Better than nothing: a brief primer on every parent’s new approach to life

Early on in his book On the Advantage and Disadvantage of History for Life, Friedrich Nietzsche offers the following melancholy little reflection:

“Too often we stop at knowing the good without doing it because we also know the better without being able to do it.” (trans. Peter Preuss)

Like when you don’t go to the gym because there just isn’t enough time (2 hrs.) for you to get in the necessary cardio and strength training. Because you need to be strong and skinny, or ripped and cut, or whatever it is now.

Like when you don’t bother reading because you can’t finish a chapter, or really the whole book, because we all know the author intended the story to form a complete whole, and you need to receive your entertainment in just that sort of reverent way.

Like when you don’t pray because there really isn’t time to get yourself totally centered and in an attitude of peace and gratitude, at which point you can finally begin to read St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans or pray the entire Rosary, because you know an angel will die if you don’t manage to contemplate all five of those Joyful Mysteries with rapt attention. Well, maybe not that last line, but you get the idea.

Yep. I remember those days all too well. And then I became a parent. And then I became a parent again. And now that sad inaction of which Nietzsche writes actually isn’t as much of a problem. Not because of improved self-discipline on my part or some sort of spiritual kenosis. Maybe that is what goes on with other parents,  but I suspect that it probably works with them much the same as it has with me: the better (not to mention the perfect) is now so clearly out of my reach, that my choice is between the good or nothing at all. That has made it a good bit easier to decide. Now I run, read, pray, drink beer, walk the dog and really do everything else in what would have formerly seemed like pathetically small doses. But from my perspective now, those “small doses” beat the hell out of the alternative, which is completely missing out on worthwhile activities.

All of this is just a blunt way of expressing a truth we used to know, but sometimes now forget: procreation is not only a nice thing for your kids, who now get to exist–it is also good for you. Children are, as we Catholics say, the supreme gift of marriage (CCC 2378). They are beneficial in so many ways, and this is one of them: the giving of oneself that parenthood requires can help break down your pride, that strange failure to accept what one truly is: a limited, finite human.

For pride is a hidden element in all the examples above from my life. You don’t need to workout for three hours, you don’t need to read for four hours straight (unless you are reading my blog), and I’m reasonably sure your heavenly friends enjoy hearing from you even when your halo isn’t so shiny.

Let the good times roll. Literally.

Let the good times roll. Literally.

Plus, a run with a dog on a leash and a couple of kids in a stroller is just way more ontologically dense. Maybe you get to flex in front of the gym mirror, but I’ve still got a bit more going on here.  If you can’t see that, then something is wrong with you, my friend.

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5 Responses to Better than nothing: a brief primer on every parent’s new approach to life

  1. Greg Ward says:

    Wise words and so very true…never let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Parenting breaks us down and builds us up again as new men – a transformation of all perspective, a re-introduction to wonder and awe.

    • alexanderschimpf says:

      And that is only with 2 kids. One wonders what kind of transformations more (God willing) will bring . . .

  2. Pingback: Better than nothing: a brief primer on every parent’s new approach to life | suchitra1719

  3. theflashcook says:

    What a great post. I think it’s not only about humility (though there is plenty of that) but it’s also about being taught (by them) to really live in the moment you are in. Children do that naturally but we are always with an eye towards the past and the future. Sometimes all there should be is the peanut butter sandwich you are eating as you blow bubbles into your milk. Nothing else. In a way, everything else is a construction and distraction.

    • alexanderschimpf says:

      Good point! I guess kids and parents need each other, in that way. We help them learn to plan ahead and reflect, but they remind us not to forget the present moment.

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