One of the best lines from Seneca is that while we can’t choose our parents, we do have the ability to choose whose children we will be. In ancient Rome this was even more true than it sounds, because it was common for people to be adopted into families. Seneca’s brother, Lucius Annaeus Novatus, for instance, was adopted by a man named Gallio, whose name he eventually took (and if that name sounds familiar, it’s because Seneca’s brother is in the Bible).
In any case, this idea is worth thinking about now that you’re a parent. Instead of thinking about how you parents were, and using that as an excuse for whatever type of parent is easiest and most natural, why don’t you think about who you wish your parents were. Maybe that’s a specific person or maybe that’s just an ideal that you’ve seen in a movie or read about in a book. Maybe it’s a combination of the mother of one of your friends, and then someone else has become a father-figure and mentor to you since. Or maybe it’s Mr. Rogers and Ms. Frizzle from Magical School Bus. Or maybe it’s Socrates and Oprah. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you try to live as if that is whose child you were and are.
We want to eliminate the excuse of “Oh that’s just how I was raised” and “It’s what I saw growing up.” Instead we want to flip it from a rationalization to an encouragement. I am this way because it’s what my “parents” taught me to be. I’m a great dad because I had a great dad (or dads). I am carrying on the tradition. I am passing along the love and the lessons I got.
You can’t choose your parents. They did the best they could. But you can choose whose footsteps you’re going to follow in, and in so doing, what kind of parents your kids are going to have.