The amazing wisdom of the Tao offers us principles for parenting if we look at the way Lao-tzu describes our power to lead by example. The 65th verse of the Tao Te Ching advises us to live by staying simple-hearted, “Content with an ordinary life, you can show all people the way back to their own true nature.” Being open to the guidance of your own true nature will free others to do the same. And “when they know they do not know, people can find their own way.” Parenting shouldn’t mean imposing rules or impressing others with your supposed intelligence and superiority. Refuse to convey superiority. Show others how to live from the Tao perspective by being willing to admit that you don’t know what’s best for them, nor do you even know with any degree of certainty how your own life should go. Let other people know that you’re willing to ask for guidance. Show them that you’re not “in charge,” either of them or of what happens to you. Allow them to see a man or woman who’s humble, lives peacefully in the cycles of life, and stays simple-hearted.
Be willing to say to those in your charge, “I don’t know.” This phrase is a symbol of strength rather than weakness, so use it freely. When you teach others to do the same, they’ll begin to allow their highest selves to be guided by the Great Way. Keep in mind that nature never forces anything to grow, but is silently and invisibly ever present. Do the same to the best of your ability by not forcing yourself and your ideas on anyone (with sensible precautions for those too young or too immature to take on adult responsibilities).
Practice keeping your life simple and uncomplicated. Model this behavior for those you feel obliged to lead. Don’t “pole-vault over mouse turds”—dispose of those rodent droppings with a simple tissue and dump them into the garbage! Keep it simple. Spend a day without the label of “parent” or “boss” and put yourself on an equal footing with those who usually look to you for direction. Think of yourself as one of those you lead—in fact, pretend that you are him or her for a day. I’ve found that when I practice this with my children, they respond according to their best and true nature. For example, when I simply say to my teenage daughter, “I know that you’re perfectly capable of being responsible and sensible while I’m out of town, and I love that about you,” I remove the “authoritarian parent” label and treat her the way I’d want to be treated. When this becomes the norm, it’s obvious that Lao-tzu is correct: “The simplest pattern is the clearest” when showing people the way to their own true nature.