They’ll Resent You For This

It’s common enough that we shouldn’t be surprised by it. Powerful, successful, famous people often have trouble as parents. They’re used to getting their way. They expect so much. They have so little time. They are so hard on themselves—the world in turn has often been so hard on them—that they have trouble with softness, with compassion, with unconditional support and love.

Yet as common as this story is, it’s particularly sad to see that Gandhi was also guilty of it (which we’ve talked about here and here and here). This was such a loving, kind and forgiving man but with his own family, he was not often these things. The man who had abandoned his own family’s plan for him to be a successful lawyer for a life of activism seemed to think he could and should control the careers of his own boys. The man who took some time to develop into the force of nature he became, expected so much of his sons so early.

“You did not allow me to measure my capabilities,” Harilal wrote to his father, “you measured them for me.” It’s not unfair to say that his kids failed to launch, but it probably is unfair to expect anything else. Naturally, Harilal, Manilal, Ramdas, and Devadas resented their father. Naturally, they struggled to find themselves and their own path. He had alternatively spoiled them and micromanaged them. He was impossible to please and offered insufficient encouragement and belief. He was also just gone so much—he had made incredibly hard choices about his lifestyle that his family had to endure. And the saddest and hardest part for them must have been to watch their father be so much more fatherly to assistants and proteges and random strangers than he was to them.

We have to give our kids space to figure out who they want to be. Remember, that’s our job—to help them become who they are, not what we think they should be or even what we feel the world needs. Our job is to love and support them and let them measure and map their own capabilities. It’s not to tell them what they’re capable or not capable of. Our job is to give our kids the best of ourselves, the best of our capacities, not the leftovers we have after our important work is done.

P.S. We tell the story of Gandhi and his commitment to free millions from oppression and violence in Right Thing, Right Now, Ryan Holiday’s newest book on the Stoic virtue of Justice. It’s full of practical strategies about how to be a bigger person and respond to others, especially our family members, with patience and kindness. We have some cool bonuses if you preorder the book, like a signed page from the original manuscript and an exclusive video from Ryan explaining how working on the book changed him as a writer and father. Head here to learn how to receive those and preorder the book TODAY!

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