Humility and Parenthood

Children have a way of helping us see our limits, of humbling us.

Posted Jul 05, 2010

Parenthood can be a very humbling experience. Children have a way of enabling us to see our limits and weaknesses regarding patience, compassion, or courage. I've written on parenthood, and it is clear that being the parent I want to be is a lot harder than writing about the parent I think I and others should be. This too is humbling.

Humility is relevant to parenthood in another way. In his book, Humility, philosopher Norvin Richards examines the nature and value of this virtue. One point that is particularly relevant to parenthood is his claim that humility would make us more modest in the credit we take for the accomplishments of our children. Many parents over-identify with the accomplishments (and failures) of their kids. Experts in psychology can explain some of the motivations and causes of this fact. As a philosopher, though, it is clear to me that it is irrational to take too much credit or blame for what our kids do or fail to do.

We can take some proper pride in their accomplishments, as we are partly responsible for the character of our kids. However, humility counsels parents to be more realistic about the amount of credit we should take for the things our children do. The parents did not themselves accomplish what the child has accomplished in sports, the arts, or school. Parents who tend to over-identify with their children and their accomplishments might also tend to take a larger share of the credit for their children's accomplishments than is warranted. The virtue of humility, which includes an awareness of our limitations and whether or not we deserve credit for some accomplishment, counsels us to be cautious in taking the credit for the achievements of our children.

Copyright Michael W. Austin

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