article photo of two parents and two children in a kitchen smiling and cooking together by Dr. Sam Goldstein
There is no friendship, no love like that of the parent for the child.

- Henry Ward Beecher

In our recent book (Tenacity in Children;, Bob Brooks and I opined over-thousands and thousands of generations parents prepared their children for adult life. Children would learn by example. Evolution or the process of natural selection determined better adaptation and served as the foundation of parenting. Though parents taught by example not every child was an equally successful student. We argued that as with any species this foundation evolved into a set of instincts present in all, but unevenly distributed in every member of the species. These instincts enhanced our survival. As species evolved, so too did the complexity and importance of these instincts. In concert with the environment these instincts became dependent upon experience to flourish and exert a positive, surviving influence on behavior.

With the publication of Tenacity, our fourteenth book authored together, I was excited to have the opportunity to speak about the seven instincts in my second TEDx talk ( As foundation during this talk, I spoke about my parents and my experiences in childhood, particularly emphasizing the role of each of my parents as caregivers in my growth and development. Bob and I proposed that human beings are not salmon or snakes. These species and many others, are capable of surviving by instinct alone absent any guidance, care or support from parents. In fact, we argued just the opposite, that the complex instincts that comprise human development cannot operate without the experiential support, encouragement and safety offered within the context of family groups.

Following my talk, a number of months ago, one by one each of the individual speaker’s edited talks from our session (Tedx Timpview Drive) was posted on the TEDx site. All but one, mine. After weeks of inquiry the Timpview Drive TEDx host informed me that the “censors” at TED were concerned about a number of aspects of my talk. They questioned some of the facts I offered as scientific evidence. This is certainly understandable. However, they did not want to speak directly with me. They accepted the references I provided to the host concerning the factual bases of my talk. Most concerning, however, was their comment about my discussion of parents and my family. They suggested that not all children have two parents, one parent or any parents for that matter. For a brief time, this appeared to be a hurdle that would not be overcome. Eventually the powers that be at TED relented. My talk was posted with a warning that some people might take offense to my discussion of parents! This started me thinking about what I said versus what they implied. I thought about the role of parents as caregivers regardless of their gender, numbers or particular orientation. In the remainder of this article, I offer my thoughts on what is a parent, what they do and why we need them.

A parent’s role is multi-faceted. It involves providing love, guidance, support and protection to their children. Parents are responsible for meeting children’s basic needs; food, shelter and clothing. as well as nurturing their emotional and social development. Parents serve a crucial role in shaping children’s values, beliefs and behaviors. They are involved in their education, in some cases more or less so, healthcare decisions and overall upbringing. In many societies a parent is an individual with legal and/or biological responsibility for the care, upbringing and well-being of a child. It is not necessarily the case that a parent is defined as only the biological mother or father but is anyone who assumes the responsibility either through adoption or any other means to raise and be responsible for a child.

Though parenting styles can vary, many of you have heard about the three basic styles: authoritarian (take charge, make all decisions); authoritative (allow child input while maintaining responsibility); and laissez-faire (allowing the child to do as she or he pleases). Parenting styles and behavior can vary to an even greater degree based on cultural, personal or individual factors. From my view the role of parents may shift and change based on time, society and culture but the fundamental attributes, dynamics and importance of the parenting role remains unchanged. Parents provide four critical aspects in raising children:

  1. A Foundation of Unconditional Love. At its core being a parent involves the unwavering foundation of unconditional love. It is the profound bond that transcends biological ties and extends to adopted children, step-children (whom I am proud to serve as a bonus father to), and those raised in non-traditional family units. Love is the cornerstone of parenthood, fostering a deep sense of belonging, security and emotional well-being in children. Unconditional love provides the necessary support for children’s growth, development and self-discovery.
  2. Responsibility and Care. Parents are entrusted by society with the responsibility of caring for their children’s physical, emotional and psychological well-being. This includes meeting their basic needs, food, shelter, healthcare, as well as fostering their cognitive, educational and social development. A parent’s role extends beyond providing material necessities. It involves creating a nurturing and supportive environment, one that encourages exploration, learning and the acquisition of life skills. They also encourage a sense of responsibility. That is, not simply acquiescing to a systems view of how parents should be raised but maintaining an active role in influencing the manner in which their children are raised.
  3. Guidance and Mentorship. Parents play a crucial role in guiding and mentoring children, serving as teachers and role models. They impart values, morals and ethics. They shape their children’s character and guide their decision-making processes. In all of our books together, Bob Brooks and I emphasize the role of parents as “charismatic individuals” providing not only strength and experience but support, insight and education. Through their words and actions parents instill important life lessons and teach invaluable skills necessary for navigating the complexities of the world.
  4. Advocacy and Support. Parents act as tireless advocates for their children. We see this today in the United States with the increasing debate about the role of educational systems in shaping our children’s views and the topics they teach in the classroom. Parents ensure that children’s needs are met and their voices are heard. Parents advocate for educational rights, access to healthcare and opportunities for personal growth. A parent’s unwavering support and belief in their child’s abilities empowers children to overcome challenges, pursue their passions and achieve their potential.

Research across many educational, psychological and medical disciplines consistently highlights the vital role of parents in children’s development in part by creating experiences in which genes and instincts flourish. Active engagement by parents in their children’s lives fosters the lifelong knowledge of emotional bonds, acquisition of worldly information, social skills and enhanced emotional well-being. Parental involvement, as Dr. Brooks and I have written, promotes resilience, helping children develop the skills and abilities necessary to advocate for themselves, negotiate adversity and live happy, fulfilling lives. Parenthood encompasses a profound commitment to care for, nurture and advocate for the well-being and development of the next generation. Ultimately, parents represent a transformative force, that has the power to shape not only individual lives but also the very fabric of our society.

I appreciate and am thankful that the TED folks decided to make my talk available to the world. I am still not convinced that they truly understand my ideas and our-theory. I can only hope the folks at TED take the time to learn. After all isn’t TED on a mission to discover and spread ideas that “spark imagination, embrace possibility and catalyze impact”? They say their organization is “devoted to curiosity, reason, wonder and the pursuit of knowledge — without an agenda”. You decide. ◆