Recently, a friend told me about a difficult conversation he had with his father-in-law. They talked about what it means to be a parent. Parenting has been a subject on my mind for several years. I’ve watched many Youtube videos in which people talk about the problems that bad parents have caused for them. Bad parenting is absolutely devastating to children, and by implication, devastating to society. Anybody that thinks long and hard about how to fix large-scale human problems will inevitably come back to the same conclusion: The world desperately needs better parents.
However, what do good parents do?
I’ve often been criticized by people for talking about parenting, even though I have no children of my own. How can I possible know how to be a good parent? How can I so arrogantly criticize others for being bad parents when I have no children of my own?
For one, we don’t need to be parents to be able to recognize bad parents. I’m not a doctor, but I know that any doctor trying to cure a headache with a pinky toe amputation is making a mistake somewhere. I’m not an engineer, but if I see an engineer trying to build a skyscraper with popsicle sticks, I’m going to be concerned. I’m not a fitness instructor, but if my fitness instructor recommends eating at least three jelly donuts before working out, I’m going to ask to see some pictures of past clients. And I’m not a parent, but if I hear that a mother’s two sons committed suicide, I have no choice but to question the mother’s parenting.
Is it possible I’m wrong? Is it possible the so-called experts know something more than me? Maybe, but when you watch experts make huge mistakes on a regular basis, you begin to question the value of credentials that aren’t backed up by evidence.
And there is the critical point: evidence. You say that the previous mother was doing the best she could under extreme conditions? That’s fine, but the evidence suggests that her best wasn’t good enough. No matter her good intentions, no matter how her parenting methods compare favorably to the standards of her society under the circumstances of the time, I think I’d find someone else to take parenting advice from. Obviously, mom isn’t 100% to blame for all the problems in the world. The men chose to kill themselves. But for our own sake and for the sake of our children, we have to think carefully about what part she played.
Back to the question at hand.
What do good parents do?
First, good parents acknowledge that their job is meaningful and important. I will say that it’s difficult to understand the magnitude of the burden parents bare. Parents have the ability to create or destroy the world. Indeed, that is exactly what they do, whether they know it or not. However, it may be impossible to completely understand just how important parents are, no matter how hard we try to understand. Knowing everything about parenting is not a necessary prerequisite for being a good parent. What is necessary is taking the job seriously.
Second, good parents have their children’s future happiness, health, and success always on their mind. They are future-oriented, and being future-oriented gives them a sense of purpose and meaning in their life. They connect their current actions to their future results on their children.
Third, good parents understand that humans influence each other, and that parents have an oversized influence on their children compared to their influence on others. Our words and actions influence others. We can destroy people with words. We can teach and inspire people with words. We can disappoint people with actions. We can excite people with actions. We imitate those that we respect, and people that respect us will imitate us. If you see an unsuccessful, unhappy man, there is a very good chance that the people he surrounds himself with are influencing him in that direction, and they are almost certainly unsuccessful and unhappy themselves.
And that is 1000x truer for children and parents. Children are imitation robots. Parents can write a lot of the code in their children’s software, much of which is exceedingly difficult to rewrite as they get older. Parents program their children through the words they let their children hear and the behaviors they let their children observe. That includes the words and actions of strangers on TV, kids at school, parents’ friends, family members, and the parents themselves. Children treat their parents like gods. Good parents realize that they need to live up to that title.
People that want to be good parents have an important question to answer: Are they modeling the behaviors they believe will make their children happy, healthy, and successful in the future? In other words, are they acting to make themselves happy, healthy, and successful now and in the future?
Then they may ask themselves many more questions: Am I happy? Am I successful? How can I be happy and successful? Is this the life I want for my children?
Thus, good parents believe,
- They have a great responsibility;
- Their children’s future happiness takes priority over current happiness; and
- Their words and modelled behavior in the present influence their children’s future.
The natural conclusion of this thought process is this: Good parents model behavior that makes themselves happy, healthy, and successful now and in the future. Good parents become their ideal self. It requires a lot of thought, bravery, and mental discipline to become the ideal version of yourself. But, to become the ideal version of yourself, you have to imagine what that ideal is.
Good parents don’t have to already be their ideal self. However, they do need to be in the process of becoming their ideal self. Good parents aren’t satisfied with where they are in life, who they are, what they’ve achieved, etc. They are always looking to add to their skillset, experience, influence, list of achievements, personal wealth, etc. Indeed, good parents see it as their duty to lust after the things that they can rightfully earn but don’t have. It is their duty to look longingly at the things they want, and it is their duty to work hard to get those things. By showing their children a powerful role model, they radiate an energy that the children absorb and grow from.
What do bad parents do?
Bad parents get comfortable. Bad parents stay still. Bad parents don’t even try to think of what their ideal self is. They don’t try to be a light to guide their children. Bad parents are focused on the past or present, thinking only of what gives them good feelings now. They model bad behavior without a thought for their God-like status. Bad parents stagnate, or even worse, self-destruct. They invite a mind virus of dark, negative thoughts into their minds. They spread that mind virus to their children. Bad parents don’t give their children energy—they sap their children’s energy and eat their future.
And their children see their behavior. They live in the environment created by lazy, depressed, unhealthy, unfulfilled people. They grow up with parents who model a slave mindset, not the mindset of a free man. They grow up not knowing that there are other options, that there are ways out of the cage they are in. Then, like the imitating machines they are, they do as they see their parents do. They build their own cage and put their family in it.
This pattern can repeat–the virus will spread–if people do nothing to stop it.
Then imagine this: while good people can influence others toward good, bad people can influence others toward the bad. If there are enough bad people gathered together, whether in a family, a school, a company, or a country, their influence can overpower the positive influence of the good people. If your family is fat, you will probably be fat. If the majority of your classmates and friends don’t study, you probably won’t study. If your coworkers all steal from your company, chances are high you will steal, too. If your fellow politicians all engage in illegal backroom deals to make money and gain influence, you probably will, too. The virus spreads.
If enough people don’t play by the rules, then the rules no longer matter. In fact, the rules become a weapon the bad people use against the good people. The virus wants to spread. That further strengthens the tendency of people, organizations, and systems to become corrupt. Reversing course requires greater and greater courage from good people as the corruption of the system by bad people advances. Systems can become so corrupted by the spread of that dark mind virus that it kills the people in the system.
And that all starts with bad parents.
Parents can destroy the world.
But they can create it, too. To do so, they have to bravely aim towards a better future by improving themselves in the present. They have to imagine their ideal self, and then do the work to create their ideal self. After that, pass on that mindset to the next generation. Good parents can reverse the spread of that dark mind virus. They can fill their children’s hearts with happiness and optimism, thereby strengthening their mind against their own human weakness.
Weakness exists in the heart of every man, woman, and child. We have to go to war with it every day of our lives. It’s that little voice in the morning that says, “Just five more minutes…” and that little voice at night that says, “Just one more tweet…” Good parents bravely tell that voice no, even when saying yes is so much easier. Sooner or later, that internal voice becomes the voice of their child. They need to prepare to be able to really say no.
When I listened to my friend’s story about his conversation with his father-in-law, it sounded like the father had many negative traits. Importantly, he didn’t seem to take my friend’s concerns about their relationship or his father’s unhealthy behavior seriously. My friend wants to have children, but he doesn’t want the father-in-law to provide a bad role model for his children. He wants to create a better future with his family, but his father-in-law is trying to keep him and his wife locked in a slave-mindset.
My friend’s story reminds me of my dad’s experience with his mother-in-law. I have a feeling my friend has some big challenges ahead.