Learning from kids' wisdom
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It’s a delicate balance when you strive to be both a parent and a human to your kids. As a mom, I take many opportunities to create healthy boundaries and set expectations for my children, but I am a human in a parenting role first, and an authority figure second. That allows me to be an honest and authentic person to my children, relating to them with all my flaws and my triumphs.
In keeping with this approach, I try to stay open to “feedback” from my teen children (even if I sometimes bristle a bit at negative reviews!). In particular, I love to hear their guidance and words of wisdom. I am happy that my kids have the emotional intelligence and awareness to share their perspective. Because they are my children, they’ve heard quite a bit about Stoicism growing up. Thankfully, they know their own ruling centers, and they can certainly question impressions when they chose to do so—theirs and mine!
My younger daughter recently treated me to an inventive monologue that resonated with Stoic wisdom when I began to get angry at myself for neglecting to take care of some tasks on my to-do list. She told me:
“Time is an unstoppable force. There’s literally nothing you can do about it. So when something happened in the past, even five minutes ago, there’s nothing you can change about it. There are no time machines—that’s science fiction. You can’t go back. You need to be able to move on, and keep living your life. So if you make a mistake, remember that you can learn from the mistake, and move forward from the mistake. If you keep dwelling on it, you’re going to live in the past… and then you’re not focusing on the present. And that could lead to more mistakes.”
At first, I thought the way she said it was almost humorous in its description of time, since “the past” we were talking about was within the past hour or two. But she had a good point—one that Marcus Aurelius would have made right along with her. We only have this moment, the here and now. I couldn’t change that I’d forgotten to do laundry in-between meetings, nor that I had skipped getting exercise for three days in a row. I couldn’t change temporarily losing sight of a work-related deadline, either. These things were fairly minor… but even if they had been more serious, she’d still be accurate in saying I couldn’t change them now.
When I asked her about how she came up with her point of view, her wisdom kept flowing. She had thought about how time works a lot. “Everything I’m saying now is going to become history as soon as it comes out of my mouth. I might even regret it immediately. But I have to move on, since I have no choice. I will just find a better way to say it next time.”
Wise, yes. Hard to accept for those of us prone to regrets, also yes! A valuable reminder, nevertheless. Perhaps she has been influenced by listening to me talk about living in the moment as part of my Stoic approach, all these years… And now her wisdom is reflecting back onto me.
She also told me she uses the same technique when it comes to test-taking at school—a stressful experience. She focuses on what she knows NOW, in the moment, and does her best, realizing she may know more in the future and will try to improve at that point. I’ve now heard the “that’s in the past” monologue from her a few times, and I am starting to hear it in my own head, too.
Another thing I’ve been learning from my children is to be brave about trying difficult physical or athletic things. I’ve never been very athletic. But both my daughters tried out for sports teams, made the cut, and played for their schools. They were members of teams for sports that were new to them, even though other students had more experience, and gave it their all through some challenging experiences.
They found joy not just in the sports themselves but in “sportswomanship” and team spirit – working together with teammates. They’ve both lived through seasons without many wins, but they still kept going and working on improving and helping coach their teammates, too.
This was inspirational for me, as someone who has never (outside of being forced to do so in middle school PE!) played on a sports team. I didn’t have the physical confidence for team sports when I was that age. Instead, I focused on and valued my own individual creative activities. I still do: writing, reading, artistic pursuits like photography—things that aren’t usually thought of as being done collaboratively.
And yet: I realize now that the thing I love most about these activities today IS their connection to other people, to my own “teams” of folks I can relate to and work with. I’ve been writing The Stoic Mom (as a blog and now on Substack) for six years now as a way to connect directly with people who care about these topics, and to engage with others in the Stoic community. I participate in workshops and give talks to share what I’ve learned with others, and to learn from them. And I’ve been working with two co-authors on a writing project, and I love hearing their points of view as an integral part of our collaboration. My reading also allows a meeting of the minds, at times even across centuries and millennia, for example in the ancient books that I pore over today. And my photos are something I share with friends and family to build connection.
I’ve gotten more into physical activity, too, in recent years, in large part with my family, who continue to inspire me in this way. When I can do a workout with my daughters or my husband, or we can go on a vigorous family hike, that’s a good day. I even tried multi-day backpacking for the first time ever this fall, inspired by my family’s athletic adventures (both by my kids, who have “roughed it” many times by camping and backpacking, and by my husband, who went with me!). We’re set to do the Turkey Trot again together this Thanksgiving… and if I have to run very slowly (likely) and they leave me in the dust, well, I’ll try to stay thankful for their fitness and my humble efforts.
“Only connect.” This theme, which I first came across as a student in E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel Howard’s End, always got me. Connection with my family and friends, my colleagues, and my circle of Stoic community members, drives me. One of the characteristics of Stoicism that drew me to it is the way in which it is a pro-social philosophy, one that values the common humanity of all people, and that urges us to try to work with others and learn from our companions on the journey. It encourages us to hear others’ thoughts through a non-judgmental lens, and to assess people’s guidance on its merit, rather than purely on who delivers it. Many experts or high-status public figures may get it wrong, while our kids may get it right!
What have your children, grandchildren, or younger family members or friends taught you? How have you been inspired by or learned a new perspective from them—and I’m not just talking about the latest meme trends or a newfound love of high waisted pants! Feel free to share in the comments!
About The Stoic Mom
I'm a writer, editor, and mom to two daughters in Northern California on a journey to discover how Stoic philosophy and mindful approaches can change a parent's - or any person's - life.