In addition to things like food, clothing and shelter, which are required for our physical survival, human beings have other, non-material, basic needs. Meeting these needs is an absolute necessity for human flourishing beyond mere physical survival.
One such basic human need is good character. One simply cannot lead a truly meaningful life without it. Bereft of good character, one’s life is a complete waste, no matter how materially rich one may be.
This being the case, a principal duty of parents is to seek to nurture good character in their children. It simply isn’t enough—as some parents think—for them only to provide for their children’s material needs.
Helping their children develop good character is central to good parenting. While other people (such as school teachers and relatives) can and should also have a role in helping children grow in character, the role of parents in this regard is, generally speaking, central and indispensable.
One way to think of good character is in terms of relationships. A person with good character is someone who has learnt to relate appropriately at all levels: vertically, in terms of his/her relationship with God; horizontally, in terms of his/her relationship with other people, with non-human species, and with the rest of creation; and internally, in terms of his/her relationship with himself/herself.
Good parents help their children learn to relate healthily on each of these various levels.
Obviously, helping one’s child to grow in character is a long process, which unfolds over the years as the child grows. It isn’t something that can be taught by parental edict, as some parents imagine. It is something that is ‘caught’, rather than taught. Good character is something that parents must themselves model if their children are to be able to develop it by emulating them.
Helping one’s children grow in character requires parents to devote adequate time with their children, during which they can teach them valuable life lessons and expose them to situations that can help them grow in virtue. Parents cannot expect their children to develop good character if they aren’t willing to spend a good deal of their time with them for this purpose.
Some irresponsible parents completely neglect the need for their children to develop good character and of the need to spend time with them for this. If their children get ‘good’ marks in school, they think their children are doing well. They think of good parenting as simply sending their children to a ‘good’ school, providing them ‘good’ food and clothes, taking them out on a ‘good’ holiday every once in a while, giving them all the ‘goodies’ that they demand, and so on. They conceive of their parental role as simply providing their children with all these many ‘good’ things. Caught up in their own unnecessarily busy lives, they choose to spend little or no time with their children and then seek to suppress the guilt they feel on this account by over-indulging their children with material things, wrongly imagining that this can compensate for not giving their children something much more valuable—their time and attention.
That describes the situation in the case of a large number of families today. Many parents are so engrossed in their own world—of work and leisure—that they share almost no time with their children, who inevitably suffer grievous emotional damage consequently. This is particularly the case in homes where both parents work outside.
In many middle-class families today, children hardly get to spend any time with their parents. They get up early, gobble down their breakfast and rush off to school. They may return home in the afternoon, and after lunch and rest, may go out to play with other children or for tuitions or extra-curricular activities. They may return in time for dinner, after which they may need to do their homework and then they head to bed soon after. That leaves them almost no time to spend with their parents. Addiction to TV, and now the Internet and cell-phone and other such gadgets (by both parents and children), has further curtailed the time that many parents and children get to meaningfully interact with each other every day.
If many parents spend little or almost no time with their children, it means that it is likely that they will completely fail in their basic parental responsibility of enabling their children grow in character—which is almost a sure recipe for making a complete mess of their children’s lives.
Barring certain exceptional cases, it isn’t really that parents (and children) need to be so fully engaged in activities every day that parents simply cannot make enough quality time to spend with their children to help them grow in character. Where there is a will, as they say, there is a way. If they truly care about their children, overly-busy parents can choose to spend say an hour less on the phone or on the computer. They can come home straight from work instead of going out to an office function or a party. They can spend at least two whole weekends a month at home chatting and playing with their children (while keeping their phones switched off and staying away from Facebook), instead of going off shopping or to a club or a friend’s home or sitting in front of the TV.
If parents really want their children to flourish, they need to constantly reflect not just on how their children are performing at school (which seems to be the only thing that some parents are bothered about) but also on what sort of people they are growing into. It isn’t a big deal if one’s children fail in an exam at school, but it would be nothing short of tragic if they failed in the exam of life all because their parents neglected their responsibility of helping them grow in character.(Published on 01st October 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 40)