by Deacon Stephen Bowling
As a parent who has somehow managed to see three children through Grade school and almost High School (my youngest is a junior at DeSales), I sometimes wonder how my wife Susan and I managed to raise and educate our kids to a fairly great degree of success. The future looks bright for all three of them I’m happy to report – “at least for today,” as Bono would say.
How did this happen? What did we as parents (apparently) do right here?
Well, bookshelves are full of parenting advice, along with books on succeeding in today’s world, and the suggestions they give are as numerous as the stars in the sky. However, there was a brilliant technique employed by my high school American Literature teacher, the late and deeply missed R. Carter Lasure that I have found particularly helpful in narrowing down infinite choices for essential questions such as these.
It was one day in junior literature class, as we were discussing the far-reaching effects of the world’s greatest authors that Mr. Lasure posed us this particularly powerful question, one that I still remember today well over 30 years later.
He asked us, “If all of the authors throughout all of history were to be considered as fakers and charlatans, and only one of them could be considered as a ‘true genius,’ which one would it be?” We as a class wrested with the possibilities for some time before he gave us his answer.
For him, the answer to the question was Dante, author of the Divine Comedy . . . something that lead me to read that daunting work as a mere junior in High School and to count it among one of my favorites even today. However, to use his method as it relates to parenting, we might ask the following, similarly phrased, question:
“If there could only be ONE teachable quality or virtue necessary to raise children who succeed well in life, what would it be?”
Well, I’m sure there are many ways that many good folks could answer that question, and likely those answers would all be good and valid. However, if pressed for ONLY ONE answer, for my wife and I, there’s no real contest. It would have to be accountability . . . or perhaps more precisely, “self-accountability.”
To be clear, we are NOT talking about “holding your children accountable” here, although that does have its place. No, we are talking about us as parents – the primary influencers of our children – holding ourselves accountable in all things, both as parents as well as citizens of the world.
To put it another way, it has always been an inviolable philosophy in our married and family life that “GIVING and KEEPING YOUR WORD” is ALL. Everything is subject to it, and from it flows all goodness. Just as God is always faithful (Luke 16: 10), so must we be also.
You see, when as parents we do THAT clearly, consistently and unambiguously, children will naturally imitate us and ultimately learn to value this quality themselves . . . and it is with that in mind that perhaps the importance of this virtue becomes clear.
Self-accountability is about always saying what you will do and doing what you say. It means showing up on time and being ready. It means going through with those difficult things when you’re tempted to just stay home. It’s about not ignoring others and reaching out to speak to them, even when the introvert inside you is yelling for you to keep quiet. It’s about valuing the advice of others and always finding wisdom in reflection and consultation. But perhaps most important of all, it’s about remembering that we all need friendship and strong, warm relationships with as many people as possible in order to succeed – and it is by earning their trust through our own reliability that we make this happen.
Jesus taught us to always focus outwards towards our neighbor, and as any faithful Christian can tell you from experience, this is – paradoxically – perhaps the greatest path towards happiness here in this life.
Self-accountability is an essential part of the Christian life. If Christ himself is the way, the truth and the life, it is up to us to model our belief in those qualities. For as we all know, our children may not always remember what we have told them in this life, but they can never forget those things that they saw us always do.