In Meditations, Marcus Aurelius takes a moment to remind himself of the “malice, cunning and hypocrisy that power produces,” and the “peculiar ruthlessness often shown by people from ‘good families.’” It’s notable that he would say such a thing, because Marcus came from a great family. His grandparents were illustrious Romans, he had a doting mother, and then he was adopted by Hadrian and Antoninus Pius and groomed for power.
Even so, he knew he had to be careful. Just because you come from privilege and money, just because you’re well educated—there’s no guarantee. Life is full of temptations. Bad habits, bad personality traits, are easy to fall prey to. Look at Marcus Aurelius’ own children as an example. Marcus and his wife were calm and wise…and still, something went wrong with Commodus.
The point of this is: Just because you’re successful, just because you can pay to send your kids to the right schools, just because you showed up more than your own parents, doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods. This is a hard job we’ve committed to. The stakes are high. The margin for error is low. In his own case, Marcus Aurelius knew he couldn’t take his upbringing for granted—to be a good man and a good ruler took constant work. Perhaps that dedication to his work was why he fell short at home, or perhaps he forgot his own advice.
We can learn from both his example and his mistakes. Kids don’t just “turn out” as good people. They are made that way—molded, guided by ancestors, taught by example, and buoyed by a constancy of parental presence. You must provide this. You cannot slack. You cannot assume it will handle itself. They need you.