The Character-Building School of Parenthood

Jeremy Anderberg | May 7, 2018

Some people shy away from having kids because they worry that it won’t make them happy.

Whether they’re right or wrong really depends on how you define happiness.

If you define happiness in terms of fun and simple pleasure, then no, parenthood will indeed not make you happy. It adds a heaping helping of responsibility, stress, and friction to life.

But, if you define happiness as the ancients did, as a state of eudemonia, or full human flourishing, in which you hone your capabilities and grow in virtue and excellence, then having children will make you very happy indeed. For it enrolls you in a unique school of character — a training regimen that can sharpen, refine, and expand you.

Now, of course becoming a parent doesn’t do this automatically; plenty of people manage to raise children and still remain terrible human beings. But, if you embrace parenthood as an opportunity to become a better person, if you willingly lean into the friction, it can be incredibly transformative, strengthening a multitude of character traits.

The Character Traits Trained by the School of Parenthood

This list is not exhaustive, at least partially because I myself am an exhausted parent. While a certain amount of delirium can enhance one’s creative faculties, nothing in this exhausted state can really be fully perfect. There are some traits you can and surely will add to this list; parenthood is a school, which like any other, goes through phases, and you’re always learning something new about not only yourself, but your kids, and the world at large as well.

Unlike any other school, though, there’s no graduation. You’ll never toss your mortarboard in the air; only your laughing and giggling toddler. Luckily, it’s a school you’ll never want to graduate from. (You may think you want to in the midst of particularly hard and stressful times, but you’ll always come back to loving the heck out of your kids. I once heard an appropriate anecdote about something an old woman said to a parent trying to wrangle his kids in a store: “It’s perfectly normal and acceptable to want to throw your kids out the window as long as you don’t actually do it.”) You’ll ever stay enrolled in the courses that teach the following traits, and continue your experiments in this incomparable laboratory of love.

Patience. My goodness, the patience. This popped into my head first and foremost for a reason: it’s the trait most needed, exercised, tested, and built up in the character-building school of parenthood. It’s required at all phases: for the baby who’s crying for seemingly no reason, for wiping up inevitable pools of urine during potty training, for tactfully dealing with temper tantrums thrown mid-grocery shopping, for elementary-age kiddos figuring out they can actually break rules, for middle schoolers sneaking phones and tablets up to their room after bedtime, for teenagers talking back . . . the list goes on and on and on.

You’ll learn patience in one area, only for your kiddo to grow up a little bit and test you in another. But ultimately, your capacity for dealing with disappointments and things outside your control, not just regarding parenting but with the world at large, will grow.


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