8 Ways to Be a Less Selfish Parent

8 Ways to Be a Less Selfish Parent | Christian Mom ThoughtsI 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? 

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Comments

  1. Wow!! What an eye opener this is. I am guilty of them ALL! Time for this mama to pray and make changes!!Such an awesome post! You always inspire me! Blessings!

  2. Thanks, this is thought-provoking. I’m guilty of ‘quickly checking email’ on the iPad at the dinner table as I wait (and wait and wait) for the kids to finish their meals-Time that could be better spent talking about their day and connecting with them. I also am a person that values efficiency and speed and have a lot of ‘rules’ that probably make my kids’ lives more difficult as I speed through each moment. It’s selfish because I want them to save ME time. And it also ties into my need to empathy, where my son may not share my need for efficiency, and takes a long time to do anything, whether out of his own desire to do something slowly and carefully or his inability to focus. All good things for me to think about!

    • Hi Elaine, I’m right there with you, always looking for me time. I do think me time is important for moms, but sometimes (OK, a lot of times) I’m preoccupied with the efficiency of getting the kids down for naps or night time so I can get on with “my time”. And you hit the nail on the head as this relates to empathy. Such a great insight. Thank you for sharing!

  3. I was just recently confronted by my 7 year old regarding my lake of concern for her feelings. You see my husband is a truck driver and is gone from Monday to Friday and this has been the case since Samantha was born. Samantha was crying because she missed her daddy and it was only Tuesday. I told her “daddy just left yesterday and she needed to get a grip!” I was frustrated because I was in the middle of fixing dinner. Mom of the year right! Samantha said to me and I quote, ” Mom you use to care about my feeling, why don’t you care when I cry.” OUCH! That was a month ago and I still feel the sting. I have vowed to try not to let my exhaustion and frustration come out on the kids and to put aside many of my little things that bother me and let my God fill my heart!

    • Wow… thanks for sharing Amy.. I have a 7-year old as well and her dad and I are divorced. She was supposed to return to her dad this past Sunday evening and because he had to work overtime, he had asked me to keep her till Tuesday.. no problem with me of course…. And because she is so used to seeing her dad at the end of “my week” she was cried on Sunday night telling me that she missed her dad and would like to call him. I let her called him and after she hung up the phone, she was still crying… even though deep down inside of me I felt that two days later is no big deal but it is to her… I had to remind myself that her feeling matters and I hug her, gave her kisses and consoled her and told her she will be seeing her dad soon… As mom, I am guilty of what you had just described above. I think the most important thing is to rise above when we are being put in the same circumstances again. And I constantly pray to God to grant me patience and wisdom to be the best mom that I can be….

      • That’s a great point, Janet. When we end up in the same circumstances the next time, we should be stronger to “rise above” and better respond! That’s a great way to pray after messing something up: “Lord, help me to have the better perspective and response next time!” Thanks so much for sharing your story too.

    • Hi Amy, Thank you so much for sharing. We all have those times, and regret is the worst feeling. The most important thing I’ve found for making things right is to take the time to have a talk with my kids about why I was wrong to do whatever it was. That way they understand that is NOT how I want to be their mom and it’s not how God wants me to be. It must be really hard to have your husband gone so much. Give yourself some grace too. :)

  4. Natasha, I just now found your blog, and I have only read your “Welcome” page and I already really like you. I look forward to reading more posts. As a stay-at-home mom, I am trying to find some encouragement from some like-minded moms. And I’d also like to pass some on. If you are interested, please check out my site – sweetlybrokengirl.blogspot.com. It’s a book I wrote about my journey with the Lord, and I’m sharing it in the hopes that it will help draw others to His love and truth and healing. I will be back to read more of yours. I really like your heart and your passion for godliness and your children. I share that kind of passion. Take care and God bless. -Heather K

  5. Hi Natasha! I’m new-ish to your blog and I love, love, love it! Like the other comments, I am guilty of some (or all) of the above and I think just being AWARE of these parenting nuances is so critical (because you’re right, many are self-serving in an attempt to simplify our lives –or just relieve slight daily irritations). That said, I think mothers in general are a very self-LESS lot (and oh-so-hard on themselves!). Sometimes, we disregard our own care and comfort to the point that it can be damaging (even depressing) to our spirits. The cummulative effect of daily challenges (albeit cereal bowls and light switches) can add up to frazzled nerves and mental exhaustion! So, while I think all parents should aspire to be more mindful, deliberate, and selfless–I think it’s okay to take ‘baby steps’ and tackle one thing at a time. And of course, pray minute-by-minute for the patience and grace that true selfless parenting requires.

    • Hi Heather, Thank you so much for sharing this important point! We absolutely do need to care for ourselves in order to be the parents we want to be. In fact, the less we care for ourselves, the more we long for that comfort, and the more we end up being selfish as we seek it in smaller ways throughout the day. I love your statement that “many are self-serving in an attempt to simplify our lives.” Yes, that sums it up so very well. Thanks so much for your comment!

  6. With candy land, try playing it so that if you have already passed a special place on the board and you draw it, you don’t have to go back, but instead draw again. The special cards are meant to be fun anyway, not disappointing! Also, let them collect the special cards as they go so they are reminded of the fun turns they already had when they are behind in the game. :) I’m guilty of the iPad one. I do try really hard to turn it off when one of my kids is in the room coming to talk to me. Or I will tell them I need a minute to check something and then set myself a time limit so I’m not on it too long! I remember the days of kids asserting their independence with bowl colors, specific spoons, etc. luckily we have passed that stage for the most part. Now they are making their own meals, lol!

    • David Crain says:

      Jennifer: You nail it on Candyland! Great suggestions that get rid of the heartbreak while keeping the game a game.

    • Great suggestions Jenn! They might be a little young still to understand the concept of the cards working before a point and not after, but I’m going to keep this in mind for a couple of months down the line. :) I also like the time limit on the iPad.
      Making their own meals – now THAT is something I aspire to!

  7. EXACTLY!!!!!!! Guilty of all 8 as charged!

  8. Great work, Natasha! Not only have you been vulnerable and authentic for our benefit, but you’re a great writer! Thanks for encouraging us to be better moms.

  9. What a great article. I think we all need to think about this and revisit it again and again. (I always need a good reminder!)
    Thank you for this.

  10. Haha! Natasha, I can SO relate to the candy land issues. I don’t even try…and I always win. My kids run off crying and my hubby gives me that is-it-so-hard-for-you-to-throw-the-game-every-so-often look. Well…YES! They need to learn how to lose with grace. Ahem. We (okay…I) are/am very competitive. I can also relate to the iPad comment as I’m typing this comment on the iPad while sitting on the couch ‘hanging out’ with my daughter. Ouch! Totally convicted right now. :-)

  11. Guilty as charged :-) But that said, I’m glad you brought up #8, and I wish more people understood it: Most folks completely reverse the definitions of “sympathy” and “empathy”. Sympathy is to “feel with”; you come alongside someone and say, I’m sorry you are sad, or I’m so happy for you that things are going well. Empathy is not merely “feeling with” but feeling WHAT they feel, or “putting yourself in their shoes”. SO many times I read articles that have this backwards, but you actually “get it”! If we really empathize – try to see things the way the other person is seeing them (even and especially our kids) – it will make a huge difference in how we respond to them. My son is high functioning but on the autistic spectrum, so I am constantly trying to “see things the way he sees them”. It takes a lot of work but is so worth it.

    • Excellent point, Sharon, and well said! Empathy vs. sympathy is a really important distinction. I can see how important it would be to see things the way your son sees them. We ALL need to do that. But your right, it’s also a lot of work. By nature I think most of us would prefer to just keeping plodding along through our own eyes.

      Thanks so much for the comment!

  12. Um…Yes. Several of them, but number 4 really got to me the most. How often do I spend time in front of my computer checking blog posts when I could be with my daughter…TImes like now… OK, once I post this comment, I’m off the computer until after I get her to bed

  13. Hi! Just found your blog. What a wonderfully convicting post! I struggle the most with number 4 and am trying to break the habit before baby number two comes in May. Even though my first is only 9 months old, if I’m going to commit to playing with her I need to do so whole heatedly.

  14. Katherine Opie says:

    Wow! Thank-you.. I love the part about how you are pretty good about putting your kids first in the long term but how tricky doing so on a day to day basis can be despite our best intentions. I see a lot of my own mistakes in your list and came up with quite a few more as I was reading (without even doing a day of observation). I’m also a bit obsessed with efficiency and forward motion and sometimes forget to count the cost of pushing my own agenda over my 3 and 7 yr olds! Great food for thought!

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