This is Who to Study

We spend a lot of time looking at the absolute worst parents. Not just because so many leaders and celebrities and artists seem to put their families absolutely last in order to achieve their success, but also because artistically, flawed and tragic figures quite naturally fill up the most pages and screentime. As Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina, all happy families resemble each other but unhappy families are unhappy in their own way.

It certainly makes for quite a story…

But does it have to be that way? Another great novelist, Ursula Le Quin disagreed. “The hell with that,” she is quoted as saying in The Baby on the Fire Escape. “Tolstoy was wrong. They’re the ones that are all the same. But a happy family–which doesn’t mean that everybody’s ‘happy’ all the time–the so- called happy family is a fascinating thing. The interplay of power and control and love and dislike and frustration: it’s endless.”

The reality is there are so many fascinating, happy families out there. Plenty of people who are great at what they do and present and balanced at home. And as entertaining as the trainwrecks are, we ought to be studying, talking about, celebrating the better examples (Ursula Le Quin’s family being a good example).

We would all be well served by picking some parenting heroes. Mr. Rogers seems like a successful guy with a happy family. Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird is a great model (though Atticus in Go Set a Watchman is much less so). Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg were very different ideologically, but both managed to manage careers and family pretty well. Charles De Gaulle was a remarkable father to his daughter Anne, who had Down’s Syndrome, in a time when parents were notoriously awful with children who were different. These are some famous examples, but it may be better to lock in on a grandparent or a teacher or a neighbor.

It’s cynical and sad to say that it’s impossible, that you can’t have it all–that success and happiness and a loving family are somehow mutually exclusive. It’s not. It’s been done before. It’s been done millions of times. Let’s learn from those examples. Let’s celebrate them!

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