Parental Life Lessons

Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., D.N.C.C.M., F.A.A.E.T.S.

father sitting and speaking with son

Naturally, children are extremely perceptive and intuitive creatures. Unbeknownst to many parents, children are highly in tuned with their familial environment and their personal surroundings. They are observing every verbal and nonverbal communication that we are uttering. They are aware of our faults, our limitations, and our weaknesses. They are equally aware of our strengths, resiliency and our personal fortitude.

For a majority of parents, it is seldom easy or comfortable to speak of one’s personal failures and vulnerabilities. While many parents teach their children that we have all made mistakes; it is those avoidable mistakes that are often the most difficult to discuss.


Have you ever felt compelled to share a personal life lesson, but you had no idea where to start?  Before you share your personal life lesson, it is important to ask yourself the following: What is my motivation? Why do I feel compelled to share this particular life lesson? What good may come of sharing it?


Parents often feel compelled to share life lessons to serve as a warning. It is often driven by personal fear or angst that their child may be going down a wayward street. In relationship to addiction, there are many fears associated with being a recovering addict. Parents may fear glorifying or romanticizing their addiction. On the other hand, there may be fears associated with shame and blame associated with the parents’ addictive past. Either way, it is important that parents recognize that the life lesson is simply that; a life lesson and not an indication of his or her personal worth.


Learning to accept personal responsibility is probably one of the most humbling of experiences.  Unfortunately, it is not always a lesson taught by parents or other adult role models. In fact, many adults look to shift blame, place shame or altogether avoid personal responsibility.  Personal responsibility takes personal self-awareness, insight and integrity. It is through such qualities that we are capable of being completely honest and transparent with ourselves. Personal responsibility occurs when we accept the ownership of an event or a circumstance that has occurred within our lives.

Notably, personal responsibility does not mean that we have to be an open book, or announce our mistakes over a loud speaker. Rather, personal responsibility is simply taking ownership of events and circumstances that we have ownership or a relationship with. As a clinician, I have had patients who felt that personal responsibility meant that they had to be completely transparent with everyone that they met. It is important to understand that we do not have to live a life that is guarded, nor do we have to be completely revealing. When you accept personal responsibility, it is an indication that you have nothing to hide; be embarrassed or ashamed by; and that you are willing to accept your role in this game called life. Personal responsibility can prove a liberating experience.


When we are capable of showing self-compassion, we are living a life that is based on principles of being unconditional. Living a life that is unconditional means that we accept, approve, admire, forgive, trust, and we have learned to love our own person. We can only teach what we know. If we do not have a personal relationship with being unconditional, then we are incapable of teaching such messages to others. As far as children go, they know whether or not you are living a life centered on the principle of being unconditional. An unconditional life literally means that you have placed no conditions on your person. You have placed no restrictions or limitations on your worthiness and ability to be completely approved. It is not to say that you will always “like” the deeds that occur in your life, but it is saying that you have resisted placing conditions on your worthiness and acceptability. We should look beyond the fears of being rejected or humiliated.  If we make mistakes, we need to accept our personal responsibility and learn to move beyond those errors in life. When we live a compassionate life, we are striving to live a life that is unconditional.


At the end of the day, the ultimate life lesson for your child should be that there is absolutely nothing they do that will cause you to stop loving them. Your child should never fear being rejected, abandoned, or discarded. While you may not like or endorse the deeds or actions of your child; you should always be willing to embrace your child with open arms. The greatest life lesson for a child should be, that our worthiness is neither based on the good or bad that we commit; it is not based on our successes or our failures; that who we really are, is an individual who is much deeper than the choices that we make in this life. For every person is bound to make mistakes and errors in life. It is not to justify mistakes or errors, rather it is to say that my love for another is not based on an individual’s successes or failures. For our children should always feel that there are no conditions placed on their love or worthiness.

Dr.  Asa Don Brown is a prolific author, an engaging speaker, human rights advocate, and clinical psychologist. He serves as first responder in New York and he has held university faculty positions teaching incoming freshmen to those completing their graduate work.