168. Teaching our kids contentment, on purpose

How do we teach our kids contentment? I want to unpack this question from all angles. From why it is hard for us as parents, how we teach them reactively vs on purpose, where the emotion of contentment comes from, the purpose of discontentment and growing our tolerance of discontentment. 



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Hey friends, it’s Shawna, your nerdy girlfriend from simpler purpose.ca. Welcome to Simple on Purpose podcast. So today I am doing one of the last posts until I wrap up the podcast for the summer. I’m going to spend my summer just balancing the two jobs that I have on the go. Finishing up school, I’m almost at the end of my program and being with the kiddos, of course, they’re all going to be home.

But when I come back in the fall, I’m going to be Shawna, your nerdy girlfriend and therapist. See, you’re never too old to find out what you want to be when you grow up.

So to wrap up these episodes, I wanted to get really into what you guys are wanting to hear about what you are wanting more information on more discussion on. So I asked in the Facebook group and on Instagram for topic ideas. And I’ve got some great topic ideas. And the one I want to talk about today was one that I felt deserved a whole episode. Because it’s one that I have thought about so so much in my own life. And the topic is how to teach contentment to your children.

And I have three kids that really run the spectrum depending on the season. And the kid that can either be easily content to make the best of things or easily discontent and struggle to see the good and things. And really, it’s easy to deal with the kid who’s content, right? That’s easy. And if I’m honest, I crave easy, I want it to be easy. Man is coming into a lot of trouble earlier on in parenting, just wanting it to be easy.

So I think when we’re talking about contentment, we really have to start with a conversation between what’s the difference of being happy or content, because they are two different things.

Happy is a reaction to having the conditions around you that you want happy is having what you want. Things are going how you want them, you’re getting your way you’re happy. Content is more of an intention. It’s finding satisfaction, despite getting what you want. I really like the comparison, that happy is having what you want and content is wanting what you have.

And in the past, I’ve addressed this idea of raising happy kids, because there were so many years where I just wanted, I would say I just want my kids to be happy. And I think we say that a lot. I just want them to be happy. I think we actually really just want them to be content. I feel like happiness as a parenting goal. It’s very defeating, and maybe even counterproductive. Because happy happens when the conditions are ideal. That makes happiness subjective, right? What makes my kid happy is not always good for them. But it’s happiness to them. What makes me happy, is not happy, like conditions to my kids. To me, I will be really happy if everyone was super chill in the house. And we could like snuggle up on the couch together, watch the amazing race eat popcorn, but to them, all three kids, they all have different definitions of happy.

And some of them are not healthy definitions either. The other thing to remember about happy is that happiness is temporary. Because as the situation changes, the emotions will dissipate. And if we’re spending our life just trying to be happy, we spend our life chasing that chasing that emotion.

A problem that we have is that we live in a culture that’s obsessed with happiness, we think and even maybe you think it deep down and you don’t acknowledge it, that happiness should be a default state. And it’s the ideal state that if I’m not happy, something’s wrong with me. And if you want to dig into this, one of the best books I’ve ever read on it is called the happiness trap by Russ Harris. I also talk about the hustle for happiness. In episode I think 66 I’ll link it in the show notes, whatever episode it is.

So this question of teaching our kids contentment? How do we teach our kids contentment? Like what are you doing to teach them contentment? And I’ve asked myself this question, because it’s something I want my kids to learn. But I see that I teach them in ways that maybe I don’t really want to teach them. One way that can be really common, and I was doing it a lot in early parenthood is invalidating their emotions and just pushing them to be happy, like just slap on happy, it wasn’t processing, what was upsetting them, I wasn’t validating their emotions and walking them through them. I was essentially telling them pretend to be happy. Like that’s a solution that we turned to as a culture, just pretend you’re happy.

Another one that I think lots of us grew up with is guilt. If you’ve ever heard about the kids in the world who didn’t have this or that you should be grateful. And then another one we think is going to work is deprivation. We think that if we withhold from our kids, and we give them kind of scarcity, that we’re going to teach them to think with contentment and abundance, but it actually does the opposite. It actually keeps them in a scarcity mindset. I’ve only ever found that showing up and offering contentment and abundance just perpetuates that.

And then I think about how I have learned contentment. How have you learned contentment over the years and maybe we need to think about this a bit more before we tried to teach it to our kids. I don’t really remember if I was content, younger, I think I just denied a lot of my own needs and desires and it looked like contentment on the outside. I started to learn contentment about when I first went out into the world, and kind of saw what it was like to live on your own and live life.

I think I learned later in my 20s. That contentment was something I could find. When I stopped avoiding discontentment. I was I really had the mindset that it wasn’t okay to be unhappy. So I would wrestle with the idea of discontentment a lot, that there was something wrong with me something wrong with my life. In the you know, just over the years of coaching people and talking with people and especially learning about the Enneagram. I think that some of the most discontent people are the ones who struggle with allowing themselves to feel discontentment. They don’t ever want to feel negative emotions. So they’re in a constant pursuit of what they think is going to make them feel better. But it’s also a constant avoidance of their actual life and their actual motions. And that it never addresses life, they never can process it. It never acknowledges that life is actually hard and awesome. Both things, right, just like I talked about, in Episode 162.

I definitely learned contentment a lot more into my early 30s, when I realized I was forcing a lot of idealized views onto what my life should look like onto what the people in my life should look like. And letting go of my version of Happy helped me develop an appreciation for what was right in front of me. Right, that was the hurdle realizing I had these checklists for everything and everyone, and then letting go of that checklist in sake of what was right there in front of me. I learned contentment as I started to get rid of things in my home that I didn’t want anymore, I learned that I didn’t need all these things to make me happy.

I learned contentment when I became willing to do hard things because they were things that mattered. They were things in line with my values.

So maybe we never just get there. Maybe it’s something we’re constantly learning. And maybe it’s also something we have to learn as we become adults, and our brain fully develops and we engage in the world. And I really think maybe we learn contentment by learning that it’s okay sometimes to not be content to struggle with that. So I do think it’s tricky to teach our kids about contentment.

As you know, what makes it even trickier is if you see a kid socially who seems content, and you’re like, what are their parents doing right? What am I doing wrong? And you know, I have three kids that run the gamut. So sometimes I compare them and I’m like, what, what’s the difference here. And anytime as a parent, you use what you see socially as a marker of where you should be. Anytime you do this, as a parent, I want to encourage two things. One, remember things are not what they may seem. Because this may be a kid who denies their own desires, their own ideas, has become conflict avoidant and compliant. That’s how I felt as a kid growing up. And you know, maybe I even see it and one of my kids, the one who can find contentment most easily is more likely the one who’s going to dismiss their own emotions for the purpose of keeping the peace.

The other thing that’s really important to remember when you’re looking at other kids and thinking their parents are doing it right, and I’m doing it wrong, is that every kid has different lessons to learn at different times in their life. There’s no, like standardized testing for contentment, and 11 year olds, there’s no milestone chart. And it doesn’t make you inferior as a parent, it doesn’t make your kid inferior. It just means your struggles look different than theirs. Because I guarantee you every parent and child is struggling in a different way.

I really liked this question that was brought for this topic. How do we teach my kids contentment? Because I think we have to ask why. Why do you want your kids to be content? This is important because this is your motivation, right? So often the answer to that why do I want my kids to be content? Is because when your kid is content, what do you get to feel? This is why we want anything because of how we think it will make us feel and I’m not shaming you. Because I do the same thing. It is human.

As a mom, if my kids are content, I get to feel satisfied. Like I’m doing it right. And I think I have felt this since they were babies if they were content, I did all the things a mother should check check check guy was successful. And I think that becomes a marker of success for us as parents is if our kids are content. But I also quickly learned with my second child who was discontented Baby, that it wasn’t that straightforward, because this baby cried all the time she had reflux. And I eventually went off gluten and dairy to help ease their symptoms. But she had been crying for so long, 20 minute naps on me, I’d have to rock her constantly through the day.

And if I was measuring my success as a mother by her contentment, which I was, then I was a failure, which I constantly felt like a failure. And over the years, really, that experience has helped me to redefine how I measure my success as a parent.

Instead of measuring it on maybe what others say about me, I talked about that in the confidence episodes, or how my kids are acting, how content or happy they are, those can’t be my measurements of success, I need to transfer into me what I’m in control of, and I’m want to measure success by me showing up with my own values as a mum. So I have this baby who always cries, am I a successful Mum, I can view myself as a successful mum, when I show up for her in a way that I feel is genuine to me and in line with my values. I can’t solve what she’s going through. I can do as much as I can to ease it. But all I can do is show up with patience and love and compassion for her and be there through it.

Another question we ask alongside this topic, how to teach our kids contentment is what is hard about seeing your kids feel discontent? Why is it hard as a parent to tolerate that, and I used to have a very low tolerance for discontentment in my children. This was definitely passed down to me from my parents. And it’s important for us to pay attention to as parents, our tolerance for our kids negative emotions, their discontentment because it changes how we parent.

That’s why we need to pay attention to it. When our tolerance is low. For any emotion, your kid might struggle with it, maybe it’s discontentment maybe it’s anger, maybe it’s jealousy, whatever emotion your kid goes through, that is a struggle for you, your tolerance is low. Notice how it makes you act.

And I know it makes me panicky, I feel an urgency just make them content, make them happy again. And this takes us out of being intentional with how we show up as parents. And it makes us parent this issue from a reactive place an urgent place a panicky place. So to deal with this discontent kid with that kind of low tolerance and panicky feeling inside of us. We’re going to just jump to things like guilt on how they have it’s so good and they should be happy. We’re going to deprive them of luxuries to show them what it’s like. We’re going to nag them to just be happy. Push it down, put on a happy face. And what’s happening when we do that is we’re being discontent about their discontentment. We’re mirroring it right back to them. Essentially, we’re doing the thing that we’re telling them not to do. We do this all the time. By the way, in all relationships, we mirror people’s bad attitudes, right back to them. Have you ever yelled at your kid to stop yelling? Like, do that all the time? And like, here we go. I’m mirroring. But it’s because we are coming from a place where our tolerance is low. And why is our tolerance low because we make it mean we’re unsuccessful if they’re discontent, and because we also don’t know how to sit with that discomfort because it is uncomfortable, right? When your people around you are unhappy, it is uncomfortable to sit and hold space for that.

I think a really important shift that can be helpful is to decide to teach your kids contentment intentionally instead of reactively. So I want to talk about some things to consider when you want to teach your kids about contentment. One thing that is really helpful is to understand where this emotion of contentment comes from. This helps you keep this in mind as a parent and then you can start teaching it to your kids as they get older. And the emotion of discontentment or contentment either. The emotion comes from our thinking.

This is the cognitive behavioral therapy framework. I use it for coaching. It’s a really powerful framework to use and it is evidence based as a treatment that can produce change. I do have some past episodes on that. I’ll make sure to link them in the show notes as well. So I want to give you an example of understanding where emotions come from as a parent and then as a kid, so I want to give you the situation where your kid says I don’t want this for dinner. If we think about this situation, my kid is so ungrateful. How do you feel? You’d probably be feeling resent or frustration. Essentially, you’re ungrateful about them being ungrateful now, if you thought my kid says I don’t eat dinner and you thought of course you don’t want like, I would rather want all my favorite foods too. How are you feeling now? For me when I think that about my kids because I have to do this work myself too. Is I feel more accepting maybe even amused? Like, of course you don’t want all these foods done? Like, who would who wants to eat vegetables? Now as a kid, imagine your kid is looking at a room full of their toys. And they have to thought I want new toys, or I want the toy they have? Or I want a toy that does this. How do they feel they feel dissatisfied? If they had a thought of, oh, that’s my favorite toy, I’m gonna go play with it. Or, hey, I have a friend over we can play these toys together. They’re feeling differently. They’re feeling engaged, maybe excited about their toys.

So one thing to think about, though, especially with kids is how realistic is it for my child to think these thoughts, because some of them feel pretty mature, right? To get to that point where you are choosing contented thoughts. Because that’s really not the default operation mode of our brain, the default operation mode of our brain, avoid pain, seek pleasure, be efficient, but it’s also scanning for what could go wrong in the environment. It’s scanning for what needs to be fixed.

There is a natural discontentment in us, especially for kids, and sometimes they want to be discontent. And maybe it’s not a bad thing, right? Every emotion has a purpose. And feeling discontent has the job of telling us that things aren’t up to a standard, we desire something more or different. So if we allow for the discontentment and we decide, we can get curious about what this emotion is telling us. Maybe we could see areas in our life that we want to improve. Maybe it could serve our kids in some way. If they can use this discontent motion in a healthy way. Does that make sense? What I’m trying to say is that there are no wrong emotions.

Our kids feeling discontent doesn’t make them wrong, or bad or make us failures as parents, because every emotion has purpose. And if we can teach our kids to pay attention, okay, you’re feeling discontent, you longing for something more you longing for something different? What’s that about? Do you think you could get it? Do you think it’s attainable? That that emotion could actually serve our kids right to make amazing changes in the world? Of course, it swings the other way where we get stuck in the spiral. And it’s hard for our brain to give just as much airtime to the things that make us happy, right? This is a human experience that we need to consciously think positively. And engage the good things is why gratitude journals exist for adults, right? This isn’t just something we’re naturally inclined to always see the good, that would not be self protective. We would not be looking for all the dangers around us and all the ways we aren’t meeting the social standard.

So discontentment. It’s a natural state. It can be useful for us. And as kids, sometimes they just want to be cranky about things. Sometimes they do, right? Whenever my kids are upset, and I try to help them figure out what emotion they’re feeling. Okay, you’re sad, you’re this happened or you’re angry that happened? Do you want to just be sad for a little bit longer? Or do you want like some help? And that’s how I opened up the conversation to them. Do you want to feel this a little longer? Or do you want help, because I want to show them, there’s no wrong feelings. There are unhealthy actions you can take for those feelings. So let’s process these feelings and work on the actions because in my opinion, it’s the actions that need standards and limits how you treat people, how you treat our physical space, how you treat your environment, how you treat yourself even. But the feelings don’t need limits. You can feel that feeling.

All this to saying teaching your kids about the power of their thoughts is very helpful. them understanding that their thoughts can create their emotions. It’s really important as a parent, not to just tell them what to think. But instead, let them notice the connection and get curious about that. There’s a great book that I came across, was just left at my church actually, and I brought it home and read it to my son and it was really, really helpful. I’ll link that in the show notes by Louise Hay. And there’s a great podcast that I listened to with my kids. And it’s called the big life podcast all around teaching your kid teaching kids how to have a growth mindset, paying attention to their thoughts, thinking that things are possible, they can be resilient. It’s a great podcast.

Okay, I know we’re gonna go over time in this episode, but let’s see it through. Another thing is you’re teaching your kid about contentment that is worth considering, is contentment really comes from living a life that we value, right? It’s not from having what we want, but from having what we value certain. So encouraging our kids to start thinking about what is important to them, and to see the difference between the happiness that’s marketed to them the happiness, we’re told by the world that we need, what happiness needs to look like. And you know, as an adult, we start to shed those layers and shed those beliefs and stop chasing everyone’s definition of success and happiness. And we start to turn it In Word and get to know ourselves, and what we personally value and this is where contentment is. And it takes time, right? Remembering It is natural for our kids to be discontent, and even adults, they are still forming their model of what the world looks like.

A lot of you moms shared with me that you notice your kids are most discontent, when they compare when they notice what other kids have that they don’t have. And comparison is a natural part of socializing to a culture. We know that if we want to be part of this social network, we need to see where we stand with others. We need to see how we’re supposed to do it, especially as a kid, we’re looking around the world and thinking, How are we supposed to do life.

So it is so natural that they’re comparing, it’s so natural for them to look around what their friends have what their friends are doing. And that kind of creates this mental model of the world, and how it should look and what they need to do, to not just be part and fit in. But this is what life should look like. I mean, any culture you go to, you’re creating children that look within the culture on how that life should look like. It’s comparison is just a natural part of socializing yourself.

And as adults, we’ve learned comparison has its limits. And that is what we need to start teaching our kids not be content with what you have, as much as comparison will steal your joy. Comparison will make you forget what you do have. So encouraging your kids to know what the value contentment isn’t about having what we want. It’s about having what we value.

Minimalism really taught me this, I mentioned that before, keeping what I wanted the most, and removing the distractions, removing the stuff. And I’m left with just the things I like the most. And I think my closets just the simplest example. I have gotten rid of things that don’t fit things I don’t love to wear. And now when I look at my closet, I’m like, I love all of these things. I can just wear anything, and I’m going to like it. That’s a physical example. But going through the process of minimalism and doing that physically, it also changes your approach to life and to relationships, where you focus on what you value, I value connection, I value fun, I find contentment in those things, even when they’re hard. And as parents as families, and in this culture, we clutter up our lives. We clutter up our homes, and we just have so much stuff and activities that are just so so they’re fillers almost for some of us.

So getting your kids to inquire within having these conversations, what toys do you love the most? What activities? Do you find the most enjoyable? If you had to just pick one thing? What would it be? What about your friendships are important to you? What do you love about your families start to really help your kids tap into what’s important to them? What are their values, and there’s they need to look inward for this rather than externally. And this is the struggle, because they are still children developing models of the world. They do look externally to answer these questions. So they’re not going to get it, they’re not going to get it right away. But it’s a gradual conversation, like a seed you plant. And slowly the plant grows slowly, slowly.

Another consideration when we’re teaching contentment is that we learn to be content with what we have, we start to view it as maybe something really special, even when we can see different life experiences when we can see that some people lack the things we take for granted. Most parents could say we know how good our kids have it. We want them to know how good they have it. But how we teach it really matters.

How many of us grew up hearing about the starving children, and we’re at the dinner table and your parents are talking about starving kids. It didn’t make us suddenly grateful for food. Probably not it probably created this shame based culture around how we approach food.

And I’m so bad for this. If we’re watching a TV show, I started to make comments about oh, notice how their life is and how their life is. And I kind of hope my kids will have an epiphany. But the only epiphany they’ve had so far is that I try to force life lessons and morals onto them in every TV watching experience. And I’m really trying to stop that because my own has called me out on it. But this is a matter of letting them view the world and start to question it and start to notice it rather than telling them what to think.

The other day, my oldest came home from school and said they had learned about the birth rates and the death rates in the world. And there’s this website where you can see the population constantly changing and adjust every second. And they were learning about the different causes of deaths and the different births. And my oldest said, Did you know people in the world still die of starvation. And part of me was like, yes, we’ve talked about this many times over dinner, you know this, but the other part of me realized he learned this in a context that felt relevant and poignant to him and that is the best way for him to learn it. And instead of me starting to drill into him how good he has it. I want to talk to him about how he feels about that instead.

So I’m teaching myself to take more of a backseat approach. Other great things do show different life experiences, volunteering for things, getting involved helping others, giving back to others, watching different shows where there are different life circumstances, doing donation days having, I do lots of donating and declutter a lot. And I encourage my kids to do it. And they also like the idea of passing on their stuff, to the idea of like, it goes to another little buddy in town who could use it. Another great way to teach contentment is to have them earn things save up for things do chores in order to get luxuries in order to get the above and beyond, we talk about ways that they can earn that. And sometimes it just feels great to treat them to just give them a gift out of love. But I think just the foundation of them understanding the value that has to go into getting what they want, is something that they’ve experienced, and I think it draws out more contentment in them naturally.

Some takeaways in all of this, be intentional with the ways you want to teach it be intentional with how you teach contentment, rather than it being a reactive thing. And in order for us to start doing this, we need to start to tolerate discontentment in our children, when we can stop needing them to feel content. In order for us to feel like we are successful parents if we can kind of take that job away from them, and look inward for a measurement of success. And allow the space for them to have an emotional experience for whatever reason they’re choosing to have that emotional experience. And sometimes they have good reasons to be discontent.

Let me just say that we often demand contentment in situations that even adults would have a hard time with. How often do you pout when you don’t get your way? I know I do. I’m just sneaky about it. How often do we feel gross and uncomfortable when we’re hurt by a sibling, or reprimanded by a parent or we feel off with our friends and we feel gross and uncomfortable? How hard is it for us as even adults to override our dissatisfaction when we aren’t just not feeling it? It is hard for us to recover. When we’re upset at our partner or upset at our kids or something tough is happening. It is hard, contentment is hard, even for adults. So let’s be careful about not demanding our kids perform content contentment without really understanding that we struggled to.

And it’s also our job to model it for them. If we want our kids to do it. Don’t you hate this realization that you have as a parent, that we have to model it to them. We have to practice contentment ourselves. Talk to your kids about what your content about let them hear that narrative. Let them hear where you struggle with discontentment and how you would like to learn how to be content. Tell your kids you’re content with them, express contentment towards them, let them know that they are a source of contentment in your life. And they don’t have to be perfect in order for you to enjoy them. Because that’s the thing, right? situations don’t have to be perfect in order for us to feel that satisfaction.

Finally, in all of this, and this is a lesson that I feel like I struggle with as a parent, and I keep coming back to it in my brain is it’s the long game, give your kids the opportunities to practice, know that they’re going to screw up, they’re not going to get 100% right away. Every time. They are going through the prep the processes of training their brain, they’re going to make mistakes, they’re going to make the wrong choice. Sometimes they’re going to choose the wrong thing sometimes. All of this takes time you are planting the seeds and watering it and hopefully they will tend to that plant as they get older.

So thank you so much to my Instagram friend who asked this question. I will be doing the next episode on the rest of the questions that were asked in the Facebook group. If you wanted to add some there. You can stop by the Facebook group and put in your questions on the post thread for that.

Stop by the shownotes if you want more resources, I’m going to try and list as many books as and as many podcasts as I can think that are related or support this topic if you want to dig deeper into that.

Alright friends, as always, I love sharing this time with you guys. Please leave a rating and review if you’re so inclined. And have a great week.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai


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