Parenting: The Crucible of Practical Wisdom


Credit: Adam Richins

Kate Novack ‘24 and Mary Novack P’24 pose for a photo at the 2020 Mother-Daughter Brunch.

Parenting is the adventure of a lifetime. As a parent of a joyful daughter who has taught me so much every day for more than fifteen years, I am convinced that there is nothing more rewarding or humbling in life than being a parent. I have also observed that Montrose is not only an exceptional place to be a student; it’s also an exceptional place to be a parent. Learning is a lifelong pursuit, and we parents are learners and seekers of “practical wisdom” just like you, our wonderful daughters. Thankfully, the same gifted people to whom we have entrusted your education share their knowledge and insights with us, your parents, on a regular basis.

On Thursday night, parents were blessed to go to “class” with our Head of School Mrs. Katie Elrod, who presented the first LifeCompass program of the year. Mrs. Elrod shared a treasure trove of philosophy, social science, and inspirational commonsense observations delivered with wit and grace that has given this parent a wonderful opportunity to pause, reflect, and recalibrate. Yes, parents need to pause, reflect, and recalibrate too. We need to ponder the ancient texts with the “eternal truths” and contemplate the answers to existential questions every now and then, just like you. 

Mrs. Elrod began her remarks by saying: “Parenting is the crucible of practical wisdom.” Practical wisdom, according to Mrs. Elrod, is knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do. As a parent and educator, she has great insights to share with parents and students alike. As she said, we are struggling in these complex times – with the economy, political division, public health, technology, and social media (“the thing that mediates all reality.”)  Mrs. Elrod’s remarks Thursday night resonated with me deeply because they were consonant with how I was raised, albeit in the last century.

I am blessed to have two extraordinary parents. I don’t put them on a pedestal; I am merely sharing the truth with humility. And I am quoting a close family friend, a priest who aptly described my first and most important teachers and lifelong coaches. Robert and Sheila McGurrin taught me and my brother Robert by their example how to “flourish,” which Mrs. Elrod defined as living “a life of generosity for a noble purpose.” My parents embraced their role as parents according to Mrs. Elrod’s eloquent description. They “saw what our passions and gifts were” (and are), modeled for and coached us on “how to take care of others,” pursued their own passions, and shared their gifts and talents with the world. My mom inspires and guides me to this day and keeps me focused on what I am aiming at. I am truly grateful for her. Fortunately, Montrosians — parents and students alike — are surrounded by people who share my parents’ philosophy and who live every day as she and my dad did and as my mom still does — with joy, humility, and grace. These people teach all students and parents how to live a “life of generosity for a noble purpose.”

I cannot give away all of the information in Mrs. Elrod’s playbook. Some things cannot be revealed to you until you are “beyond your developmental years” as my mother used to say to me. But the essence of Mrs. Elrod’s presentation highlighted in the following paragraphs hopefully will illuminate for you the “practical wisdom” parents learned Thursday to help you, our daughters, become the best version of yourselves, the courageous women God calls you to be.

Focus on what is eternal and true. Mrs. Elrod observed that common sense comes from ancient texts, which are actually verified by recent social science. So many of the podcasts we listen to and the books we read by modern psychologists and educators echo the writings of philosophers like Aristotle. Everything old is new again! Mrs. Elrod also shared with us the Gospel of Mark, 12:28b-34, the “first of all Commandments.”  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  This truth is so simple and profound, Mrs. Elrod said, that even the scribe in the Gospel who was questioning Jesus didn’t “dare to ask him any more questions.” It is what we all need to do and what parents must model and teach.

Life is never, ever predictable. Rarely does life turn out as we plan, and indeed, as Mrs. Elrod shared, the “worst thing will happen.” Previous generations understood this and rose to all the challenges and obstacles life brought them. Parents need to “be convicted” about this; we need to tell the stories of our ancestors, as Mrs. Elrod said, to “teach the stories of hope on a daily basis.” Their resilience and courage inspire us to follow in their footsteps and meet the challenges of life with fortitude and joy. We need to be vigilant not to confuse vulnerability with fragility as we navigate through our lives. And Mrs. Elrod reminded us that “courage is the most important virtue” and that “we need to acquire or try to acquire courage.”

 Remember what all humans need. Mrs. Elrod said that it’s “not success, happiness, well-being, or independence.” Indeed, they may be a “by-product, but not our goal.”  Rather, all humans need “a life of generosity for a noble purpose.” Our job as parents is to help you, our daughters, discover what your gifts are and teach you to share those gifts to take care of others. Our job as parents is to help you discover your purpose and see it for yourselves. Mrs. Elrod tasked us with asking ourselves: “How can I help my teenager cultivate desires for God, neighbor, and self?”

“Life is a comedy, not a tragedy.” Mrs. Elrod talked about the fact that “languishing is 2021’s dominant emotion.” So many of us are understandably feeling aimless and joyless. So many of us are struggling and are increasingly worried. Mrs. Elrod invited us to embrace that the worst things have happened, but we have to then step back and remember to “have more fun,” to “detach,” and “develop a sense of humor.”

I really loved being in Mrs. Elrod’s “class,” and I truly hope I have done her presentation justice. And now, dear readers, I humbly ask for your help, a bit of homework if you will. First, I invite you to do what I did immediately after Mrs. Elrod’s program and thank your parents. It may take you decades to fully appreciate your parents, but know they are your biggest cheerleaders, your most devoted coaches. Do something kind for them now to lighten their load. Make dinner, fold the laundry, rake the leaves, babysit for your younger sibling(s) without being asked. Mrs. Elrod told the parents assembled Thursday evening to make sure we, your parents, are having more “fun.” She tasked us with finding a new outlet, possibly a new hobby. Perhaps we might read a book that Mrs. Elrod recommended, such as The Coddling of the American Mind by Jonathan Haidt, for example. So help us out. Create some time and space for us to explore a new side of ourselves beyond our most important role of being your parents. I promise that you will reap the reward of becoming “competent and caring” young adults with parents who aren’t, as Mrs. Elrod put it “frazzled, overworked and talking over you,” but who are active listeners, fully present in every moment.

And above all, remember that your parents aren’t perfect, but we are striving, and we love you with all our hearts. Thank you, Mrs. Elrod, for your brilliant “practical wisdom.” And thank you, Mom and Dad, for being my inspiration.

Mrs. Mary Novack P ’24, Contributing Writer