We're Entering an Age of More Selfish Parents, and I'm Glad
During my internet perusing the other day, I stumbled upon this HuffPo opinion piece wherein the writer muses about whether or not parents are becoming too selfish. She mentions that, of course she feels that parents should get away once in a while, but that building a child’s life around the parents’ needs is going too far. She asks if, perhaps, this is why our children are becoming “more emotionally distressed.” And, of course, she blamed phones for part of our selfishness, because Phones Bad. We were all hugging and cuddling before phones. Phones killed Jesus. Phones are the destruction of civilization.
Listen, of course I agree with her on some points. But the rest of it…the rest of it is the stuff parental guilt is made of. It’s the stuff we ask ourselves before we so much as leave the house to get the mail.
“Is leaving on this trip going to scar my son?”
“Am I a bad mother because I’m on my phone right now instead of playing with my daughter?”
“They’re only little for so long. I shouldn’t want time away from them, because it’s all going to be over some day. I’m such a monster.”
This junk, these unhelpful thoughts, are how we lose ourselves as people. You can go on all the date nights you want, but if you’re worried the whole time about being selfish, it’s not exactly going to have the desired effects. Trust me: I’ve had my share of the date nights wherein my husband and I go silent and then just start talking about the kids. I’ve literally started a new conversation with “I wonder what the kids are doing right now?”
So I’m not saying that you have to forget your kids exist. But you have to be able to let go and hold on to yourself for a bit. And we’ve all become more concerned with doing that. The author of the article would disagree with me on this, but this is a good thing.
The initial instinct, the one that leads us to feel guilty for not doing everything for our children, is an outdated one. It’s ingrained in us, and has been for a very long time. Back in the day (yes, I just said that), it wasn’t exactly smiled upon to think about yourself. The American Dream was plastered everywhere, selling the idea that a family should be all about raising the next generation of families, even if that meant exhaustion and marital distress. If everything was done the “right” way, the woman stayed home and cooked and cleaned, and the man went out and made money. Then everyone sat around in the evening and watched Howdy Doody on television and mused about how nice it was that cocaine was in soda and women didn’t have the right to vote. Everything was about providing for the ideal family unit at your own personal expense. You weren’t a “real” parent if you didn’t.
Now, we’ve become a bit more enlightened, with a bit more focus on Postpartum Depression and date nights and less focus on staying together for the kids, but we’re still not there yet. We still have people making comments about working parents “allowing someone else to raise your kids.” We’re still asking new mothers where the baby is when they dare leave the house by themselves. And, as this article illustrates, we’re still judging what works for another family based on what works for ours.
As evidence for her concerns, the writer of this article cites parents she’s heard of who let their kids stay up later, or take the kids out to eat when they go. She mentions how she doesn’t feel inclined to fly to the Maldives for two weeks to re-connect with her partner, like the aforementioned parents apparently do when they “[jet] off across the world alone.” She postulates that these things put the child second, and that it’s a sign that maybe we have just become way too selfish. I frown at this reasoning for a number of reasons.
For one, I’m assuming from the article that she doesn’t live with this family. She doesn’t know how many vacations they take together, how much time the parents spend with the child on average, and how often these trips are taken. She doesn’t know how often the child sees their grandparents, and — most importantly — she doesn’t know how anyone in this situation actually feels about it. The kid in this family may love those two weeks with grandma. They may hate flying. In the end, whether we approve or not, it’s really none of our business.
And that brings me to my second point. This “new selfishness” is very much needed, because it’s allowing us to do what we need, and not what we think other people want.
I bribe my kids with ice cream sometimes. A lot of times. Partially because it works, and partially because if they succeed, I also get ice cream. In fact, if they fail, I will soothe my anger with ice cream. So this is a win-win-win for me. I know experts out there would “tsk” at me, and I know that there are people out there who’d judge me based on anything from giving my children sugary ice cream to only suggesting it in hopes of eating it myself. Ask me how much I care, on a scale from 0-10.
If I want to eat the ice cream, I will. If I need a few moments of silence, which calls for me to put both children in their rooms to play for a bit, I will. And yes, if it means going on a nice trip with my spouse to spend some adult time with him, I will. Because it works for me, it keeps me feeling human, and it helps me raise my children in as honest and as real a way as I can. This increased worrying about ourselves is long overdue, because children need to be parented by whole people, and that can mean any number of things as long as it keeps them taken care of and loved.
So I guess my point is this: have we gotten more selfish? Yes. Are we putting our children second? Sometimes. Is this a bad thing? Not if you want a real happy, healthy family with real happy, healthy kids. Let us do what we have to, to function at full capacity for our kids, and quit trying to make us feel guilty about it.
And you. Go do you. And do it for yourself.
imagery by Sai De Silva and Rahul Chakraborty on Unsplash.
Arianna Bradford is a wife and mother of two young children. Her interests include reading, napping, and watching as many movies as possible. She’s also the founder of The NYAM Project and really hopes you like it.