Kids Make Parents Better

James E. Butterworth's "Ship in a Storm" or, A Captain Improving His/Her Skillz

James E. Butterworth’s “Ship in a Storm” or,
A Captain Improving His/Her Skillz

I believe our kids are here to make us better people. Potentially.

Before I elaborate, I feel I should briefly share a few of my beliefs based on my current understanding of some of the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith. Just for some context:

  1. I believe in the existence of a Higher Being that is merciful, loving, and just. I happen to call this God, but the label doesn’t really matter.
  2. I believe we are each endowed with a soul.
  3. I believe one of the main purposes of our time on earth is to help our soul develop as many spiritual qualities as possible before we die. Things like truthfulness, humility, generosity, patience, love, etc. (Basically all the good stuff that we tell our kids to demonstrate but struggle with ourselves.)
  4. I believe the way we develop these qualities is by the virtually never-ending opportunities we’re given to rise above certain difficult situations in our daily lives. You could call these tests, difficulties, struggles, suffering, etc. From the relatively mundane test of patience when you’re late, in a rush, and stuck in traffic, to the much more serious test of dealing with a major illness in yourself or a loved one.
  5. I believe each individual is endowed with certain capacities, tendencies, and abilities, so that what might be a test for one person might not be for another.
  6. I believe that no one is tested beyond their means to successfully “pass” their tests.

So, for example, when my son takes forever to do something, I have two choices: I can lose my patience/temper and get more and more stern, OR I can take this opportunity to practice patience and unconditional love. The fact that I’m losing patience in such a situation should be a clear sign that my soul is lacking in the patience department. And instead of thinking “why does he always do this?,” or “Why does this always happen to me?”, I should be asking myself, “what can I do differently this time around so that the outcome is different from and more positive than all the other times I’ve been in a similar situation?” and “how can I respond in a way that will guide my son’s own personal spiritual development in a positive way?”

Like anything else in life, expressing these spiritual attributes becomes easier with practice. Lucky for us, we’re given an endless number of chances to practice rising above our initial desire to make the less loving and negative choice in the face of certain difficulties. Which means we also have an endless number of chances to learn and grow from any experience, no matter how difficult it may seem at the time.

A few brief excerpts from the Bahá’í writings on this topic might be helpful here:

The more difficulties one sees in the world the more perfect one becomes. The more you plough and dig the ground the more fertile it becomes. The more you cut the branches of a tree the higher and stronger it grows. The more you put the gold in the fire the purer it becomes. The more you sharpen the steel by grinding the better it cuts. Therefore, the more sorrows one sees the more perfect one becomes…The more often the captain of a ship is in the tempest and difficult sailing the greater his knowledge becomes…

Every believer needs to remember that an essential characteristic of this physical world is that we are constantly faced with trials, tribulations, hardships and sufferings and that by over-coming them we achieve our moral and spiritual development; that we must seek to accomplish in the future what we may have failed to do in the past…we should look upon every failure or shortcoming as an opportunity to try again…

Man’s physical existence on this earth is a period during which the moral exercise of his free will is tried and tested in order to prepare his soul…we must welcome affliction and tribulations as opportunities for improvement in our eternal selves.

But back to the subject at hand.

The more I parent and the more I reflect on my beliefs above, the more I’m convinced that my kids have come to me – to a certain extent – pre-packaged with exactly those tendencies and attributes that will force me to develop the spiritual qualities I’m lacking.

Looking back on my younger days and some of the personality clashes I had with certain people, I can identify specific qualities that I responded to in a negative and non-constructive way: pride, stubbornness, egoism, and poor sportsmanship, to name just a few. I think it’s more than just mere coincidence that in the past few years, some of my biggest parenting challenges with the now-8YO have been precisely due to his expression of those very same qualities. It would instantly get under my skin and lead to responses that, while (sometimes) temporarily effective in stopping the behavior, would do nothing in addressing the actual issue or making either of us happy. It just wasn’t right. It didn’t help me and it certainly didn’t help him out in any way.

But like I said in a previous post, and as with so many solutions to parenting struggles, it comes down to love. Responding with love will help in accepting your child – and any other person, for that matter – for who they are. And by exemplifying that virtue in the face of any undesirable quality, the child will slowly but surely learn to emulate it as well, developing his own spiritual qualities in the face of similar challenges. And if that’s not enough of an incentive, it also helps you further develop your own spiritual qualities by rising above your lower nature.

I read a book recently where the author talked about how selfish it is for us to not accept and love people for who they are at whatever point we find them in their lives. That if we wish they were different, it most often means we wish they were more like ourselves, which means we love ourselves and would love them if only they were more like us…which makes us selfish.While I still have a ways to go, I’m also grateful to see how far I’ve come thanks to the often uncomfortable, unpleasant, and stressful situations my children have forced me into. Regret and remorse will often follow these exchanges when I respond poorly – especially the first few (or few dozen) times they happen – but that is just a natural and necessary part of the gradual process that is self-improvement.

If I can’t change for my own sons, who will I change for?

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