Parents and the Cardinal Virtues
L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
Admittedly, there are many variables that determine a nation's
direction. Political, economic and international events converge
to impact an unfolding future. Recently, a cliché has
been used to advance the viewpoint that government intervention
is needed. It is said that the public should line up behind one
proposed program or another "for the sake of the children."
However, this attempt at manipulation holds within it a profound
truth. Our children indeed are our future. This makes the challenging
role of raising children a distinctly meaningful and extremely
The parenting advice industry has taken many twists and turns
since the days when Dr. Spock's methods reigned supreme and parents
faithfully adhered to his every recommendation. It seems, though,
that today's parents are generally more inconstant, and oftentimes
more impotent, than their predecessors.
Despite societal confusion concerning the optimum approaches
to child rearing, age-old wisdom is available for the taking,
and it is surprisingly beneficial in helping to guide parents
toward success in their appointed tasks.
Thomas Aquinas referred to these instructional signposts as
the Cardinal Virtues. C.S. Lewis wrote that the Cardinal Virtues
are "those which all civilized people recognize." The
virtues have traditionally been considered to be pivotal, and
other moral attributes emanate from them. Their universal applicability
is precisely what makes them so enlightening for parents. They
consist of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance.
Because the word has fallen out of vogue, the
notion itself has lost some of its appeal. For some, the term
may have a negative connotation, such as that associated with
"prude." But in actuality, prudence is basically an
informed common sense. It involves paying attention to what is
occurring at the moment and using reason and conscience to determine
the correct steps to take. The Book of Proverbs states, "The
prudent man looks where he is going." Prudent parents discern
the truth regarding the everyday circumstances of their child.
Keeping abreast of what children are being taught, particularly
as it relates to the values aspect of the school curriculum,
is an exercise of this virtue. With regard to teens, peers are
the sum and substance of their world. Prudent parents make it
a point to know exactly who it is that comprises this influential
In many of our courtrooms, a depiction of a blindfolded
woman holding the scales of justice is on display. As Americans,
we pledge allegiance to the flag and declare that our nation
has "justice for all." This statement incorporates
the elements of equity, honesty and willingness to meet our commitments.
Impartiality is an essential component of justice. Within the
family, this virtue manifests itself in the form of unwavering
fairness. A child should be able to predict the outcome of a
violation of family rules, and the consequences should be administered
consistently and without favoritism.
Temperance will forever be connected with the
movement against the consumption of alcohol, and many still believe
that this is the singular meaning of the word. However, temperance
has relevance for all sources of pleasure and involves moderation
rather than abstinence. Temperate persons control appetites and
exercise self-restraint. They seek balance. The most impressive
parenting is accomplished in a reserved, composed and quiet state,
even in the face of feigned or genuine hysterics. Temperance
is also a contagious virtue. Before too long, children can move
from agitation to composure in a shorter and more facile manner
when a temperate demeanor is repeatedly modeled.
Resolve, strength, perseverance and courage are
all a part of fortitude. C.S. Lewis wrote that the nearest modern
English synonym for this word is "guts." All parents
possess a modicum of guts. But positive results cannot be achieved
without cultivating a generous supply of this attribute, for
it takes fortitude to continually exercise these virtues.
When it comes to parenting, these powerful beacons of ideal
behavior dovetail elegantly with one another. Justice applied
without temperance may be excessive. Fortitude is required to
resist the peculiar talent that children have for eroding the
will of their parents through repetition. Prudence serves to
guide all of the other virtues through the adroit use of judgment.
Practice of these principles is an ideal for which to strive.
Through the grace and providence of our Ultimate Parent, these
Cardinal Virtues, when utilized conscientiously, will enhance
our family relationships immensely and ensure a most promising
Copyright © 1999 -
James L. Hirsen,
All Rights Reserved