The Parent Principle

Inherent in any principle is a set of characteristics that define it or guiding ideas that describe it. When I refer to the Parent Principle, I seek to identify the natural and fundamental truths that collectively bring integrity to what parenthood is all about. Consider the following life events of your child:

  • Birth
  • First day of school
  • High school graduation

Each event engages parent and child in a host of interactions, potentially positive and negative. Parenthood assumes that each involved parent must tolerate and survive the inevitable trials and tribulations of family life. The Parent Principle is a collection of characteristics and ideas that underlie the meaning of becoming and being a parent.

The Parent Principle stimulates simultaneous feelings of sheer joy and base fear, rational thoughts and irrational ideas, scary and wonderful dreams. Parents must juggle the multiplicity of emotions.

The hardest part of raising children is teaching them to ride bicycles. A father can run beside the bicycle or stand yelling directions while the child falls. A shaky child on a bicycle for the first time needs support and freedom. The realization that this is what the child will always need can hit hard. - Sloan Wilson

The Parent Principle assumes silent responsibility and ultimate blame. Through the eyes of the child, when life is going well the parent is often taken for granted and, conversely, when life is difficult the parent is typically blamed. In loco parentis is Latin for “children can drive parents crazy.” The duality of the parent role can never be understood by the child, that is, until the child becomes a parent himself or herself.

The Parent Principle parallels the polarizing effect of life. As a parent, you experience your child’s “highest highs” and “lowest lows” and experience the feelings like in no other relationship. Therefore, how a parent responds to the good and bad becomes the mirror of how children see themselves.

Experience is not what happens to you; it is what you do with what happens to you. - Aldous Huxley

The Parent Principle evolves out of a dichotomy of how parents must navigate between the highs and lows, the ups and downs, the good and bad of their children’s lives. This is where I believe the Parent Principle lays its foundation. Through self-respect and the desire to openly engage in dialogue, the Parent Principle comes alive. Self-respect and open communication is the basis of the Parent Principle.

Without self-respect, a person has difficulty handling the polarizing and dichotomous effects of parenting. Without self-respect, it is difficult to model respect for your children. By living a life that embraces self-respect, a parent models the qualities of respect that they want to teach to their children. With self-respect, parents treat their children with respect. A parent must nurture from a position of strength.

Without open communication, a child is not listened to and his thoughts, feelings, and ideas are not valued. Without dialogue the child does not learn the qualities of give and take and conflict resolution. Through open communication and dialogue parents and children share in experiencing the vicissitudes of life.

All of us, adult and child, are interrelated in a huge network called life. Our connections to one another are clear and direct as well as obscure and indirect. The factors that impact us range from biological, psychological, social, and spiritual to financial, political, and cultural. For each individual person there is no escape and the playing field is not always even or fair. However, since each of us is inextricably involved in one another’s lives, an incredible excitement and sense of hope emerges for parents because we can positively influence the paths of our children. With self-respect and open communication, that is the Parent Principle, we can give parenthood our best shot!