Bill Cottringer

Why is parenting today so difficult (besides being so expensive and all of us being so busy doing other things)? The answer to this question involves the main parenting role—teaching our children the basic skills that are necessary to get the most out of their lives. In other words, as parents we have to first learn what it takes to be successful and happy in our own lives, so we can pass that valuable wisdom on to our children. This is so they don’t have to experience the unnecessary failures that stopped us in our tracks.

The trouble with this learning sequence is that we are often just in the middle of our own learning how to be successful and happy while we are being challenged to teach these half-learned skills to our children. And what makes this process even more challenging is the fact that we all learn these critical skills at different rates, through different experiences and in different ways. In case you haven’t noticed, that is a lot of differences to overcome to get to some common ground. And two very big popular myths is in the way: (a) What we think we know for sure is definitely so (b) The ability to learn is decreased with aging.

The common ground we eventually get to in understanding the best way to get to the “Land of Good & Plenty”—where we find super success in what we are doing to get the genuine happiness that comes from doing this, has to do with the life-long learning our right character. Unfortunately, this involves mostly trial and error. That is, at least until you have enough experience at uncovering the fundamental way life works. To do this, we have to begin to notice the profound connection between the right and wrong ways we can think, feel, hope, believe and behave and the right and wrong consequences we get from this way or that way of being. To really understand the heart of this dilemma and how it makes parenting more difficult, let’s take a little side trip in the story of life.

Before we had so many words to describe and understand the things these words stood for, and the many different meanings all these different words could create in translation, there were only two fundamental ways we could respond. These two primary responses can be best described as “joining” or “separating.” This is what the most astute theologian of our time, Paul Tillich, discovered when he took away all the gravy and vegetables from the meat and potatoes of a stew in trying to understand the basic human spiritual condition.

Now in the beginning of our development, we really didn’t assign any “quality” judgments onto these two fundamental responses of joining and separating. They were just actions before anything became “good” or “bad.” As the Eastern saying goes, “There is no right or wrong, just Karma.” It was the famous Biblical “Garden of Eden” story (or any other version you prefer) that changed things forever and made the process of finding success and happiness in life hidden and so challenging to find. This is because we added so many different “good and bad” words to describe the two fundamental ways of being, and that of course complicated matters greatly. Much distance was put between the words and the real things they represented and hid the connection between our choices and actions and the consequences these choices and actions actually brought.

To grasp the magnitude of this problem, think about all the vast distance between being born and dying. To really know for sure if you have lived a good and right life, you have to die to find out. Everything in between is mere belief and hope. Good parenting is trying our best to close this gap so we can pass on this knowledge and wisdom to our children. In the end, what we learn that is most common to super success and authentic happiness is applying a good character to meet the inevitable adversities that happen to each of us in between life and death. This is called living, loving and laughing in spite of the facts of life that get in the way of doing these things.

Building the type of character that weathers the adversities that can and do happen—school failures, natural disasters, serious physical and mental illnesses, love lost, devastating disappointments, unemployment, financial ruin, substance abuse, violence, divorce, wars, sudden deaths of loved ones, etc.—involves the development of fundamental virtues that are beyond good or bad. These are the values that we as parents get to experience in our own lives and then choose ways to teach our children the importance of in their lives:

• Courage: Doing something in spite of being afraid.
Creativity: Changing perspectives to see new and unique realities.
Charity: Giving before getting.
• Compassion: Giving more airtime to you heart than your rational mind.
• Honesty: Doing the right thing consistently, especially when you don’t want to.
• Hope: Being confident that things will always work out in the long run.
• Humility: Realizing your team position as part of joining everything else.
• Patience: Getting your mind off of something so that it can finish itself.
• Perseverance: Practicing all these values rigorously and consistently
• Responsibility: Exercising your freedoms by being sensitive to those of others.
• Empathy: True understanding of other people’s behavior from their perspective.
• Balance: Avoiding extremes in everything which you are not willing to die for.
• Obedience: Following the natural laws of life as the way of life.
• Loyalty: Devotion, allegiance and fidelity to something bigger than you, that you are part of.

Fortunately there are many educational programs available on-line and in bookstores (and going on in schools today), to learn ways to best teach these virtuous behaviors to our children. Long term super success, meaning and happiness in life require them all to be learned and used to overcome the inevitable roadblocks that come our way, continually day after day. Personally, I have a secret suspicion that a special challenge parents face is in anticipating which of these virtues that our children will need to master most, to get to where they are going.

Probably the best starting point in teaching these core values, is in realizing that we all have what Psychologist Thomas Moore coined two competing “consciences” that must be managed.

• A very loud psychological conscience that grows in influence from what we learn about the connections we see between what we do and what we get, situation by situation.

• A very quiet, reliable moral conscience that has been there all along and doesn’t change its simple but correct yes-no answers.

From there it becomes a matter of finding out how to reduce the influence of the first, so the second one can be heard below all the good-bad words we use to think, feel, believe and behave with. Parenting can indeed be difficult, but it may be one of the most important and fun things we can do in life.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice-President for Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security, Inc. in Bellevue, WA, along with his hobbies in being a Sport Psychologist, Business Success Coach, Photographer and Writer living in the peaceful but invigorating mountains and rivers of North Bend. He is author of several business and self-development books, including, “You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too” (Executive Excellence), “The Bow-Wow Secrets” (Wisdom Tree), “Do What Matters Most” and “P” Point Management” (Atlantic Book Publishers), “Reality Repair” (Global Vision Press), Reality Repair Rx (Authorsden), and “If Pictures Could Talk,” coming soon. Bill can be reached for comments or questions at (425) 454-5011 or ckuretdoc@comcast.net