
The attachment parents will tell you to keep them close. The free rangers will tell you to let them roam. And the tiger moms will tell you to go practice your violin, you piece of garbage.
Somehow, we've equated an anti-baby boomer child glorification and a self esteem that is based on achievements and skills with happiness.
But the longer I parent, the more I realize that it's all a trap.
I imagine my method (if you could even call it that) might be seen as lazy. Kids, even the littlest ones, are required to contribute as functional members of the household. Beds made, dishwasher emptied, and if you want clothes to wear you'll help sort and/or fold them depending on your fine motor skill set.
My love for them is shown in hugs and kisses, also punishments and consequences. I'm present when I need to be, and detached when I need to butt out.
And instead of wanting for nothing, my kids want for something. Because I think it's good for them.
I didn't always feel this way, but as I added more kids to my brood and the pressure built up inside me to try to do and be everything at the price of my own livelihood, I realized that I wasn't happy.
And if I'm not happy, then I'm actually depriving my kids of the happiness I want so much for them to have.
Much of this has come not from self-analysis and introspection, but purely out of function. I have a lot of kids, all of whom I parent alone quite often and there's not enough of me to go around. And so, by force of nature, I've had to come to grips with the fact that my kids will always have a store bought birthday cake. Homemade cookies will most often come from a box. And my dinners will never be featured in the pages of Food & Wine magazine.
For this Type-A person, that was tough to swallow. My tendency is to completely outdo myself until there was nothing left of me.
Here lies Kristen Chase: Her kids were bilingual damnit and one time she made a chocolate cake from scratch!
I'm happier as a parent now than I've ever been before. I can hear about my friends' glorious achievements, domestic and otherwise, with pure appreciation and admiration rather than a looming guilt complex and a determination to one up them.
I can give my kids unpeeled carrots and send them off to play with the hose knowing that they'll be just fine.
Maybe even better than fine.
Because sometimes the ordinary is extraordinary. It just depends on how you look at it.
[Postscript: Due to complete lack of sleep, or something like that, I published this without acknowledging the inspiration for this post, my two dear blogging friends Meagan Francis and Kyran Pittman, both of whom, through their writing and most recently their books "The Happiest Mom" and "Planting Dandelions," make the ordinary extraordinary. You will make yourself - or a mom you know and love - very happy by reading these].