or fifteen years Jessica and her daughter, Alane, had waged war with each other. Jessica tried to make Alane be more responsible, and—not unlike most children—Alane vigorously resisted these efforts.
In our first conversation I learned that it was not uncommon for Alane to call her mother hateful and vulgar names normally reserved for bar brawls, and Alane was more frequently expressing herself with violence: throwing things, turning over tables, and the like. Just a few days before, Alane had thrown a ceramic cup at her mother, giving her a black eye, and Jessica actually said to me, "But she didn't mean to." Their relationship had been tragically diseased for so long that Jessica was justifying it as "normal."
Jessica asked me what I thought, so I asked her, "What do you think of the law of gravity?"
She paused and replied, "I don't understand."
"If you were required to carry a hundred-pound bag of concrete for some distance, you'd probably be grateful if gravity quit working for a while, wouldn't you?"
"Probably so, yes," she said.
"Overall, though, can you imagine what the world would be like without gravity?"
"A real mess. Houses would float away, we couldn't walk---awful."
"True. So even though gravity is occasionally a real inconvenience---even a potential cause of death---we need it. It provides a reliable environment in which we can make decisions with predictable results. Gravity is a good thing, yes?"
"The same is true with all natural laws. If we want to be most productive, we must learn them and make our choices accordingly. In a similar way, happiness is a result of living according to a set of principles that are clearly defined but often ignored. If we live according to the Laws of Happiness, we WILL be happy, just as we are most productive when we live according to natural laws.
"When you do nothing in response to your daughter's outrageous behaviors, she believes that she can ignore the Laws of Happiness without consequences, and that is a very dangerous belief. Essentially, you're guaranteeing her misery. She must be taught the Laws of Happiness. You must provide gravity, so to speak, in her life."
Although Jessica dreaded confrontation with her daughter, she nonetheless met with her and called me afterward. "We had a meeting today," she said, "and I told her that all her life I had done a terrible job of teaching her the principles that would help her to be happy. I said there would be no more name calling, screaming, or physical violence. I can't stop her from doing those things, of course, but I said that every time she behaved in those ways, I would take her cell phone from her for a day, and that phone is always attached to her. She can't imagine living without it. I told her that if I didn't teach her the Laws of Happiness and the consequences for keeping them or violating them, she couldn't possibly learn to be happy."
"How did she respond?" I asked.
"I can hardly believe what happened. She agreed that her behavior had been wrong, and she actually looked RELIEVED that I was helping her find a happier way of living."
"You gave her life gravity, my dear. She won't always like it, but now she knows the rules. Her world has order in it, where before it was just chaotic. No child likes chaos."
We all need gravity and an awareness of how it works. And we must teach emotional gravity to our children. They won't always be grateful, but if we shirk our responsibility to be loving teachers—even when it's difficult—we condemn our children to so much unnecessary pain.