I’m sick — the type of sick that makes you want to hide in bed for a solid week and act pitiful. However, since I’m a parent, I don’t exactly get sick leave. My 7-month-old baby picked this less-than-opportune time to wake up five times during the night. Each time he’d cry, I’d haul my sore and achy butt out of bed, teeth chattering from the chills, and feed him, praying it would earn me a few more hours of precious sleep. Despite my mind and body’s deepest protestations, I get up and take care of my kids because I’m a parent, and that’s what parents do.
As a fellow parent, I’m sure you understand this. In those first few days, weeks and months of our children’s lives, we fall so deeply in love that we forget ourselves in favor of taking care of the little people who depend on us for their very existence. We give our everything — our time, our money, our blood, sweat and tears in pursuit of parenthood. We give, and we give, and we give until we can’t give anymore.
But is this really healthy?
Our culture honors the cult of fanatic parenthood. We’re made to feel inexplicably guilty if we dare admit that we have interests outside our kids. The party line is absolute devotion or indictment as a bad parent. We can’t ignore that our lofty expectations may do harm, both to ourselves and to our children (the very people we sacrifice for).
I’m here to tell you what no one else will.
Parents, it’s OK to act selfishly sometimes. Now, obviously, we can’t abandon our infants just because we get a head cold. I’m also not suggesting we turn the care and raising of our kids over to the hired help. Rather, I’m calling for balance. It’s OK to take time for ourselves each day. It’s also OK to delay our children’s gratification from time to time in favor of meeting our own needs.
Parenting is a marathon. Wait, scratch that. Parenting is a marathon followed by a triathlon with an Ironman contest tacked on at the end. We’re in this thing for the long haul, and we’re no use to anyone if we burn out right out of the starting gates. We cannot ignore our own mental and emotional health and expect it not to affect our children. When parents aren’t happy, children cannot thrive.
Besides, giving a child everything he wants won’t lead to success, anyway. What are we teaching our kids when we act like they’re the center of the universe? Nothing good! If we really want to raise socially competent kids, our children have to learn to balance their own needs with the needs of others. That will never happen if we cater to their every whim. I’m not sure what happened to the old-time notion that children are to respect and honor their parents, but maybe it’s time for a return. It’s completely reasonable to expect our children to respect and honor our reasonable needs just as we accommodate their needs. That’s what family is all about.
To all the slightly selfish parents out there, good for you. Good for you for carving out time to spend with friends, fitting in your favorite hobbies and nurturing your relationships with your spouses. Don’t feel guilty for letting your children occupy themselves while you take 20 minutes to read a book. Go have a night out with friends. Hire the occasional babysitter. Do what you need to stay happy, and for goodness’ sake, don’t feel guilty for it. Be a little selfish. I’ll be the first to defend you.