Our mind could have any habits or choose to recall any part of its past, but our very sense of identity means that we get up every morning and load the same software-us into the hardware-us. That brain could be bold instead of shy. It would just have to do one instead of the other. But we generally don’t. We generally surrender that freedom and instead we play out the role we’ve unconsciously written for ourselves. That’s what our ego’s for—it recites who we are to us. If we’re not constantly reminded about our limitations who knows what we might try?
I was fortunate enough to have two parents that didn’t really set limits for me. They were stricter than most of my friends parents in most ways, but much more relaxed and open in the most important way. I was expected to live up to commitments and carry my own share of the family chores and pass in school etc. etc., and rather than an allowance I had to pay room and board, but I was not pushed toward any sports or any grades or any post-secondary or employment choices. My parents spent more time asking me who I was as opposed to telling me who to become. That’s huge. That, in my experience, was the biggest fundamental difference in how I was raised. Now, when I asked Mom about this tremendous wisdom, she simply said,“Oh we learned from your [much older] brothers that you can’t really tell a kid what to do.” So they focused on principles and let me find my own way and that has lead to a fantastic life that I’m very happy to have lived.
As with many parents mine each took on different roles. Mom was the one who taught me to follow rules and Dad taught me to question who made the rules and their value. Mom taught me to be polite, Dad taught me to respect others. Mom taught me to vote, my Dad taught me to care for others just as much as for myself or those I loved. Mom made sure I lived up to my commitments regardless of my personal resistance and Dad made sure that I understood that apologies helped people feel better. Mom wanted me to be responsible. Dad wanted me to have fun. Mom wanted me to be a good citizen and Dad wanted me to be a good friend.
I routinely get all aspects of this wrong but I nevertheless know that I’m always genuinely pointed in a loving, caring direction and so I live without regrets or a sense of judgment. I respect others so much that they are welcome to not like me. If I’m going to be a specific way it only makes sense that I won’t mesh with some people. Meccano can’t be Lego. My parents acceptance of whatever I did as long as it was respectful means that I feel good as long as I am respecting other’s perspectives as much as my own. I may not always agree, but I’m free to have my views and I have no conflict with them having theirs. People are welcome to have their conflicts with me but I do not have any with them. It’s very peaceful.
People could easily look at my life and see that I could have used the skills from my accident in a different way. They can see that I could have done more of this or that, made more money, been more famous or had more status or whatever. But in this weird subtle way, the way I was raised didn’t lead to any of those desires. But it did create a real value around the idea of freedom, respect and openness. I like that I never hold grudges, never hate people, and that I find it easy to forgive. I can’t imagine what money or fame could get me that would equal the value of just thinking enough of others and of myself that I essentially have no real quarrel with anyone. It’s a nice, simple, clean way to live.
We can teach kids how to manage money and understand how loans work and we can teach them to change the flapper in their own toilet or the oil in their car. But if we don’t teach them to value their own life enough to enjoy it then we have spent all of our time paving perfect roads that ultimately lead nowhere. Life is not a destination. There is no particular perch from where it can be lived in total happiness. But at least if happiness is a priority then the child builds a life around what brings them joy rather than what brings them externals. A nice car is only there to bring joy anyway, so why not skip the expensive middle man and go straight to the joy? But that’s not even on the menu unless someone has separated the idea of the car and the joy. One is to get the other, it is not the other itself.
If you want the best way to teach a person to value joy, value it yourself. Laugh more, do more things that are frivolous but joy-filled. Stop teaching kids how to protect themselves from bad things without telling them how to go and get good things. You need both for a successful life. What you don’t need is a cookie-cutter pre-conceived idea of who your children are. Let them be known to you and support the life they choose for themselves just as you wish the people around you would have been fully supportive in whatever you chose. I had that in life. It feels fantastic to have that support. It breeds a lot of confidence and that’s also where a lot of happiness resides.
Don’t worry so much about loading your kid up with every possible skill. They’ll get hurt terribly just like you did. Everyone does. But that’s okay as long as they know what to do between disasters. As long as they wring some joy out of those in-between times they’ll be fine. That’s a lot of life. Most people die without ever having even started to live. So just love and respect your kids and teach them to value their own enjoyment of life and a lot of the rest will just sort itself out. The best thing you can possibly do is be the best version of yourself that you can. Enjoy your own life. The rest is osmosis.
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.