The Stoic philosopher Seneca got front row seats to one of the worst parenting jobs in history. In 49 AD, he was recalled from exile to tutor a twelve-year-old named Nero. The ancient historian Cassius Dio tells us that the boy’s mother, the empress Agrippina, had the entire empire under her thumb and used her power to make sure her boy never had to struggle for anything. She indulged his every whim. She cleared every obstacle out of his path. She amassed a fortune for him. She banished those who didn’t express full devotion to him. “While Nero was being advanced,” Dio writes, nothing else “received neither honor nor care.”
Agrippina was what we today call a snowplow parent. And in clearing the path of every conceivable impediment and obstacle, “Nero’s behavior began to be absolutely insensate,” Dio writes. Agrippina created a monster, one of the worst human beings in history.
It’s little mystery why we see Seneca write over and over again about the importance of struggling with and overcoming adversity. Today we have mountains of research about what happens when kids are spoiled and coddled, but even back then, it was obvious to Seneca that a person that never has to face difficulty is destined to be a tragic figure. “The more children are indulged,” he writes, “the more they are corrupted.” What is a parent to do? The job of “the good parent,” he says, “out of love for the child, [they act] as a trainer, endlessly manufacturing trials for the child.” The job of the good parent, as we’ve talked about before, is to make their lives good, not easy.
Seneca says to look at how Spartan fathers had their children train against the strongest and toughest. Or at how Cato’s parents exposed their “frail son to the extremes of heat and cold.” Or at the farmer’s calloused hands, the athlete’s strong legs, the soldier’s broad shoulders—“in each case the part of the body exercised is the strongest. It is by enduring ills that the mind can acquire contempt for enduring them.”
There is a famous Latin expression. Luctor et Emergo, which just means “I struggle and emerge” or “wrestle with and overcome.” Seneca’s essay On Providence, which one biography calls “his most influential prose work,” is entirely about the virtue of struggle. The gods, Seneca writes, “want us to be as good, as virtuous as possible, so assign to us a fortune that will make us struggle.” Without struggle, he says, “no one will know what you were capable of, not even yourself.”
It is hard not to be a snowplow or a helicopter parent. We love our kids so much, we want nothing but the best for them, we can’t bear the thought, let alone the sight, of them struggling. But we have to let them. We have to remind ourselves day after day: a child’s life should be good, not easy.
That’s why we created the Daily Dad Luctor et Emergo challenge coin. One side of the coin has the latin expression Luctor et Emergo bordering a timeless symbol of strength and resilience: iron sharpening iron. The other side features the mantra, “good, not easy,” surrounded by three other reminders we parents need each day: “let them struggle,” “show them support,” “help them grow.”
As parents who want the best for our kids, we needed something tangible, something we could touch to remind ourselves that difficulty is forging them into who they are meant to be. We need to be there for them and encourage them and believe them and have expectations for them, of course, but that doesn’t mean we need to do everything for them. We need to let them struggle and emerge. Iron sharpens iron, resistance builds muscle. They’ll be better for it. It will always be hard to think about or watch. But the rewards will be worth it. For them and for you. So head over to the Daily Dad store and pick up your Luctor et Emergo challenge coin right now.