[Week 9 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
Why is morality a “dirty” word?
I think I know why “morality” is a dirty word to some people. Two main reasons:
- It is confused with cultural preference
- It is applied conveniently
Cultural preference can cover anything from dressing according to religious code to using vocabulary acceptable to political groups. Convenient application usually involves making excuses for what was going to be done anyway.
Is there such thing as right and wrong?
The fallback response is that morality is “relative.” But this avoids the real issue. Everyone is born with a conscience. Everyone has a strong sense of right and wrong. This can be proven by the fact that everyone gets mad or depressed about wrong treatment.
Even people who try to approach child-raising as “creating an environment where the child gets to chose everything” have a premise that to judge any decision is wrong. This exhibits a basic flaw in their thinking. If you declare that nothing should be judged, you have declared a judgement.
So, then, there is no getting away from the concepts of morality. As humans, we inherently know that we do and must make decisions based on what is right or wrong. Our children are watching to see if our words about morality match our choices.
Knowing what is good is not enough
Children need 3 things from parents regarding morality:
- Moral convictions that are implemented
- Moral convictions that are consistent
- Moral convictions that are communicated
There is a human tendency to think we are good because we know what good is and we want to be good. However, wanting to do what is right is not the same as doing what is right. Verbally declaring a moral code is not the same as living it out.
We can declare all day long that we are honest people, but if our children hear us regularly lie to our neighbors, such declarations will mean little or nothing. If we trash-talk our spouse and then try to teach our children to be kind to each other, they probably won’t take us very seriously.
What moral codes really apply to
A key factor in a person applying moral convictions is that everything really has to do with how that person treats others and themselves. It has next to nothing to do with coercing other adults to behave a certain way. The only times we should be interfering with other adults is when there is a clear and present danger to a ourselves or an obviously vulnerable person.
Along the same lines, moral convictions should be applied universally. If it is not okay to steal, it is not okay to steal from anyone. If it is right to let someone chose their own associations, it is right to let everyone chose their own associations. (I will discuss ownership and learning to get along in terms of children in the home in a later post.)
Most of us will automatically, and often with honest intent, claim we apply our code of morality evenly. Some will hedge that not all people deserve to be treated according to the same principles. Children, who lack our developed biases, will innocently and often rightly question our inconsistencies.
When parents live out their moral code
Children will be most concerned with how they are treated, but they will also evaluate their parents based on how well the parents’ rhetoric matches their actions. In cases of parental failure (which we all have), it is always best to admit the mistake and have a plan for restitution.
When parents are living out their moral code, it will be practically second nature to communicate these dearly held principles to the children. Surrounded by good example, any discussion will flow more easily. When parents have been observed taking moral actions in spite of inconvenience, emotion, or personal preference, the children will be much more inspired to do the same.
One weird catch
One weird catch to all of this is that true moral rightness is linked with humility. Humility is a slippery virtue. A person must strive to be humble, but can never claim to be humble at the same time. A truly humble person realizes he or she has reason to be humble.
Yet it is humility which makes morality most likely and most effective. Arrogant love or self-righteous patience are contradictions of terms. Like many things, morality begins in the heart. If we help our children understand this, they will be much better prepared for life’s struggles.
- make a list of what you think your moral code is
- try to filter it for personal preferences that are not really moral issues
- evaluate your tendency to make excuses for not following it