In the kids home I work in there is a fake chalk board hanging on the wall with a recipe for happiness printed on it. You may have seen the kind of thing, “1 cup of kindness, a pinch of understanding…” etc. Suffice to say – I hate it.
I hate it partly because of a personal aversion to twee nonsense of this kind. I hate it partly because the thinking behind putting it there is so simplistic. Is it really meant to have an impact on the children? Should they read it and think: “Oh right, problem sorted”? Perhaps I am over complicating things but it strikes me that the young people’s emotional and psychological health issues may be more embedded than that.
But I mainly hate it because I think it set’s up the idea that happiness is the goal. That happy is what the children should be. If the kids believe this it is only going to make them more miserable: “I am meant to be happy, other people are happy and I am not.” Making happiness the goal is the very definition of setting someone up to fail. Because of course other people are not happy – not consistently happy anyway. There is a range of human emotions – all of which are appropriate at different times and all of which add to the richness of human experience.
So, what do I want for the children? What is it that I, as an individual care worker, am hoping to achieve?
Well, I want them to be able to form meaningful and emotionally fulfilling relationships. But who am I to define what “meaningful” is? How do I define “emotionally fulfilling”?
I want them to have a reasonable education and to be able to get OK jobs. But what is an OK job? A job that I would do? Well, I want them to be aspirational and not settle for a McJob but does that make me just as bad as the person who wants them to be “happy”?
I don’t have answers, I am thinking as I type. Out of all the children I have looked after I have only come across two, several years later, when they were adults. One, when I had a brief career change, and was working at a homeless hostel. He was a client – in other words homeless. The other sent me a message via Facebook – basically to thank me. In the exchange of messages that followed it transpired she was a heroin addict. I definitely did not want either of these two things.
Although she told me the gear was the only thing that helped her feel OK, so who am I to judge. I would definitely want her to feel OK.
I am training to be a child counsellor at the moment. I might see a kid in a school say, for eight sessions. What will I be trying to achieve? What, when you boil it down, will be the point?
The best I can come up with is: I want to help them be in the world in a way that does not cause harm to themselves or others. That is setting the bar quite low don’t you think?
This is how I feel today. Tomorrow may be different.