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Parents and the Cardinal Virtues

By James 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 consequential endeavor.

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 group.

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 future.

Copyright © 1999 -
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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