Parents, Are We Overdoing the Selflessness?

Cold Coffee, Warm Heart

I recently overheard one of my children say, “No Dad, that’s too hot. Mom likes her coffee cold.” I almost fell over laughing. Where on earth had my child gotten the idea that I actually like my coffee cold? True, my coffee is usually stone-cold by the time I’ve finished waiting on everyone and get around to drinking it. True too, that I have long since given up on trying to reheat my coffee because I know something else will need my immediate attention and my coffee will just get cold again. Just gulp it down between tasks. Must…have… caffeine! Okay, so maybe I can see where my child gets his ideas.

On further contemplation, I realized that this cold-food phenomenon was more often true than not. When, for example, was the last time I sat down to a hot meal and did not hop right back up for the butter, or ketchup, or to refill glasses of milk? For that matter, when was the last time I put any of my preferences before those of my family? Admit it fellow-Moms, you know exactly what I’m talking about. We are always the last to say which movie we’d like to watch, and the first to exclaim, “Whew, I’m sooo full!” when we notice there aren’t enough cookies to go around. We put our needs last when budgets are tight, and we ignore our own sniffles while we fetch hot soup and medicine for theirs.

Yes,” you might be saying, “it’s true. But that’s all part of being a parent.” And you’re right. Parenting is, after all, the ultimate exercise in selflessness. From the moment our children are born (and even before) we sacrifice sleep, money, and time without a second thought. We rearrange our lives so that everything revolves around what is best for our children.

Much of this parental altruism is undoubtedly beneficial to its recipients. But I wonder-- is it possible to overdo un-selfishness? Could we, instead of setting a good example, be teaching our children to think only of themselves? Are we teaching our children to disregard the rights of others?

By always taking a back seat to our children’s needs, we are likely inflating their sense of self-entitlement. We risk teaching our children to devalue us, as parents and individuals with preferences of our own. Perhaps we should be doing a bit more teaching and a little less self-sacrificing. After all, parents are the first and foremost teachers in their children’s lives. Knowing that children, particularly those under the age of four, learn primarily through mimicry, we should pay close attention to what we are modeling. It is important that we model both self-respect and respect for one another. We must also teach our children that moms are valuable members of the family, worthy of thoughtful consideration, and not the maid/servant/waitress. This is not to say that we should stop making sacrifices of any kind. I’m just suggesting that we be mindful of what we are teaching our children. We do them a disservice to let them believe that we have no preferences of our own. As Maria Montessori said:

The real preparation for education is the study of one's self. It includes the training of character; it is the preparation of spirit.

As for me, I think it may be time to start voicing my own preference for a nice, steaming-hot cup of coffee!

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