Parenting 101: A parent’s job is not to make her child happy.

Apart from the difficulty of making other people happy, anyway–trying to control other people’s emotions is pretty much always doomed to failure–happiness, as a goal, is much too transient, much too shallow.

R was probably no more than two years old the first time I had to suffer through this lesson. He needed to take antibiotics. He refused to. Brute force wasn’t working anymore and was also really, seriously unpleasant. So I waited him out. Sixteen years later it still sticks in my memory as some of the most miserable hours of my life. It took about two, maybe three, hours of me saying, “The next thing that I am going to do is help you take your medicine,” and “no, sweetheart, you may not have a snack (story, playtime, walk, video, diaper change, NAP!) until you’ve taken your medicine,” until it was finally in him and we never had to do it again. I spent a lot of time wondering in the moment whether maybe threatening to spank him and/or actually spanking him would be less like torture, but in the long run, I had no regrets. He took his medicine after that, every time it came up.

When he was nine or so, I got to be the mean parent again. We moved to Florida. I can vividly remember being in the car with him as he told me that Florida was a place where people came to die and that he didn’t belong here. It made me laugh, but I did feel bad. But we didn’t move here because I thought he’d be happier here–I thought he had a better chance of getting a better education in a state where I could afford a private school for kids with learning disabilities. I was right. But he wasn’t happy about it.

And then when we moved to our current house, he told me no. He didn’t want to go to the school I’d found for him. He didn’t want to move again. I told him I was sorry he felt that way. Because I’m the mom and it wasn’t my job to say, “let me give you everything you want, let me do what you think will make you happy.” It was my job to look at the choices and do my best with my adult knowledge to do the thing that would help him most in his journey to adulthood.

All that ought to be comforting. And it sort of is. But sometimes being the parent is really hard. I wish I could just make him happy.

Hampshire College in Massachusetts is his first choice of school. But they didn’t come through with the kind of financial aid that would make it possible without him accumulating many, many thousands of dollars in debt — well over the $20K that might be reasonable and up into the $50K range or higher. Part of me wants to be a wishful thinker about it — someday maybe I’ll start earning serious money again and be able to help him pay off those debts — but a lot more of me thinks bankrupting your future because you liked the college town environment is absurd. And so I’m being the bad guy.

It’s really hard.

But Parenting 101: It *is* my job to raise him to be a smart, responsible, independent adult, capable of making realistic choices. My wishful thinking would not serve him well. I will survive being the bad guy this one more time. I do hope it’s the last, though. I’m sick of being the bad guy.