This post was written tongue in cheek a few months ago. For a more serious look at what makes children seem selfish rather read my recent post here.
Now back to this post: How to Raise a Selfish Child.
Well, it’s quite simple really…
Just behave like a Selfish Parent.
No, not really. I couldn’t possibly share so few words. Anyone who reads my blog knows that. Once I get going, I really get going. So here we go…
Every day I long to become a more conscious parent. I intentionally make an effort because I am trying to understand what ‘living consciously’ actually means. If you have the time you can look into what it means to parent consciously here but if you’re in a hurry, you might prefer to listen to a two minute explanation given by Dr Shevali Tsabary right here. Just in case you choose to do neither, I’ll say this about what it means to me…and then we can get on with the real story I really intended to share in this post.
Living more consciously to me means that I try and be fully present in every moment, to take it for what it truly is and not to put any judgments onto it. A tall order and it ain’t easy (and I’m nowhere close to being this way most of the time) but my intention is set and for now that is enough.
By attempting to live more consciously in each moment, I hope to parent my children just as they are in that instant and I try not to cloud my interactions with them with the baggage that I bring along with me. We all unwittingly bring our stuff with us when we ingage with others, but particularly when we are with our own children. We may be tired, stressed, hungry, frustrated or all of the above (plus many other things) and we put it on them. When we react from these places we tend to overcomplicate our children’s lives and we tarnish their growing up moments by making their experiences about us. When we react from where we are, rather than meeting them where they are, we unintentionally influence who they are to become.
Now that’s quite heavy stuff to have to think about, but this post is not supposed to be a parental guilt trip. This is about me sharing one ridiculously innocuous (but rather embarrassing) story which illustrates my point that on any given day our actions have the power to taint or colour the way our children view their world.
Let me set the scene:
We’re on vacation right now. We are at a beautiful beach resort having a fine old time. I am not stressed, I am not tired and I am definitely not hungry! (If you could just see what we have eaten since arriving here, you would concur!). Seeing that I can’t use any of the aforementioned excuses for my actions, how exactly did I find myself trying to backpedal away from something I had said to my children at the start of our vacation? Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I think I can answer it now. Here’s how it all unfolded.
Our resort has four pools and probably hundreds of poolside chairs. You know what I am talking about, the kind of beach chairs that recline and you watch the world go by from them. Lovely stuff! Our first day here we went down to the pool at about 9:o0am. Not a very late arrival by most people’s standards but it seems that many enthusiastic holiday makers had hurried down there waaaay before we did. Many of the poolside recliners were already draped in clean, unused towels, and yet there was very little human presence.
Mmmmmm what exactly was going on here? Perhaps a mass tsunami evacuation and I had missed the alert? Possibly free buffet breakfast being given away just around the corner? Could it actually be that Oprah had made an unexpected visit out front and everyone else was already there? Oh the horror! All three were very plausible possibilities (in an imaginative mind), but none of them very likely (in a more realistic mind). So what was going on?
As it would turn out, all three of my fleeting guesses were tossed aside when my keen powers of observation kicked in. It took me only a few seconds (quite impressive, I know) to survey the area and then it hit me. Bam! These towels were already laid out because the Early Birds had come down at the crack of dawn to reserve the Lazy Birds the best chairs in the house. Huh, go figure!
My first reaction to this realization was, ‘My goodness folks, that’s terrible! (Judgment). What a self-centered thing to do. (More judgment). People actually reserve chairs hours in advance and then disappear so that once their families are well rested, well fed, and ready for their day, all they have to do is show up. And then I said it out loud, within ear shot of my children, ‘Mmmmm, how very selfish of them.’ (Heap on a little more judgment why don’t I?) No sooner had the words passed my lips when my line between right and wrong began to blur. I managed to keep my next words to myself and in my head it went like this, ‘Mmmmm maybe not so much selfish as smart?’
The next morning I looked down from my balcony just before the clock struck seven. The Early Birds were already out! One by one they flocked to reserve their MIA Lazy Birds prime poolside chairs. Some took four, some took five, one even had the audacity to cover up eight! I shouldn’t have been, but I was, I was appalled (judgment)! ‘How could they do that?’ I wondered momentarily and then I found myself falling into a different way of thinking, a more engrained pattern, a legacy from my own childhood perhaps, a hand-me-down from my society most likely.
Out with conscious living, in with deeply ingrained survival of the fittest.
‘Mmmmmmm, so this is how it is done here. If you want a spot, you go out and get it. But that still seems so inconsiderate (judgment)…dare I say it again… so selfish.’ (More judgment). And then it happened, a complete reversal of the way in which I think to when I am intentionally being more conscious. I began to reassess the situation through the lens my life experience had given me to view the world, the way the ‘real’ world works, mostly unconsciously.
My initial ‘this is a selfish move assessment’ (negative judgment) became, ‘this is smart move assessment’ (positive judgment and therefore seemingly making it okay!). My personal baggage (previous experience of putting my/family’s needs first at the cost of others) outweighed my core value (to be considerate of others/put my village people’s needs first.) I proceeded to unconsciously follow my deep seated learnt behaviour programming because it was easier and it lured me with the most appealing outcome. ‘If I make the effort to get there early, I’m entitled to reserve the pool chairs that I want.’ This may have seem to be perfect logical reasoning in the real world but deep down, my intuitive self, my conscience knew that it was so very wrong. I had confused what appeared to be normal with what is natural.
So, you know where I am going here, don’t you? It’s a slippery slope I tell you. Day three rolled around and my initial stance had morphed from ‘There are plenty of chairs for everyone’ into ‘ There are not enough chairs for me and mine.’ I jumped ship. I threw my values off that balcony and I got my ass out of bed super early so that on day four I could join the flock of Early Birds. I needed to stake my claim or risk losing highly prized poolside real estate. In my mind, this was no longer an issue of being selfish, this was perfectly acceptable behavior, after all everyone here was doing it.
Out with Consideration and in with Self Preservation. May the Earliest Bird catch the biggest worm! Chirp!
As it would turn out, my feeling of triumph wasn’t as glorious and victorious as I had hoped. I felt horrible, I felt inconsiderate and I felt selfish. (An over reaction when compared to other terrible things going on in the real world, but this was my world, and in this moment, I admit it, I felt pretty darn shitty). Just knowing that I had claimed these chairs at the expense of the innocent (those who perhaps held true to their conscious convictions) or perhaps the naive (those who hadn’t yet figured out the survival strategy) ruined the conquest at the poolside that I had executed with premeditated military precision.
Occupying my prime spot just didn’t sit well with me. It didn’t feel right and I was reminded by this with each pang of guilt I experienced when throughout the day forlorn families sidled past searching for a place to roost. There were many, many unoccupied, but towel laden chairs, being flaunted but none were available to them. Not directly my doing, but indirectly I knew I played a part. These pool chair nests had been rightfully (wrongfully?) claimed for the entire day and their inhabitants had gone back to their condo’s for leisurely lunches, only to return many hours later to reclaim their Early Bird Prizes.
Now, I totally knew this experience wasn’t sitting well with me but I didn’t think my children were onto me until one of them called me on it, “Mom, didn’t you say the other day that people shouldn’t leave their stuff on chairs if they aren’t actually using them?”
“Didn’t you say that by doing that they were being selfish?”
“Isn’t that what you did by bringing our towels down here when we were still in our beds?”
“Why did you do it then?”
How the heck do you back pedal out of direct interrogation questions like that? There is no amount of reasoning that could justify what I had done. At first I was so very tempted to try and save face and redeem myself with an explanation that went something along the lines of, ‘Sometimes if everyone is doing it, then it is okay if we do it too.” That would not only be totally ridiculous but also enormously irresponsible of me. I don’t want them growing up believing that just because something seems normal, that makes it natural. Definitely not! It might work for innocuous situations like getting a great spot at the pool, but how does that translate when applying it to a serious affair like “Everyone was smoking dope, so I thought I would try it too!” No, it would be impossible to teach my children the finicky principal of generalizing in this moment. It would NOT be okay to try that here!
And so I briefly considered rather saying, “Sometimes we have to do things we might not usually do in order to make the lives of those we love a little bit better…” What a crock, this sort of situation couldn’t be justified by that excuse! Imagine the breakdown between what they actually heard and what they understood it to mean, “Mommy was attempting to enrich our lives by getting us the best poolside seats possible…” That sounds even worse out loud than it does in my own head! When generalizing this particular kind of logic it could come right back and bite us all on the bum when it is someday interpreted to mean, “So Mom said it’s actually okay to take an iPod that doesn’t belong to me because it will make my life sooooo much better.” The end justifies the means? No, no, no, darling that’s not what Mommy means. You see my point here, it takes some level of maturity to distinguish the nuances of what is okay sometimes and what isn’t other times. Children don’t arrive with maturity, they need to grow into it and as parents we can’t hope to teach them the subtleties by explaining our behaviour away. They aren’t capable of understanding it. There is only one way through here. When we know something is wrong, even if the rest of the world doesn’t appear to be on the same page, we just mustn’t do it. Quite simple really… But not that easy to do, unless you make the concerted effort to become conscious of what you are doing and saying and the implications that it has on all of those around you.
In the end I had to come clean. It only took a few seconds for me to get that (Again, impressive I know!) but I had to be painfully honest because what I said and what I had done just didn’t gel and I now was the time to own it. I had run through all of my escape options in my head and now my time was up and so I said, gulp, “You are right, I did say that it was selfish behaviour and very inconsiderate towards others to put towels on chairs so early in the morning just so that they can be used later in the day. It’s not right and it’s not fair, and I won’t make that mistake again. I didn’t feel good about doing it in the first place and I should have listened to my little voice in my head and my squirmy feeling in my tummy that was telling me that I shouldn’t.”
I needed to let them know that their Mom makes bad choices too sometimes . This wasn’t a catastrophic disaster, but it did impact others negatively. By owning up to it and acknowledging that my actions were wrong, I learnt more about myself and my children hopefully got something meaningful out of it too.They are forgiving little creatures, they didn’t ask any more questions, they didn’t mention it again. They moved on. If only adults could be more like that.
Later on in the day I took some time to think about what had happened. I reflected back on my own days as a child, as a teen and as an adult. I came to realize that grabbing the best for ourselves at the expense of others is unfortunately the mentality befitting too many of us in the world. We don’t mean to be this way, it just happened because we tend to operate from a place of lack, no matter how much we actually have. Enough never feels like enough unless we are thankful for all that we already have. We just need to become more conscious of all that that really is.
I can’t change the way that the whole world thinks but I can inspire my own children by giving them an alternative. I’ll start by encouraging them to follow their intuition, to listen to their hearts and I’ll keep on plodding towards becoming more conscious, because if I do, the way that I am with my children has the power to start changing the world, one person at a time.
That been said, a few days later I noticed a sign at the poolside just one hotel away from ours. I had to smother my wry smile at the sign they had posted requesting/demanding (in the nicest wording possible) that the Early Birds NOT feather their nests and then leave, or they would pay the price! They were trying to teach their guests the very value of consideration that I am hoping to instil in my children over time. There is no denying that we want the same thing, the only difference between me and them is the method we each choose to get us there. Whilst I am yearning for long lasting deep change brought about by the developmental approach of truly growing my children up through our relationship and keeping our hearts soft, the hotel is being more direct, way more coercive and hoping for an instant fix by employing the very popular, more immediate, behaviourist methods of imposing consequences.
In all fairness to the Hotel who came up with this sign, what alternative do they really have? They don’t have deep and meaningful relationships to empower them like we parents do. They have to shoot for short term behavioural changes in order to get the compliant conduct they require right now. As long as the Bird Watchers and Hunters are vigilant and energetic and they respond immediately to infractions by removing the idle towels, their signs might garner them the changes they are seeking. What they will probably never consider is that their signs only ‘work’ because their aim is focused on short term behavioural change, after all these guests are all going home in a week or two. They don’t care what happens once they leave, only that they behave whilst on their nesting grounds. A new flock will fly in soon enough and they’ll focus on them. As parents, we are stuck with the chicks we have!
The biggest challenge of our lives is going to be to grow ourselves up alongside our children. We are in it for the long haul because our children (very hopefully) aren’t leaving us next week or the week after that. They will be ours forever and ever, even once they are all grown up. We will always be their parents, even after we are long gone. Surely then our responsibility to ourselves and to them, is to become more conscious of how we relate to them in the present because this will have a tremendous impact on them and everyone around them in their future.
I want to grow my children up, I mean truly grow them up, to do the right thing when no one is looking. How about you?
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