Parents’ Duty

Bob - Cheshire, Connecticut
Entered on January 27, 2009
Age Group: 50 - 65
  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

It is the duty of parents to do all that we can to ensure that our children become better human beings than we are. That their core values are solid and their behavior is truer to those values than ours is. At a high level, this is merely a matter of learning from our mistakes and passing that knowledge along to our children. The devil, as always, is in the details.

First of all, learning from our mistakes requires being honest with ourselves about our failings, being willing to accept responsibility rather than playing the role of victim. It is, for instance, far easier to be a friend to our children than to be a responsible parent who will endure their wrath and scorn when enforcing rules meant to shape their character, facilitate their future success or keep them safe. It’s OK, for instance, to commiserate with your child over the unfairness of teen driving laws but it’s not OK to let them break those laws no matter how much more convenient it would be to let Suzy drive Johnny to school. We must look hard at our own motivations, recognize our own weaknesses and put our children first.

There are parents who’ve let their children quit high school because they got tired of the whining and crying about how tired Johnny is in the morning and how his teachers are unfair and how the other kids pick on him and, I really love this one, how it never hurt daddy that he didn’t finish high school. Never mind that daddy’s never held a job for over six months and has spent a lifetime as victim to his own lack of motivation. This, allowing a child to drop out of school, is an extreme example but there are countless small opportunities in the lives of our children to choose between the right thing and the easy thing. Not that we can, or should, always hold them to impossibly high standards. The trick is in choosing our battles and always letting them see that we love them.

OK, so let’s assume we’ve learned a few things from our own mistakes and from the mistakes of others, how do we pass these lessons on to our kids? Many parents, with the best of intentions, constantly preach, screech and beseech until they become nothing more than noise to their tuned-out offspring. Words just aren’t enough. Kids can smell hypocrisy a mile away. We, as parents, need to be willing to live those lessons for the good of our children. They need to see us, every day, trying to do the right things as opposed to the easy things. There are no quick and easy lessons, there are no magic words, it’s our example that they’ll learn from. It’s our duty to do all we can to ensure that our children become better human beings than we are. And that means living our lives as we want them to live theirs. This I believe.