Teaching Happiness: Supporting Children into Adulthood

This week was huge in our household. After moving Daniel into an apartment last month, we moved Nathan off to college for his Sophomore year last weekend. We are officially empty nesters. Our oldest, Thomas, gets married in October, which only solidifies the notion that we have adult “children”. The house is quiet.

We are wondering what to do with ourselves after 25 years of managing the lives of 3 busy children. I think it is only natural to look to the future and to be reflective.

Our family conversations have changed lately. Individually and as a family we are all talking more about future goals and what it means to live a happy life. Not that any of us were unhappy previously but we seem to be at a natural point where that is a topic of discussion.

While in graduate school I read Happiness and Education by Nel Noddings. This book and her ideas have been much on my mind lately. The basic premise of the book is part of what we need to learn, as children, to be happy and healthy, are the components of a fulfilled, happy, life.

Noddings discusses the role that happiness and suffering play specifically in education but for me those ideas transfer easily into everyday life. Achievements and recognitions in school and work have value and can be both affirming and exciting but there is more to happiness.

As our family transitions to a new school year, jobs, living situations and marriages I hope that we do not lose sight of the undeniable fact that regardless of age and current situation: we are enough.

Childhood is often described as the “formative” years. The implication being that the years from 0-18 are a time of transition where adults deposit informative lessons that are aimed at making a great person. The value in childhood seems to be in its ability to carry us to adulthood where we become something amazing. Children with Asperger’s face a number of challenges.

Parenting is often a delicate balance between pushing your child towards the next step and recognizing realistic expectations.

College is not for everyone and not all children will live independently. Noddings suggests that we educate for a personal life in addition to the public and work life. Sharing experiences with family and friends, the freedom to pursue a variety of intellectual choices, and communication that builds connection are the building blocks of a happy life.

Happy people are seldom mean, violent or cruel. We live life under construction.

When Daniel was growing up and moving through school I worried a lot about his ability to form friendships, find purpose and to ultimately feel happy. We worried about his ability to graduate from college, find a job and live independently. Talking to him specifically about his future goals, envisioning his adult life, and encouraging him to find activities that provide an outlet for his curiosity are equally as important as discussing career goals.

As I hear about potential cures for Autism and questions about whether or not Asperger’s Syndrome is a legitimate diagnosis – I honestly do not care. I want Daniel to be happy – not a better version of himself, he is already as God intended and the best version of himself. If those discussion improve his life, help him reach his goals or make the world a kinder place them I am all for them.

Since the day he was born Daniel added a unique light, life, and laughter to our family. He has a dry and often sarcastic sense of humor. Daniel has an amazing library of knowledge on movies and has a special interest in classic horror films. He likes to travel and will try a variety of foods. Daniel is kind and when you have a conversation with him he listens with intensity. He has a strong sense of justice and is a caring person. He tries to do the right thing.

Daniel enjoys his job and wants to do well. He is close with his family and continues to work on building friendships. I know that dating is on the horizon and he wants a closer personal relationship. Daniel’s life is good and he is happy. I could not ask for more. Happy people contribute to a happier world.

“Children aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them with your favorite colors.”
― Khaled Hosseini

by Amy Mulholland

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Amy Mulholland

In addition to being a wife and the mother of three sons (and 2 dogs), Dr. Amy Mulholland has 20 years experience as an educator. Her middle son is on the spectrum and in an effort to figure out his life and learning experiences she sought to understand the emotional, social, and educational needs of children that learn differently. Amy has taught preschoolers, middle schoolers, and college students. Additionally, she worked as a parent educator, helping parents understand the unique needs of their children. Amy received her Doctorate of Education in Curriculum and Instruction (Social Education) from the University of Houston in 2009. Most recently, Amy works and volunteers for several local nonprofits that advocate for vulnerable children.

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