I'd intended to get a bit of work done, but something has been on my mind for the past few days. There is a blog post that has been linked like crazy on Facebook and everywhere else. And if you're a parent, you've probably seen it, and maybe already guessed what this post is about. I'll link it for you, though, so you know what's bothering me. Here ya go. I'm not going to refute it word by word, because that's tedious and frankly, I don't want to. While Ms. Metz has some valid ideas, she's using them to support an invalid conclusion. But thinking about it has me feeling queasy and uncomfortable with just how many people support the idea that your children should not be the center of your world.
Some of you may agree with me. Some of you may not. Either way is perfectly okay, as it's honestly not my business how you parent. (Edited to add that while it's not really my business, I do care. Your children live in this world with mine. Your child may be the one pushing mine off the play structure next week or something much bigger in 20 or 30 years... so please don't raise neurotic, violent bullies. Yes, I'm exaggerating. Sort of.) But people do get influenced by what they read, and I'd encourage you to read more than that blog post to make up your mind, if you're wavering on the state of your parenting or just wanting encouragement in one direction or another.
Here we go. Let's start with a perfectly rational viewpoint. We are the apex predators on a planet on which we barely qualify as predators. If we want to continue to be so, we need to work at it. We have children for many reasons, but rationally, there is only one. Biologically we need to carry on the species - we have children because we're biologically programmed to want to do so. We're also biologically programmed to think small things are cute, and to like the smell of babies, among other things. Probably to keep us from eating our offspring like crocodiles... but I digress. We're carrying on the species. That means that rationally, the second you actually give birth, your biological imperative is to care for that child above all else. You're carrying on your species, people. If we're talking a perfectly rational world here, the only time it's okay to put yourself before your child is when your life is in imminent danger - i.e. put your mask on, then secure your child's mask, right?
But human beings aren't perfectly rational creatures. We're social, we're selfish, and "love" means different things to all of us. So let's take a step in a slightly different direction and consider a study that recently came out in Social Psychological and Personality Science (would Mrs. Metz have changed her mind about her rant after reading the article? I don't know...) The findings of this study suggest that putting your children at the center of your world - being "child-centric" - will actually make you happier and help you derive more meaning from parenting. So, selfishly, you're actually going to be happier if you put your children first - at the center of your world. Another added edit here, because of a friend's valid argument: I do not mean you have to spend all your waking time on each of your children, and neither does the above study. I mean that your children, as a whole, are the primary focus - your world isn't you-centric, it's kid-centric. The time you have to spend with them is spent with them, giving them the benefit of you. Because, face it, in your child's eyes - you are important. You are the one preparing them for the rest of their life.
I know some of you are now thinking, "well, how will they ever grow up if you do everything for them?", or, "how will your child ever learn independence if you wear him 24/7?", or, "you can't give children everything they want."
They'll grow up, no matter whether you do everything for them or not. But, I haven't suggested doing everything for them, or giving them everything they want. I've suggested them being the center of your world - meaning they come first. This doesn't mean there is nothing else in your life. You're still you. You still have hobbies and work and friends and family and perhaps a spouse. But your children are your first priority, and you are responsive to them - you meet their needs. Those change as they grow, but you meet them to the best of your ability along the way, without hurting yourself in the process. This means knowing something about human development - while I don't want to start a debate about a different topic, it means knowing the biological norms of breastfeeding (until a child starts getting his permanent teeth is the current biological theory), sleep (children are not meant to sleep alone, or through the night for a long time), and care (children need you). They'll grow up. But will they grow up confident and independent, knowing you've met their needs and having the security to branch out and grow?
Now, let's get back to my personal philosophy. My children are the center of my world. Frankly, I didn't expect that when I planned a family. I figured I'd just make them adapt to my world. But I realized (and isn't it wonderful that we can learn, and grow, and change, even as adults?) that I no longer wanted to be the same person I was. I wanted to put my children first. I craved their happiness more than I craved my own, and that in turn made me happy. I didn't abandon my husband, or stop being his wife. We both put the children first. (To clarify, this does not mean our spousal relationship takes a back seat. It is important for all of us that we have a healthy relationship.) What it does mean is that during this short time our children are young - when they truly need us and depend on us - we are there for them. They are the center of our world. We recognize that they are children and they need us to care, to guide, to love, and to teach. We are not here to show them the "reality of the world". To paraphrase an old teacher I once knew, "We don't need to show our kids how mean the world is. The world will do that all by itself." We are here to help them grow to be people who can not only deal with the harsh realities of our current world, but be peaceful, kind, caring, confident individuals who can change it. We, all of us, as parents, are creating the next 60 years of life on this planet. Should that EVER not come first?
Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
SAGE Publications (2013, October 31). Can putting your child before yourself make you a happier person?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved November 6, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/10/131031175659.htm