The hard part about this parenting thing is how much you’re on your own. Yes, of course, you may have a spouse or a co-parent. You might have grandparents to help. Or even hired help. And of course there are also schools and neighbors and doctors. But much like they say with death, even when you’re surrounded by loved ones who care about you, it’s only you doing the dying. Indeed, you’re still all on your own.
You’re cooking meals. You’re getting them ready for school. You’re having the hard conversations. You’re struggling to prepare them for the real world. You’re struggling with your own unique problems, in your own unique way, in your own unique family. But even more than that, it’s only you inside your own head when everyone has gone to bed, wondering: am I doing this right? Any of it?
Who can guide us in moments like that? Who can we turn to? We talked before about the concept of ancestors (as opposed to ghosts)—the people whose wisdom, whose prior experiences can serve as a North Star for you now, many years later. As Marcus Aurelius writes in Meditations (himself a parent of 14 children): “one should constantly remind oneself of someone from earlier times who practiced virtue.” His translator, Robin Waterfield, explains that a philosopher was “expected to have interiorized his teacher’s voice,” and to be able to always ask “What would Epictetus think of what I’m doing?” or “What would Zeno think of this situation?”
This is what we have to cultivate as parents. Who are our ancestors? Who will serve as our North Star? It doesn’t have to be your mom and dad. It could be Mr. Rogers. It could be that 2nd grade teacher who really understood you, who was able to get you, and all the other students, to become their best selves. It could be Marcus Aurelius! The point is, pick your ancestors, interiorize their voices, think always of what they would do in the more difficult situations that you will inevitably find yourself in. Let those voices guide you. Let them join you in this otherwise solitary and difficult pursuit.
Because with the help of our ancestors, we’ll never be alone.
When Ryan Holiday signs copies of The Boy Who Would Be King, he writes, “Make Marcus proud.” He is writing that to both the parents and the kids. The idea is that when we have someone’s voice in our head—the voice of someone we look up to, someone whose example we’re following—it can help us when we’re making these individual decisions. We can ask, ‘What would they do? What would that advise me to do? How can their example guide me?’ So we encourage you to think about that often, to study the greats, to follow the virtuous and let them guide you and your family.