Friday, July 15, 2011

The Tao of Parenting

"If you always compare your children's abilities 
to those of great athletes, entertainers, and celebrities,
they will lose their power.
If you urge them to acquire and achieve, 
they will learn to cheat and steal
to meet your expectations.

Encourage your children's deepest joys, 
not their superficial desires.
Praise their patience, 
not their ambition.
Do not value the distractions and diversions
that masquerade as success.
They will learn to hear their own voice
instead of the noise of the crowd.

If you teach them to achieve
they will never be content.
If you teach them contentment, 
they will naturally achieve everything.

It may be interesting to ask,
"What limitations have I, unthinking,
taken upon myself?"
It is very difficult for your child's horizons
to be greater than your own. 
Do something today that pushes
against your own preconceptions.
Then take your child's hand
and gently encourage her to do the same."

--William Martin from The Parent's Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents 

I don't want to say too much about this one. I just want to let it sit with you and resonate throughout your life as it has mine. I feel like it explains so much and points the way forward for me as a parent. 

It explains for me why I have struggled all of my life with limiting thought patterns. I was raised by a safe people. Risk-taking and putting yourself out there was not encouraged and I clung to this safety with all I had. How much of the wonder and joy of life has this need to be safe hindered me from experiencing? If the sinking feeling in my stomach is any indication, a lot. I don't want to pass that on to my children. I want them to know wonder and joy every day of their lives. 

It explains for me the kid we know who is widely considered to be the smartest kid in his class - if not the whole school - who consistently lies, cheats and runs other kids down. I have struggled mightily with this child. I do not want to condemn or ostracize from our family any child in our social circle, but his behavior has hurt my son at times so deeply that it has been hard to find my compassion. Now that I know "why" I am finding it a little bit easier. The pressure and failure he already feels must be overwhelming. I don't want to put that on my children in hopes that they will get into a "good" college. 

It explains why I always feel most content when I am in gratitude, recognizing that all I have is already enough and that I need nothing but "right now" to be happy and fulfilled. Contentment is a gift of immeasurable value. I just hope it's not too late. I hope I haven't already taught too many of the wrong things, emphasized the wrong things, pointed them in the wrong direction - the direction that our society says is the path to success.

There is a well-known question in the self-improvement field right now, "Would you rather be happy or right?" This quote brought a new question to mind: "Would you rather be successful or content?"

I think I would choose contentment every day of the week, for myself and for my children. At the very least I hope to make it possible for them to choose it for themselves.

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