Helpful, honest benchmarks
Just like the wife, all external stakeholders begin with: Example, love, conscious alignment, and finally then an individual alignment to truth. We better others by connecting them to truth, making them more functional. The best way to do that is to exemplify the same while lovingly inviting them do so themselves. Children are no exception and perhaps even the prime example. Unlike the spouse we choose in life, our children are far more malleable and therefore susceptible to the benefits of this process than us adults whose pre-conceived ideas about truth and the world can often too easily prohibit our own connection with it.
I remain confident that, in the long run, connecting people to truth matters more than connecting them to myself and this remains true even with you, my children. I want you to love truth more than you love me, and I want you to teach your children to do the same. I’d like to think if I’m doing a semi-decent job as your father that truth itself is something you’re able to connect with through me, and that I don’t need to be cast aside or put out of the picture. But when I’m in the way however, when it’s my own failings that are preventing you from truth, it’s then that I invite you to prioritise the truth. Yes I want you to hear me out, listen to my ideas and the things that are valuable to me, but more importantly I want you to get very good at engaging your own conscience when you listen to me as well as your mother and everybody else in this world. Learn to close your eyes, intentionally mentally digest whatever it is being argued. Forget ‘is it right or is it wrong’ because if it’s something somebody is earnestly arguing, there’s undoubtedly going to be at least some degree of truth involved. The question then isn’t of true or false, it’s much more a matter of ‘how true?’ ‘In what context does this truth function and in which contexts does it not?’ ‘How does it rank against similar or opposing truths?’ ‘How helpful is it?’ ‘How far-reaching are it’s effects?’
Remember that you don’t actually have to make a stand when you hear a new concept. You don’t have to say that you agree or disagree with it, despite how much people will want you to. Everybody is consciously or subconsciously pursuing their own self-validation in their beliefs every time they offer them to others, so they’ll likely be looking for some concrete decisions from you straight away. Don’t give them until you’re confident in your own arguments and reasonings. Allow yourself the honest time required to digest it, comparing it to a variety of perspectives and applying it to various hypothetical situations. You’re allowed to say things like “I’m not sure, but I think it might be right/wrong”, “There’s something valuable inside what you’re saying, but I don’t see it clearly yet”, “How do you explain the argument’s contradiction to x/y/z?”, “That might be true but it certainly doesn’t seem relevant or helpful” etc.
The reality is that helpful truths do actually feel good, in an edifying way, not a gratifying or even satisfying way. The more helpful the truth, the more obvious it is as a viable solution to the problem, providing hope, confidence, peace, resolve, etc. So feel free to feel it out. What kind of attitude is it bringing out of you? An angry, contentions or unhelpful one? A willingness to get to work and be more diligent or selfless? If it’s flattering your ego or justifying your behaviour, is that good? Whatever the case, it’s not a question others can answer for you. You have to assess truth for yourself and the better aligned you are with your own conscience the better job you’re going to do of it.
Simply because you’re very likely to become parents one day yourselves, you actually already wear this responsibility. You’ll have to determine where it fits in your priority list, but if you do ever have children you will be responsible for teaching them how to discern truth from error, fact from fiction, and dreams from reality. The better you become at doing so yourself, the better teacher you will be for them, so the practice arena is open and the time to prepare has already begun. As I’ve said many times in this book, it’s far too easy to get swept away in distractions and gratification’s vices that bind you to mediocrity or much worse. If you don’t take your own conscience alignment seriously, you’re going to struggle urging others to do the same. In my current opinion, parents who fail to exemplify regular, conscious conscience alignment, while inviting their children to do the same, forfeit the greatest tool they could provide their children to help them cope and thrive in life.
It is our alignment to truth that determines the extent of our function. Those willing to believe lies or even those who aren’t proactively pursuing truth, are going to be living according to conscious and subconscious inferior benchmarks and standards that skew their reality, jumble their priorities and anchor them to dying ideals. There is really only one option for all of us, which is to proactively engage in the pursuit and application of truth, indefinitely. Failing to do so, or acting in discord with the truths you already possess, is exactly what creates internal dysfunction, which of course results also in external dysfunction.
You cannot indefinitely carry the burden of standards you cannot keep: refusing to abide truth you already possess is like cutting off the blood circulation to some part of your body. It will wither and die until you no longer have it at all. The truth you have is not only a part of you, it appears to me thus far, that perhaps it’s even your main engine. The primary contributing factor to your ongoing existence. It needs to be fuelled to stay alive and refusing to do so not only kills that part of you but continuing the course can indeed eventually kill you entirely, literally.
Do we not all suffer some kind of embarrassment tourettes? I can’t be the only one. Having flashes of regret, hating ourselves to some degree, even if only for a moment, for not doing something we should have done, or for not doing something we should have done. For not abiding a better way. Does regret exist because we used the wrong benchmark, or because we didn’t live up to the right one? Perhaps sometimes a combination of both? All things by degrees, for sure, but those who lean too heavily on the idea that the benchmark is the problem, ransoming their own commitment to self-betterment, do themselves and others a serious injustice. Any of us who have seriously suffered with any kind of weakness for an extended period of time, have a very real understanding and appreciation for the reality that trying to forget or dismiss the benchmark instead of trying to better oneself, is a road of death. It only increases the self-loathing and amplifies the suffering as one takes a continually more passive role in watching their own life pass before them. The answer doesn’t come from ignoring truth, even the truth we can’t yet abide by, but it comes from being honestly committed to doing what one can, with the truth already had. Being honest about spending what one has, no matter how small or great it may be. We need to help our children align themselves to their own conscience.
Love your spouse
Being a good example of one who lives a conscience aligned life, is critical, undoubtedly. Being a good example of one who loves their primary stakeholders, is very closely behind in importance. I still currently give it as my opinion that beyond one’s own conscience, the next most important stakeholder is one’s partner, and certainly much more particularly so when one has made commitments to them as a spouse. This is important not just for the spouse, but for the children as well. They need to see what selfless love looks like. They need to experience being deprioritised to something more important. They need to appreciate the experience of life that can only be acquired through prioritising the life of others. Aside from conscience alignment, it is my opinion that spousal alignment will be the greatest contributing factor to the health and development of children.
Not only does it allow the couple to synergise their efforts, making a combined force more powerful than the sum of its parts, it then provides one place that they can begin investing in and reliably reaping the rewards from: the family unity. The simplicity provides a peace, a cohesion, a united front that enables them to realise that their failings, weaknesses, strengths, potential and the sum whole of their being, no matter how peculiar or different, has a place in the whole. Particularly the unified front the couple provides, helps children appreciate that the whole, the unit, lives on independent of their efforts, and remains ever available for refuge, support and love.
When parents are divided, the unit is not only lost, but the refuge found in each parent separately, also becomes questionably reliable as it’s dysfunction and disharmony from the other spouse evidences incompatibility and therefore an obvious flaw in their offering. A parent who refuses to overcome dysfunction between themselves and their spouse isn’t a reliably functional parent. We certainly all struggle, but struggling isn’t the issue, the benchmark is the issue. Are you content being dysfunctional, or are you doing what you can to restore function, for your whole family.
We must be one. One family. One partnership. One whole.
It has been my experience to date, that perhaps the best possible way to make sure we can be appropriately available for our children is to put ourselves in a position where at any given point in time we have the capacity to be ‘agenda-free’. Everything else can be deprioritised to allow as much time and energy as necessary to deal with whatever current focus a child/children need.
It’s my opinion that the primary way this works with any degree of reliable function is when there’s a partnership. One of the two parents is able to ‘stabilise’ the living situation. Meet those initial ‘hierarchy needs’, being physiological & safety, which only then truly free up the other partner to focus on the remaining needs like love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. When the family remain concerned about their financial security, or living situation, or where the next meal is coming from, or how the next bills are going to be paid, it leaves nearly zero space to delve into the ‘creative’ mode/mindset that’s required to help oneself and others truly engage in things connections, intimacy, self-assessments and self-actualisation.
If one of the partners isn’t reliably providing the first steps, the other partner can’t truly be ‘agenda-free’ when dealing with the kids. Yes of course the steps can be achieved through a combination of work produced by both parents, and the load can be shared etc. however It’s undeniably simpler, easier and thus more probable to succeed when the roles are clearly separated and defined. That doesn’t mean you can’t take turns at each role, nor does it mean there aren’t times and seasons with required fluctuations etc. However, if at any given time on any particular day, both parents are clearly aware of who is taking care of what, the one who is currently watching the children will be much more capable of setting aside whatever needs to be set aside, to prioritise the fluctuating and unexpected needs that arise, with confidence that all the basic needs are still going to be met, even if they have to temporarily abandon their agenda.
Give them what they want: especially you
The longer I live the more convinced I am that we parents all waste an enormous amount of energy trying to force particular outcomes the eventually prove irrelevant or unnecessary, so long as we were doing what we could to set a good example, inviting them to follow us, and then letting them experience life as they feel inclined. Again, all things by degrees, but leaning toward giving children what they want, I currently believe works out in their favour much more than it doesn’t.
Kids desiring the things that are bad for them is perhaps less problematic than we think. If they see that we honesty want to do and be good, our children will often pursue and experiment with the same. If we’re not honestly evaluating our own lives and our mouth is saying to do good but our bodies are living gratifying lives more than edifying, then that message is absolutely getting through to our children. I remain convinced that what is good, what is true, what is right, what is functional, correct, working etc. is always something that is self-evident to those who are honestly trying to evaluate it over a sufficient amount of time. If what you’re saying actually does work, and you’ve living a life that indicates the same, it will eventually become obvious to those watching and listening.
I had a number of experiences that have left a very prominent impression in my mind about being available to my children. A number of very specific examples have proven this point to me repetitively, including making myself available, while working, when wanted. Another is keeping kids home from day care, or staying with them at day care, until they’re ready to be there on their own. I appreciate most parents feel that they don’t have such luxuries, but to the extent we can, should we not keep ourselves available to them? Should we not allow them to remain with us when they feel they need to? Yes, they certainly ‘get over it’ when we leave them crying for us, and it often only takes a moment or two, but I’m not convinced that doing so is actually more helpful in the long run.
For those that have the time and capacity, there is always an opportunity that eventually presents itself where they feel ready, prepared and confident to go off on their own. That’s usually as they get a bit older, have developed some of their own relationships and have grown a little more independent of a parent’s love. When they’re keen to go off on their own, my conscience is content. I don’t feel a need to go after them and make them do something they don’t want to do. When they’re keen to stay with me however, and either come home or keep me with them, my conscience is certainly not content, leaving them anyway. It hurts. There is discord. There is discontent. There is damaged connections and trust. Enough to be concerned about? Well that’s a question it seems many debate but I remain of the opinion that to the extent we can help prepare our children to feel ready to go off on their own and willingly do so, we should. If we don’t have to cut them off when they don’t want to be, we shouldn’t.
A repeating theme that I’ve heard over the years is effectively that the younger somebody is, the more important everything is. The more decisions have long term consequences. The more outcomes leave lasting impressions. When we don’t have to live a life that indicates work is a greater priority than our children, I don’t think we should. Again, I feel this is something that’s much more achievable when both parents are one, a partnership where basic family necessities are being taken care of independent of what the other partner needs to do. Let them be with you. Let them be prioritised over work, when the work isn’t actually necessary.
I’m well aware that I often look a little silly, hanging around with my children at school or day-care until they’re ready for me to go, but I remain thoroughly convinced that how I look to those around me, particularly teachers and other parents, is of very little consequence to how I look to my children. I want to appear available to them, as much and as often as they reach for me I want to be every ready to reach back. I want them to be comfortable relying on my own strengths, my own existence, to smooth out and fill up any gaps, any insecurities, any concerns that they have. I believe this is the best way to truly prepare them to take on the world themselves, without me. When they can’t rely on themselves just yet and they also struggle to rely on me, there remains a disconnect that need not exist, in my opinion. A disconnect from progress, from love, hope, dreams and their own development. By being available for my children, they only ever need to feel disconnected, when they want to be.