New parents hear it all the time: “It’s not about you anymore; now it’s all about the kids.” Selflessness is in. Selfishness is out. Got it.
What’s always struck me is that there’s no word in the English language for maintaining a healthy self. I’d propose one: Self-ness. After all, if one end of the continuum is selfishness, and the other is selflessness, shouldn’t there be some middle ground? Perhaps self-ness is that middle ground.
As a general rule, balance is key in mental health. I don’t think that changes because we become parents. And I don’t think that casting ourselves aside completely is good for us or, ultimately, for our kids.
We encourage our kids to find and then be their authentic selves, and one of the best ways to do that is by modeling it. That means having a self of your own.
The first months of parenthood are an overwhelming experience. We’re so focused on alleviating all distress and discomfort for our little ones that we lose sight of ourselves. That’s only normal, really. Having a new baby is an all-consuming experience.
But once a bit of time has passed–maternity and paternity leave are in the rearview mirror–it’s time to find normalcy. It’s time to dig out, like after a heavy storm. That means finding a way to balance the needs of this new person with the needs of our selves.
When I speak of the “self”, I’m talking about the constellation of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that render us unique. By the time a baby comes into the picture, most of us have been developing that constellation for a long time. But taking on the role of parent throws so much of it into question. We might not have the time or the energy to enact those behaviors, and our thoughts and feelings are now absorbed in this new life that we have to nurture and protect. Who am I now? we might begin to wonder.
That’s where the societal expectation of selflessness (especially for mothers) can be pernicious. If we believe that our purpose is now to be wholeheartedly devoted to our babies, to the development of their selves, then we don’t return to our own development, which is still in progress. We don’t make time for the things we’ve always liked doing; we don’t get to rediscover or express our non-parental selves.
That can lead to a sense of unfulfillment when we feel we should be most fulfilled. We’re parents now! Selfless beings who get the privilege of loving the next generation! We shouldn’t need more. Should we?
We do. We still need our selves. If we deny that reality, we can become depressed, or resentful of our parental roles, or experience a whole range of negative emotions that can get in the way of being the parents we want to be. The people we want to be.
We still get to have dreams and desires of the non-parental sort. We’re entitled to a dose of selfishness now and again. Because if we tip too far along the continuum toward selflessness, something will suffer. Often, it will be us. We need to be selfish sometimes to balance the scale and move back toward the middle.
Think about it. “Self-ness”–it’s the new black.
Dad and son at the beach photo available from Shutterstock
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Brown, H. (2012). It’s Not All About the Kids. Psych Central.
Retrieved on October 18, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/bonding-time/2012/12/its-not-all-about-the-kids/
Last updated: 2 Dec 2012
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 2 Dec 2012
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.