I am a father of three young children, and it occurs to me that while the particulars of fatherhood have changed over time—today’s much increased and often equal involvement of fathers in the everyday lives of our children and households (carpool, homework, cooking, cleaning, laundry etc.)—one aspect of fathering remains the same: full participation in teaching our children about right and wrong.
The inspiration for this post came from my 10-year-old daughter who was recently upset about a strongly held family ethic that is literally not shared by any other family in her school, or in our entire town for that matter. Her dismay stemmed from the fact that she found herself having to behave, if only in this one regard, differently from virtually every other child at her school. She made no bones about asking me point blank if she could compromise on that ethic in order to ‘fit in’ with her friends. And here was the rub: allow my child to act in conflict with the very values and morals that I, along with my wife, want to instill in her, OR, essentially ‘force’ her to do what we believe is the right thing even if it means having to be the ‘different’ kid at school.
You might be thinking the answer is simple: require her to do the right thing, the lesson being that doing the right thing is more important than fitting in. The answer for me wasn’t that simple. I wanted HER to make the decision on her own. To weigh the options for herself. I wanted her to understand that there would be ramifications and consequences for her actions that would come from her—not from me, but from her. I was clear with myself on what I definitely did not want—for her to resent me for forcing her to do the right thing, thereby making the act a “I’m only doing this because my dad’s making me” decision rather than a personal value-based choice.
For me, instilling a sense of right and wrong is the exact opposite of programming some robotic child who will just do what I say. It is about clearly communicating the reasons we, as a family, act the way we do (in this particular case it was explaining that our decision to have our family be 100% plant-based was for reasons of compassion, care for the planet and care for ourselves, but could easily have been a discussion about stealing, lying, cheating or any other ethical choice), and allowing her the freedom to then act based on that information. I felt confident she was at an age where she could handle the weight of this choice, and it turned out that I was right, at least this time.
In the end, discussing the issue as we did apparently took the pressure off her. She stayed true to what she believes is right, and the issue has not come up again. So while day-to-day parenting may continue to change over time, hopefully it will always be the case that a parent’s main responsibility is to raise the next generation of discerning brutes.
PS After a quick Google search, turns out ‘Lil’ Discerning Brute’ was the least popular child’s toy of 2011.