What is the life lesson I taught my kids every day?

As a Father, I wanted to teach my kids a valuable lesson that would help them later in life. A lesson that would help them through good times and hard times. A lesson that they would remember forever.

Of course, I taught them about Jesus and the Bible and tried to instil in them a love for God. But there was one phrase that I said to them as much as possible — so many times in fact that they remember it today. It’s actually a little bit of a family joke — as families often joke about their fathers. But every time they joke about it I am secretly pleased because I know that they have learned the lesson!

What was the lesson that I chose to repeat over and over again while they were growing up? “Life is rough.”

I wanted to contrast the popular fairy tale ending of “And they lived happily ever after,” because sometimes that isn’t true. Life isn’t always happy and orderly — it’s sometimes messy. Hence, “Life is rough.”

One question my family sometimes asks is, “Why is that the life lesson you wanted us to learn?” Let me begin by saying what the statement isn’t.

“Life is rough” isn’t “suck it up.” Suck it up means to suppress emotions while undergoing hardship. Something I have learned over the years (and after years of suppressing them) is that emotions are good. The only emotion that I allowed myself to express in the past was anger, and it took me a long time to get that under some semblance of control. Anger isn’t bad in and of itself but the way I expressed it was. I suspect that that kind of anger is what sucking it up eventually leads to. I don’t want that for my kids.

“Life is rough” isn’t “Life’s rough and then you die.” This was a popular phrase when I was growing up and it speaks directly to the hopelessness that we often feel in life. But it provides no motivation to change; no motivation to make things better. In fact one could argue that it expresses mere fatalism, as in, “Don’t bother doing anything more because you are only going to die in the end anyways.” That isn’t a value I wanted my kids to have.

“Life is rough” isn’t “Man up.” One of the most basic reasons why I didn’t choose this as my go to advice is simply because my eldest is a girl. But beyond that, the call to Man up implies that there is a standardised masculine norm that kids somehow have to figure out in order to succeed in life. This is in fact not true. Raewyn Connell’s groundbreaking book Masculinities teaches us that there are a variety of masculinities that each of us can choose from as we shape our own masculinities (and femininities I suppose). Quite often there is one masculinity that takes over — called hegemonic masculinity — but this one dominant form is my no means the only valid masculinity. While Man up is a call to act like a man, it also represents a hegemonic masculinity where men must fit into a specific mold. I don’t want my kids to fit into a mold.

So if Life is Rough isn’t one of these things then what is it?

Life is rough is a call to live a life that rolls with the punches. A life that sees hardship not as something unique and rare but something that helps a person grow into a someone stronger. It’s a call to a life lived solving problems creatively. It’s a call to struggle for something bigger and better than onesself. Life is Rough is an acknowledgment that even though things may not always go your way, you can learn to navigate through it and come out the other end. Life is Rough is a life lived with meaning. That’s the kind of life I want my kids to live. And finally life is rough is a realisation that life isn’t always rough so enjoy those times when they come too!

What life lessons have you taught your kids?

Feedback is always welcome.

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