parenting advice

A Supreme Court Justice’s wish to his son’s 9th grade graduating class

We tend to think of Supreme Court Justices as austere (and a bit wizened) men and women staring down in long dark robes to deliver law and order from hallowed halls. Turns out at least one of them is a parent (who knew!) of a 9th grader.

Justice John Roberts shed his robes and spoke as a dad at his son’s commencement. Not only does he deliver wisdom to our courts, but timeless wisdom to our homes. The internet is picking it up because it offers some rare advice in a rather startling way. Time.com posted this headline to summarize his speech: “I wish you bad luck.”

I totally agree with his advice. Do you?  (read it first before responding…you may be surprised).

Here’s an excerpt:

From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice.

I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.

Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted.

I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.

And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship.

I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.

Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

That final line is the zinger: to see the message in our misfortunes. Parenting isn’t about shielding our children from pain, stumbling, or misfortune. I know my primal instinct is to protect. And protect we should, from infancy on for a few years. But there is a gradual letting go, even before Kindergarten starts, to prepare them for the world of disappointment.

They won’t be first in line.

They won’t get A’s on everything.

They won’t get picked first to play on teams.

They won’t get the first job they apply for.

So Justice Roberts gives us a little window into the hard knocks of life, especially for these privileged boys who probably had some helicopter parents in the crowd. And read between the lines: he’s telling us how to step back, let go, and help our kids become resilient and strong because of the opportunities that challenge give us/them.

As I read his dichotomous lines, I realize how opposition in all things can teach the greatest truth. I, for one, have suffered all these things at some points in my life: betrayal, loneliness, bad luck, being ignored, and losing. And many other hard things. I am grateful for each time these happened because these pointy lessons sent barbs into my heart to soften it up a bit. To bleed a little to feel the humanity of others and of my own.

Think of the compassion kids could learn if we could take to heart what Justice Roberts is saying here. Think of the wisdom, the integrity, the strength of character.

Agree or not? Now that you’ve read it, I hope you felt a little discomfort, as I did, to coach not rescue, to teach not save. It’s usually not our first instinct, but I am glad of the reminder to be more conscious of how to respond better.