On the next generation: Parenthood

TUESDAY, 7 OCTOBER 2003

One of the most prominent ideals of middle-class culture is GOOD PARENTING. According to the criteria of GOOD PARENTING parents justify their choices in life. It is also according to these criteria they judge the successes or failures of other parents. It is, finally, according to these criteria that I have disqualified myself from parenthood – at least for the immediate future.

One of the fundamentals of GOOD PARENTING is To Give Your Children The Best You Possibly Can. It is about this principle that I want to make a few remarks.

To give your children the best you can, may have consequences unforeseen, even to parents raising their offspring with the best of intentions.

One of these consequences may be that young adults who were raised by parents who provided in all their needs, who gave them abundant opportunities to develop their interests, and whose personality developed in a protective environment, increasingly become conservative, self-centred and selfish adults when confronted with a tougher reality than the one in which they grew up. This reaction may also manifest in calculated support for “the way things are” – the status quo – that had given them an edge in life without them having done much to deserve it. In a similar vein, they will also support all social, political and economic policies that entrench their position, and give a cold shoulder to those considerably less fortunate. They may even go so far as to call these people who were given less, “lazy”.

Another possibility in the case of a person whose luck of the draw included the benefits of the aforementioned background is that they will turn ashamed and embarrassed to people less fortunate than themselves. They may explain it as something they owe society because they “had it so easy, while others had it so hard”. They may even be unsure about what their chances of survival would have been, had they not grown up in an environment where all their needs were provided for, and where their interests and personality could develop without the interference of too much pain and unfulfilled desires.

My advice to parents is to, indeed, give their children the best they can, to teach them the value of responsibility, and to support their interests within reasonable financial limits. Furthermore, parents should be facilitators of the process that will allow their children to develop a self esteem based on ability and merit, and not just on membership of a certain stratum of society.

Children should be aware of the suffering of others; that, and their own more privileged situation (if that is the case) should be explained to them in a way that will provide them with an incentive to develop a sense of responsibility towards their fellow human beings – including people in more impaired socio-economic conditions, as well as members of their own community.

Parents should teach their children the values of faith in their fellow human being, honesty, dignity, responsibility for others, and responsibility for their own actions. These values should not only be taught in words but in the actions and conduct of the parents towards their children, and towards others. Children should be made aware of the result of both love and hate, and should be taught through words, behaviour and actions to choose love. Parents should also cultivate in their children an attitude of open-mindedness and tolerance towards other people.

Children should be taught the value of principles, and to maintain these principles even if they sometimes have to stand alone. Children should be taught to believe in themselves and their abilities, by parents who believe in their children. Children should be taught that mistakes are sometimes a necessary part of life and that they must learn from their mistakes as adults must also do.

Children should be nurtured, cared for and protected in ways that would increase the likelihood that they would become adults who will love rather than hate, who will take responsibility even when others look away, and who will protect the vulnerable against agents of destruction. Children should be nurtured as miracles of life, so that they can become adults who will maintain and protect life, and all that is good.

Finally, it is also important that children should be made aware, in a reasonable manner and at the appropriate time, of the possibility that they, too, might have to endure disappointment, pain and suffering. It will also not be inappropriate to teach them that death is inevitable; that it is the fate of all forms of life to reach the end of a physical existence.

However, it must always be emphasized that, although all forms of life reach an end, there is a condition that precedes death. Children should be taught that this state of LIFE should be cherished, greatly appreciated and supported to the last breath.

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