No Family Is an Island

Matthew Warner of The Radical Life has a brilliant article that describes the “12 Most Important Metrics for your Child’s (and your) Education”:

  1. Are they humble – not that they think less of themselves, but that they think of themselves less.
  2. Do they know how to be loved – are they humble and secure enough to be vulnerable.
  3. Are they at peace – which means knowing who they are.
  4. Are they filled with joy – because they live with a hope that transcends this short life.
  5. Do they know they are small – that the world is not about them.
  6. Do they know they are giants – that, to somebody, they mean the whole world.
  7. Are they adventurous – willing to embrace a faith that will take them beyond the prison of their own limits.
  8. Are they imaginative – able to see that the best parts of life cannot be measured or touched.
  9. Do they embrace the moment – knowing that the present moment is the only moment they’ll ever have.
  10. Are they virtuous – aspiring to the best parts of their nature.
  11. Do they know how to give generously – because to give of yourself is the only way to find yourself.
  12. Do they know how to love – because this is what they were made to do (and because I’ve shown them by loving them every day unconditionally and by introducing them to a God who loves them perfectly).

It is a truly outstanding list and captures exactly what I hope to inculcate in my young daughter. I only found myself disagreeing with one sentence in his article, his concluding thought that ultimately, if his kids don’t learn these lessons, it’s no one’s fault but his own.

Being a parent comes with an awesome set of responsibilities. He is correct in the sense that parents, caregivers with unique and extensive duties in raising and nurturing their children, are truly irreplaceable when it comes to teaching their kids to value humility, virtue, joy, and everything else he mentions. But no family is an island. We are inevitably shaped by the communities in which we are members.

Kids are shaped by their schools, friends, and the people they admire. Various communities can reinforce or undermine the lessons of parents. Kids can receive the support they need within these communities when they face the temptation to be inauthentic or immoral in order to be cool, popular, attractive, or anything else the average adolescent might find tempting, or they might not. They might be inundated with values that contradict the understanding of success that parents are trying to get their children to embrace.

The dearth of communities in our society that reinforce this way of understanding success is something that concerns me greatly. Having taught and coached kids from kindergarten through college (mostly at Catholic schools), I have seen the flak that thoughtful, caring, kind, generous, joyful kids can get from those demanding conformity to the values of a more narcissistic, empty culture. And it can be tough to be vulnerable when others have hurt you when you have opened up. It can be tough to feel joyful if you feel alienated and lonely. It is tough to be loving when others don’t accept your love or even mock or reject it. All of this is particularly true in the challenging, formative years of adolescence.

I admire Matthew Warner’s strong embrace of his responsibilities as a parent. The world would be infinitely better if all parents demanded as much from themselves. But as it stands now, we have a responsibility to not only help our children embrace these values, but to try to transform our communities to reflect these values. It is a responsibility because we love and value others and want them to experience human flourishing and true success. But it’s also a necessity if we want to give our kids an even better opportunity to embrace and live these values, a better chance at achieving real success.