Philosopher Gregorio Luri praises "normal parents" who love and laugh through their own imperfections.
We usually experience a reckoning of our role as parents at the end of our life. Only when we face our final hours do we realize that we did the best we could raising our kids, that we actually gave them a pretty good childhood. But … why does it take 60+ years for that fact to dawn on us!? Why not feel proud of the fact that we may have a “perfectly imperfect family” a whole lot sooner?
Pedagogue and Spanish philosophy professor Gregorio Luri recalls the precise moment when he examined his work as a parent and discovered that, even if he was not a model father in every way, he was still a good dad. He recounts that he was making dinner when he overheard his kids (now married and with children) laughing uproariously as they told stories about their most memorable experiences of him as a father. “I returned to the stove quite happy, because I suddenly discovered in their laughter something very important: that all the things I was not very proud of did not leave wounds in my kids, but gave them fodder for humor. It seemed that this was a magnificent proof of what a good parent is – that is, a normal and imperfect parent. From that day on, I started to make peace with my past imperfections.”
Luri expands this focus on love through imperfection in his book In Praise of Sensibly Imperfect Families. (Editor’s note: Luri’s book is available only in Spanish, but the highly-rated book How Imperfect Parents Lead Great Families, by Dale and Monica Vernon, covers similar themes.)
He explains: “The child who grows up knowing that he can be loved in spite of his imperfections (not for them) learns to smooth over his rough edges in order to deserve the love he receives. Of course, he will always have some imperfection or other, but it’s a sign of reciprocal love when someone becomes willing to improve in order to deserve the other’s affection.”
Luri says that it’s within the normal family that we see the different versions of ourselves (the good and the bad), where we learn to follow the better versions of ourselves, and where we form habits of self-control and responsible freedom.
He reminds us that our “normal family” is the greatest place of natural solidarity that we will ever know in our life. In an imperfect but healthy family, “solidarity is non-negotiable. It is free from negotiation and tactics. It remains solid when everything changes.”
Luri lays out a series of “rights” that every child in a “perfectly imperfect” family should have:
Get distracted, but not always in a passive way
A child who only has fun by vegging out in front of a screen forgets that he could do the same activities he is passively watching. He forgets that he could be the one going places, investigating things, baking, doing exercise, setting goals and striving to achieve them, enjoying success, and so on.
Learn to think by talking about the reasons why
If we want to help our kids to think, let’s dialogue with them, because nothing stimulates the brain as much as good conversation. The dialogue that teaches kids to think is the one that gets down to the “reasons why.” When we dialogue, we delve into the reasons why other people act as they do; when we think, we also go into our own reasons. Reasons are expressed in arguments, while opinions are only based on our own perspective.
Learn to enjoy silence and interiority
If we can’t handle silence, how are we going to learn to listen to ourselves? It’s not easy to learn to sit with our own thoughts if we get bored by being alone. Concentrating requires a certain effort, but the prize is better self-awareness and self-control. Silence, the capacity to enjoy silence, is an activity; it’s not just sitting still. It’s an activity that helps us go within ourselves.
Know your family’s values by observing your parents
Our kids know very well when we’re moralizing and when we’re acting according to our convictions. In the first case, they see us getting up on a pedestal and preaching to them about what they have to do and not do. In the second case, they see that we are showing our exact moral stature and we are teaching them what we do and what we are … and that’s when we’re more credible. We teach our kids with the way we keep a clean house, with the state of the fridge or the trash, with the way we make our beds every day, with the rituals of our meals, etc. Umberto Eco said that “we are what our parents taught us when they weren’t trying to teach us anything.” We educate by osmosis.
Accept that you can’t always get what you want
Life is also imperfect, just like parents.
Use the magic words
“Please,” “thank you,” “sorry,” and “I trust” are the magic words, the “basic structure of cordiality.” They are also magic words because they are a tremendous help in social life, so it’s pretty stupid not to use them.
Set out into the deep
Kids are like boats, and of course they find safety at port, but we have to insist that they are not made to stay docked, but to set out for deeper waters and face life on their own.
We should trust in our kids even though we are much more aware of their weaknesses and of the potential dangers they could face than they are. We need to trust in them because they won’t grow otherwise.
Gregorio Luri concludes by explaining, “There are a lot of difficulties and we’re not all that wise, but I have to say that when you have your grandchild on your knees and you look back, you’ll discover with some satisfaction that your family life is meaningful. One day you accepted that being a good parent meant teaching your kids to live without you, and now you discover that they were able to return the love they received. And for an imperfect parent, there is no price on the intimate satisfaction that this gives.”
This article was originally published in the Spanish edition of Aleteia and has been translated and/or adapted here for English speaking readers.