Maddie has the most gigantic, happy smile I have ever seen. It’s the kind of smile that you only see on a child’s face. Unfortunately, somewhere along the road to adulthood it disappears and is replaced by the dull, weary smile of an adult. 

As a parent of a very young child I’ve been thinking about this a lot of late, and wondering if there’s a way that I might be able to help Maddie somehow hold onto her smile of pure joy. The more I think about it, however, the less it seems possible. After all, look at some of the ways we abuse our children’s smiles:

We make our children smile by telling them about a jolly, fat man who flies around the world in a magical sleigh and brings them gifts…

…only for them to learn that everyone they ever trusted has been lying to them about this.

We make our children smile by telling them there is a giant Easter bunny who will drop by their home giving them candy…

…only for them to learn later that, like Santa (and all the magic in the world), the Easter Bunny does not exist.

We make our children smile by telling them they can become anything they want in life…

…only for them to learn that innumerable factors – from prejudice, to their aptitude, to the intense competition of a world clogged with 6.6 billion people – have resulted in 99.9% of adults not leading the life they hoped they would as a child.  

We make our children smile by reading them children’s stories where good ALWAYS triumphs over evil…

…only to set them loose in a world where they are subject to possibly experiencing unfathomable evil.

We make our children smile by telling them that when loved ones die they go to a wonderful place in the sky…

…only for them to grow older and find that a large part of the population doesn’t believe this is actually what happens.

We make our children smile by giving them trophies simply for participating in events…

…then let them loose in a dog eat dog world where they better do a whole lot more than show up if they want to survive.

We make our children smile by telling them that if they get a college education all will be okay…

…only for them to find themselves saddled with crushing student loans and a college degree that means less and less as more and more students receive them. 

We make our children smile by feeding them crap on kid’s menus, dessert trays, and at McDonalds…

…only for them to find that the world belongs to the fit and beautiful, and that eating all that crap has likely shortened their lifespan by a decade or more.

The list could go on and on…

Is it any wonder that by the time they are old enough to have children themselves their wonderful smile has been battered beyond recognition?

Now I’m not saying we should do the opposite of these things. The following scenerio hardly seems like a page out of Good Parenting 101:

Maddie: “Look at my painting, daddy!”

Me: “It’s okay.”

Maddie: “Okay?”

Me: “Yeah.  It’s not as good as Beth’s over there. Now that kid has a real aptitude for art.

Maddie: “I don’t have appeee-tude?”

Me: “Nope.”

Maddie tears up. I place a hand on her shoulder.

Me: “Trust me, Chicken Muffin Love. It’s better to hear it now.” 

Maddie: “Okay, Daddy.”

Me: “You’ll thank me later. Now run along.  And consider a trade!”

Yeah…that sounds kinda horrible, doesn’t it? But the opposite doesn’t seem like the best strategy either.

I don’t have any answers, but I’ll keep looking for them. Maddie’s smile deserves it.