I did a little experiment last week. I spent a day noting all the ways I could catch myself being a selfish parent. I know that sounds bizarre, and I can’t quite explain why I had the urge to do it! But it was eye-opening to see how many ways I caught myself.
I categorized these things into eight broad areas that I’m sharing with you today. I’m sure if I sampled other days, I could come up with many more, but it appears I have plenty to work on already. Ahem.
Philippians 2:3-5: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…”
I know I deeply desire to count my kids as more significant than myself. On big picture, long term things, I think I do. But in day-to-day life there are a lot of ways selfishness creeps in. Here are 8 ways to be a less selfish parent based on my sample day!
1. Be willing to “waste” time.
I often feel that I live in the most inefficient household imaginable. With three young kids, everything, and I do mean everything, takes longer than it should because they’re learning to do things on their own. If I turn off a light, one of the kids is almost certainly behind me turning it back on, in order to turn it off again independently. I would much prefer to efficiently do things myself. But putting others first means being willing to spend time in a way that may be “wasteful” to you and valuable to them.
2. Get over your pet peeves.
I realized during this experiment that I have a lot of pet peeves. For example, I get annoyed when the kids drink and walk at the same time (stop moving!). Pet peeves are selfish because you react to situations with disproportionate negativity, simply because something bugs you personally. Identifying these things as pet peeves rather than real problems can help you eliminate unnecessary (and often expressed) annoyance.
3. Treat your kids differently.
Like most sets of siblings, my kids are remarkably different from one another. It is by far the easiest thing for me to treat them all the same (for example, giving them the same consequences, having the same conversations or playing with them all at the same time). But in reality, they are like flowers that have different water, soil and sunlight requirements! They simply won’t flourish in a mass-produced home environment. Prioritizing their need for individualization over your need for ease puts them first.
4. Be protective of your time with the kids.
Fact: If my iPad is in the living area where I’m with the kids, I will check my email or Facebook every 15 minutes. Checking my iPad is a seemingly “quick” escape to the adult world, but more often than not it becomes a lengthy detour into some article of interest or news story. The truth is, many times I would prefer to just sit and read those articles over playing with the kids. They need my mental presence as much as my physical presence, however. Putting them first means giving them all of me.
5. Eliminate selfish rules.
If you ever pay attention to how many unspoken rules govern a given day in your house, it can be enlightening. Some of those rules may have originated for selfish reasons and don’t really need to be rules anymore. Case in point: If I get out three bowls for cereal and the kids want to put them back in the cabinet so they can pick their own, I say no because I’ve already done it; I have an unspoken rule about not undoing things because I hate the lack of forward progress! Yet, at this young age, that cereal bowl choice is really important to my kids. Try taking inventory of your unspoken rules – you might be surprised to find some selfish ones in there.
6. Embrace the mundane with a servant’s heart.
I really wish I could feel like the idyllic 1950s housewife looks: happy to engage in household duties, with a sense of calling each time she dons her apron. In reality, I lose a little bit of sanity after every meal that turns the dining area into a gross mess with pasta sauce handprints all over. A servant’s heart doesn’t stop at the mundane. It embraces the opportunity to do something – anything – that brings joy to someone else. Even if that joy is as simple as a clean placemat.
7. Stop avoiding the activities that turn into discipline sessions.
Candyland. Oh, Candyland. How I loved you as a child and couldn’t wait to play you with my own children. And how I never, ever want to play you again now that I’ve seen what a terrible sport my daughter is. I’ve basically banned Candyland from our activities because Kenna gets crazy when she doesn’t win and it turns into a discipline session. The selfish part of me has been refusing because I just don’t want to deal with it. But if we view discipline as an opportunity to teach rather than an event to avoid, we put our kids’ need for growth first.
8. Master empathy.
Nathan can be quite clumsy, hitting his head on counter corners, spilling his drinks and generally running into things (yes, his eyes are fine). Unfortunately, I am more inclined to show annoyance than loving care when these things happen. The reason? I’m not very clumsy myself. Subconsciously I end up thinking it’s in his control and that he just needs to “get it together.” That’s a very selfish view, however. Whether I experience his challenge in this area or not should be irrelevant. Empathy is the ability to understand the experiences of another person, regardless of your own experience, and it’s the foundation of a selfless heart.
Are there any of these you could stand to work on? How do you see parents beings selfish?