Ethics for Everyone

Moral wisdom for the modern world

Get Your Own Life, Parents

And let your kids live theirs

I think most parents who care deeply for their children and strive to be good parents will at times struggle with living vicariously through their children. We can also neglect to develop other aspects of our own lives. There are times when the demands of our children make it difficult to have much of a life outside of work and caring for them. However, I believe that even in those times it is important for parents to get a life of their own. In the long run, this will make them better parents.

I've witnessed some pretty crazy things from parents, especially in youth sports. I'm passionate about sports, and there are times when I have had to get ahold of myself and remember that it is not about me, but about the kids. And it is vital to remember that the pursuit of winning and excellence can help kids develop character that will serve them well over a lifetime.

Parents who overidentify with the wins and losses of their children's teams seem to easily forget that in ten or twenty years, most of the individual game scores will be forgotten, and that what will last are the lessons that have been learned. To know that a child has grown in perseverance, for example, means much more to me as a parent and a coach than any soccer skills they've developed, because perseverance will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

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So, what can parents do to avoid overidentifying with their kids? If you love sports, play them. I play in an over 30 co-ed soccer league, and being involved in some fun competition of my own helps me to lighten up a bit with my kids' teams. Moreover, human beings seem to be happiest when we are being challenged and developing our capabilities. So parents should try to carve out time, if possible, to do just that. Read a book, learn a new skill, take a class, do something that enables you to continue to grow and develop as a person. This may not be realistic at the newborn or toddler stages, but later on there will be more freedom to do this type of thing.

Not only will having a more fulfilling life be good for you, it will help you to be a better parent as well. And maybe it will keep you from nearly having a stroke on the sidelines of that U12 girls soccer match next week! More seriously, it will take the pressure off of your children and allow them to explore and enjoy sports, music, art, or whatever it is that they choose to pursue in their quest for a good and fulfilling life.

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Michael W. Austin, Ph.D., is a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University.

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