“Mom, why am I so depressed?” Daniel asked with a look of intense melancholy.
Daniel was having a very bad (in his opinion) day. He was being denied electronics and being required to help around the house and participate in some sort of physical activity. Functionally, this meant he had to walk they dog, wash and dry the breakfast dishes and take out the trash.
Daniel’s distress had begun a day earlier when I reminded him that he was participating in a football skills camp from 10:00 to 11:30 all this week.
“Why do I have to go!” Daniel complained.
“We have a rule that you have to participate in some kind of physical activity or sport and you said you wanted to try football.” I reminded him.
When I went in to wake him at 9:00 this morning, Daniel categorically refused.
“I am just not the kind of guy who likes football!” he protested.
I was in a rush and decided to face that battle later. Instead, I removed the Xbox and the computer and headed out for my first appointment of the day.
The crux of the matter is that Daniel isn’t the kind of guy who likes anything except video games. He is even board by board games. When asked to attend a cook-out at a friend’s house, he will only go if I insist. He doesn’t actually like anything non-electronic.
I got home and got Daniel up.
“It is fine with me if you don’t want to play football. However, you don’t want to play basketball or tae kwon do, or baseball, or tennis, or track, or any other physical activity. The problem is not that you don’t like a specific sport, the problem is that you refuse to participate in any physical activity.” I was exasperated.
“I like to bike, but it is raining.” was his excuse.
“You won’t bike on sunny days, let’s be honest with each other.” I reminded him, “so, if you can’t find anything you can get yourself to do, I will give you activities around here. You need to go wash the dishes.”
That is how we got to the question about depression. Daniel had griped and groaned his way through every chore and was heading into the home stretch still verbally resisting every second.
“Daniel,” I sighed, “you are depressed because you are having to do a task you don’t enjoy and you haven’t found a way to find joy in the tasks you don’t like. Everyone has to do things in life that might not be their favorite, or that might even dislike. Sometimes we do things that we don’t like because we know that they are the best thing for us.”
“Yes, but you are a grown up and I am just a kid.”
“You are 14 now. You will be an adult in the not-to-distant future. Do you think there is a fairy out there that waves her magic wand when you turn 18 and all of a sudden you are able to do the things you don’t enjoy with ease? You need to practice and learn to find joy in doing things that you might not like. That way you can get yourself to do them.”
Daniel looked skeptical. For the next 30 minutes or so, every time he started to gripe, I repeated the mantra, “Finding joy in doing the things you don’t like to do!”
Later, I walked by the kitchen. Daniel was standing there putting away the last of the dishes and telling himself a story. He was actually smiling!
“I see you found that joy I was talking about!” I smiled at him.
He gave me a sheepish grin.
It was a satisfying moment.
How do you teach your children to do necessary things that they don’t enjoy? How do you find joy in the unpleasant tasks?