Why Not Get Better Here?

We spend so much time at the office, trying to get better at our jobs, trying to make a little more money, trying to climb further up the ladder. We spend hours in the gym over the course of a life, trying to get into better shape, trying to hit personal records. We spend mountains of time online, trying to help our fantasy football teams, trying to find discount codes to save money shopping, trying to stay abreast of our friends’ and families’ lives (or so we tell ourselves).

It’s all good stuff for the most part, but it calls to mind a certain question about our priorities, doesn’t it? “A better wrestler?,” Marcus wrote in Meditations. “But not a better citizen, a better person, a better resource in tight places, a better forgiver of faults?” We spend a lot of time on superficial stuff–we even call it “work”–but rarely do we expend the same amount of effort on the stuff that really matters. In fact, even Marcus’s quote demonstrates this.

Notice that he doesn’t say anything about being a better parent? And this was a guy who had a dozen kids! Who, if we look at the reign and misdeeds of his son Commodus who inherited his throne, could have stood to be a better father for the benefit, not just of his son, but for all the people of Rome who suffered under Commodus. Marcus doesn’t say anything about being a better spouse either…and some of the rumors about his marriage point to him needing to do some work there too.

Now, one could certainly argue that all of this domestic stuff is included under the banner of being a better person, but should it be? Why not make it a specific priority? Why not actually work on it for its own sake? Why not put the same energy you put towards following the news in an effort to be an informed citizen into following the research that will make you a more informed and effective parent?

Indeed, being a good parent and good partner isn’t simply a consequence of the work you put in to be a better person. They are correlated, certainly, but correlation isn’t causation, as they say. And we should always want our actions and choices to be the direct cause of our improvement in every arena of life, parenting most of all.

If the Stoics have taught us anything it is that we should focus only on the things we can control. We can control what kind of parents we are. We cannot control the outcome of our actions, of course, but we can control how we talk to our kids, how we raise them, how we discipline and reward them, what we expect from them, and what they can expect from us.

We can get better here, in this place specifically, this parenting thing–not just as part of becoming better people, but for the benefit of our kids and the world of which our kids will be a part long after we’re gone.

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