Lent, as you know, is a time a great time to focus on growing in virtue – i.e., growing in the habit of doing what is good in some area of our life. Perhaps we may pick some area of weakness or vice and work to grow in a virtue that counters that weakness or vice. One great virtue that we must strive to develop throughout our lives, but one that is often misunderstood, is humility.
Back in December, I came across a newspaper editorial entitled, “Parenting in the Age of Awfulness.”* The article’s author bemoaned how children today are immersed in a culture that promotes disrespect toward parents, teachers, and each other. The author, a physician, recounted how recently a mother was in his office with her 10-year-old son. The boy was playing a videogame on his cell phone while the mother was answering questions posed by the doctor. After the mother stated how long she thought her son had a stomachache, her son chimed in, “Shut up, mom. You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The article, I believe, rightly stated that this attitude of disrespect is much more prevalent today among children, and that while we still see kids who are very courteous and respectful towards their parents and others, the difference is in the parents. Children must be taught to be respectful. The author listed several recommendations based on what parents have taught him: “Require respectful behavior at all times. It’s OK to disagree. It’s never OK to be disrespectful. Prioritize the family. The family meal at home is more important than piling on after-school extracurricular activities. Instead of boosting self-esteem, teach humility. Fight the cultural imperative to be ‘awesome.’”
That last recommendation to teach humility rather than focusing on self-esteem boosting and being “awesome” struck me as particularly thoughtful. Do we think enough about teaching our children the virtue of humility? Today, it seems there is a lot of emphasis in parenting on raising our children to have self-confidence and to be affirming of them. Certainly, those are good things. However, having real self-confidence depends on our ability to see ourselves as we really are, including our strengths and our weaknesses. And that is what real humility is: having a true opinion about ourselves. It is not, as some would have it, merely having a low opinion about ourselves. Nor does humility mean being a doormat and letting others take advantage of us. Humility is rooted in the truth about who we are as God created us. Someone who is confident beyond their ability (i.e., not in touch with the truth about themselves) will always be disappointed in themselves. They may also have difficulty accepting the fact that they need others in their life to depend on, especially God.
We want our kids to succeed and to do well in the world. We want them to be confident, but also respectful. The proper balance of these good things that we want for our children is found only in the virtue of humility, and teaching them to see themselves as God sees them. For starters, we must teach them to be thankful, to recognize the times they are wrong and to apologize, and to be courteous.
* Leonard Sax, “Parenting in the Age of Awfulness,” Wall Street Journal, December 17, 2015.