Selfish is a dirty word. To most of us it means lacking consideration for others and looking out for one’s personal gain only. To be a selfish parent goes against every fiber of our being. Many know what it’s like to live with a narcissistic parent who never takes responsibility for herself and turns every fault into someone else’s problem.
But the word “self” refers to one’s essential being, nature or personality. I want to focus on this type of self-ishness. Nurturing your essential being is paramount to becoming not only an effective parent but also one who finds fulfillment and joy in the job as opposed to the exhaustion and frustration of a heavy burden.
Nurturing your essential being requires a certain amount of self-confidence and the knowledge that your essential being is as important as your child’s. Unfortunately most of us (especially women) were brought up being taught that others are more important and that caring for oneself is selfish. As well, most of us brought up under the reward and punishment method learned that our behavior and achievements are far more important than we are, or than the emotions beneath our behavior. So therefore we come to parenting with a self-confidence deficit—we’re never quite good enough.
Being self-ish means being able to say, “This is not okay with me.” It means setting a limit not primarily because it is in the best interest of your child, but because it actually does not work for you. It means understanding that your child is equally invested in what he wants, so problem solving is needed for both to work it through to a solution. Taking away a phone to get what you want is so much easier.
Healthy parenting requires teamwork. Teamwork requires cooperation, doing something for another member of the team, not only because they will do something for you in return, and not because you will get a reward if you do or a punishment if you don’t, but because it feels right to do so. That means being heard when you say that something does not feel right—“It does not feel right to me when you talk to me like that.” And listening when your child says the same to you.
Being self-ish means being honest about your feelings, your mistakes, your desires and taking responsibility by saying what you want your child to do, rather than what he needs to do.
Resentment, disrespect and feeling unappreciated run strong with many parents. These are parents who give and give and give believing it is their job to take responsibility for everything their child does, says, and feels. The giving is fruitless, the burden is impossible to lift, and feelings of failure seep in when the problem does not go away. The giving is not appreciated and often stands in the way of the child’s most important learning.
When you are feeling overburdened, can you say “no” to yet another activity your child demands? Can you decide not to buy another trending toy or video game without the excuse that you don’t have the money. Can you say no and allow with empathy the meltdown that may follow?
It takes self-ishness to allow your child to experience the natural consequences of her behavior; to let her feel disappointed, sad, despairing, angry or hopeless without rushing in to try to fix it but instead simply offering your understanding and support (advice and help only when it is asked for) with the confidence that she will indeed work it out. She will learn more when the natural consequences of how her behavior effects someone else, how her grades reflect her efforts, how her refusal to wear a coat leads to feeling cold, how her resistance to help leads to your lack of desire to give to her.
Your child needs your trust in his capability to handle tough situations. Being a self-ish parent means that you can stand back, watch, and follow his lead. It is, after all, about him, not about your heroics or your candidacy for “Best Mother in the World”.
A parent’s larder must be full in order to provide help and support, be at the ready to offer an understanding ear or shoulder to cry on, to handle the unanticipated crisis. Self-ishness means knowing what your larder needs to feel full and insuring that you replenish it before it feels depleted. When you practice the art of self-ishness, you will be full enough to handle the hard stuff with more patience and calm.
Self-ish parenting means that you:
- Know your needs, rights, and emotions are just as important as your child’s.
- Are able to say, “No, this is not okay. How can we work it out so it works for both of us?”
- Build the family team through mutual and desired cooperation.
- Are honest by taking responsibility for how you feel and what you want. Start with “I” not “You”.
- Do not give more than you want or can. Know your limits. Know you cannot nor should not take away your child’s problems.
- Allow the natural consequences of behavior to teach the most important lessons.
- Trust your child’s process. Let him take the lead.
- Take care of your personal needs in order to feel replenished.