My fall into parenting, though planned, came rather abruptly when our twin boys arrived 12 weeks early. Even then–years before I discovered Stoicism–we handled some stressful times quite stoically. Eleven weeks of feeding tubes, monitors and transfusions could have been incredibly stressful, but we managed to take it one day at a time and keep a rational mind.
My fall into Stoicism has been far more gradual. I stumbled upon Stoicism from a finance blog. I read The Guide to the Good Life by William Irvine, started a blog and participated in Stoic Week 2013. As our kids have grown to be three years old my own flaws have become ever more apparent–mirrored back to me by the reflective-sponges that are my kids. This reflection of myself has definitely pushed me to better myself. It’s through Stoicism that I seem to have found ways to improve myself and my kids.
A Stoic Duty
Raising good, productive members of society is one of my primary duties as a parent. As parents, we must teach and appropriately model for our children. If we don’t actually make a mess of our kids, and raise them with good manners, discipline, values and work ethic, then they could actually spread more good in this world. I believe Stoicism has a lot of the tools needed to raise children properly. Children who will understand their emotions, be conscientious and respectful of others, have a strong work ethic and be resilient and flexible to changes throughout their lives.
Trying to apply that to our children, my wife and I try to be mindful of the behaviour of our kids, their personality traits and characteristics. She comes from a special education and applied behavioural analysis background. This scientific / empirical element to our parenting, combined with influences from a Montessori education and our unique family backgrounds, has seemed to foster a couple of great kids. Our parenting approach so far is to foster the positive traits and skills and to discourage, by ignoring, the traits and behaviours we judge as negative. By teaching our children appropriate skills for coping then they have a greater chance of flourishing as adults, contributing positively to society we will have accomplished our duty as parents.
Another analogy I picked up through exploring Stoicism that I like is that of an archer drawing his bow. You can prepare with training and develop a mastery of the skill, but once you release the bow you can’t control the flight of the arrow. Winds or other influences may change its course and we must be prepared to accept that. It is the teaching and modelling we do for our kids that prepares them for the future; but our preparation only carries them so far and the rest is out of my control.
Stoicism for Coping With Toddlers
Copyright: Mark Rutter.
Reminding myself of the dichotomy of control has been one of the more practical applications of Stoicism I have found. The behaviour of my kids, in the past and in the current moment, is out of my control. I do, however, have control over how I approach teaching them, hopefully impacting their future behaviour. It is my duty to teach my children to react properly to disappointment and be resilient.
I’ve reached the conclusion that toddlers are simply impulsive creatures, bent on satisfying the desire of the moment. Unenlightened Hedonists. The don’t yet know any better and lack full rationalization skills to delay gratification or understand the context of their actions. How they react to their desires not being fulfilled depends on how my wife and I raise them.