It doesn’t matter if you’re the president, a doctor, or an internationally touring musician—they all agree that the hardest job is being a parent. Because it’s not just a job. It’s the job that you have to do on top of your other jobs. It’s the one job you can’t quit or get promoted or retire from. It’s the one job where the responsibilities are never clearly defined and always seem to be changing. It’s the one job that there is no training for. That you don’t get paid for either.
So how do we do it? How do we do it well? Can we get better at it? Can anyone show us the way? Should we just read the latest parenting book until we have it memorized? Should we call our own parents every time we have an issue?
Epictetus was once approached by a student struggling with this exact problem. Tell me what to do, the student said. Epictetus told him that he would not. This wasn’t even the right request, he said. It would be far better to ask a teacher to “make me adaptable to any circumstance…” The reason, Epictetus explained, was that “there may be events that call for you to act differently… So hold on to general principles and you won’t need specific advice.”
So what are your general principles? What’s your framework? What are your Ten Commandments for parenting? What have you studied and learned that will allow you to adapt and meet whatever circumstances may befall you?
Your kid gets in trouble. You lose your job and have to relocate the family. He wants to drop out of school and asks for your advice. She has her heart broken and doesn’t want to talk about it. You had a horrible day at the office. Your spouse picks a pointless fight.
What do you do in these situations? How do you respond? This is what parenting is. Like rafting a river, it is navigating a seemingly unending, ever-changing flow of complicated circumstances, dilemma after dilemma, new situation after new situation, trying not to let the boat flip.
You must train to be able to respond. To keep the bow in front of the stern, and everything upright. You must be ready for it all.