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Pithy Parental Principles


When my brother, sister, and I were growing up, our parents taught us more by their example than by their spoken instruction, although they did a lot of that kind of teaching, too.

They lived exemplary lives before us, knowing that we couldn't help noticing and hoping that we would perceive the differences between how they approached life and how many others lived. They trusted that when we saw that contrast, we would want to follow their example instead of a path that, though admittedly easier and more fun at the moment, perhaps, would lead to problems "down the road" and establish bad habits.

Yet, they also taught important lessons by what they said, and the example of their lives reinforced the spoken lessons. Here are a few of those valuable life principles they taught us.

  1. "We can't afford it."

Our parents were children of the Great Depression. They knew firsthand what tough economic times were. They had learned the hard way how to make it last, wear it out, make do, and do without. To do that, they had learned what was necessary in life, to control or suppress the urge for instant gratification, and to save for both the proverbial rainy day and the truly important things that they hoped one day to have or to give to us.

So when they replied when we asked for something, "We can't afford it," we knew they meant it. We didn't always like that answer, but we would see the wisdom of it in time. They weren't saying it as just an excuse to deprive us of something we wanted, and they certainly weren't wasting those resources on themselves. Only later did we realize that they often had cash in hand for whatever it was we had wanted, but they were saving for something better and more permanent. Things like our college education.

2. "Don't interrupt."

We learned almost from the time we learned to verbalize a simple sentence that it was a bad idea to interrupt an adult conversation. We learned to wait until the conversation was over or the people having the conversation paused before speaking. As we got older, we learned that to interrupt someone is downright rude, the epitome of selfishness. It is a way of saying, "I'm more important than you" or "What I've got to say is more important than what you are saying."

To this day, I'm reluctant to interrupt someone, even when I'm in a hurry or have something genuinely important to say. And I detest the rude interrupter who imposes upon conversations of which I'm a part.

3. "Remember who you are."

This saying we usually heard just before we left our parents to go somewhere without them. It was a reminder to be on our best behavior and to do right, regardless of what others around us might do. They wanted us to realize that what we said and did and the behavior decisions we made reflected on not only our own character but also the entire family and had potential consequences for every member of the family. It was a reminder to do our family proud by being and doing right at all times.

To "remember who you are" is to reflect positively on the family name. And our parents taught us that we were members of two families, the Peterson family and the Christian family. In the end, we loved to overhear our parents' friends say to them, "Your children are so well behaved" (although we knew that we sometimes weren't!). And it reminded us of our desire to hear our heavenly Father's "Well done!"

4. "Share and share alike."

What short, pithy statements did your parents use to teach you important life lessons? Share them, and I'll try to pass a few of them along to fellow readers of this blog in a future post!

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©2020 by Dennis L. Peterson