Is Parenting a Selfish Act?

© Carolina Adame

I remember the exact moment when I had this thought: “Vicky better thank me for all of my sacrifices”.  Victoria was only one at the time. I breastfed her until she was 14 months old. I had breastfed Paulito for 1 month and pumped for another two. Even though the production of breast milk was no problem for my body (I could have easily fed two babies) it was THE greatest pain I had ever felt. I couldn’t push past the pain with Paulito. I was literally sobbing it was so painful but with Victoria somehow I did. But even after the pain, the choice to breastfeed still meant pumping at work, waking up 2-3 times per night, wearing breast pads, little to no alcohol, modifying my wardrobe so that the boobs were always accessible and making sure that I always had the muslin swaddle blankets that I used to cover up while breastfeeding in public spaces. Not to mention that Victoria was very attached to me so it meant little time to myself. All of that converged into my thought: “Vicky better thank me for all of my sacrifices!”

Here is the thing. As soon as I had the thought I knew I was wrong. Suddenly I was this kid again listening to my mother tell me how grateful I should be for her sacrifices. Which, actually yes, now as an adult and a mother myself I am incredibly grateful for my immigrant parents sacrifices. But as a kid it did not feel right to me when my parents would imply that they were doing me a favor by raising me. My mother’s words made me think that she was taking mental note of everything she was doing for me and the more she gave, the more reverence and submissiveness she expected.

When we went to the Dr. Shefali Tsabary Evolve Conference in 2014 one of the first things that she told us was that parenting is a selfish act. As I sat there processing her statement I initially thought that Dr. Tsabary had lost her mind because I believed that I was actually being unselfish “sacrificing” left and right as I parented my children. And yet when I asked myself: why did I want to be a parent? Every answer that came to mind started with “I”. “I wanted”, “I believed”, “Because I” and there it was staring at me in the face, it WAS all about me.

In the Awakened Family, Dr. Shefali Tsabary shares that “while there are elements of selflessness in parenting, it isn’t entirely accurate that we are being selfless when we raise children. In fact, little about the parenting journey is altruistic”. Here’s the truth about me guys: I wanted kids. I wanted someone to call me mami. I wanted someone to love me unconditionally. I wanted to tell them what to wear so that they would look cute. I wanted them to make me look good. I…I…I…I…I… The more I thought about it, the more I saw my selfishness as a parent.

© Carolina Adame

Victoria was one and I was already thinking about how “I” should be thanked for all of my “sacrifices” in breastfeeding her. NO! I was breastfeeding her because that was the experience that I wanted to have as a parent. I was breastfeeding her because I liked being so close to her during feedings, because I liked knowing that I was giving her the best nutrients possible and I liked (and still like) that I can say that I did it! It was absolutely about me and not about her. When it came time to stop breastfeeding it was a relatively smooth process for me in part because it wasn’t about when Vicky was ready to stop; It was about when I was ready and that little shift liberated me in a way from any sort of guilt about it.

Later on in my kids life it also made parenting easier because I realized when my selfishness was setting the rules instead of my heart.   I would ask myself, am I setting this limit because of my kids safety and well-being or am I setting it because I am worried about how they are going to make me look? If my answer was about me then I would let it go.

Now, I do want to acknowledge that there might be some parents who are reading this blog and thinking “but isn’t it our job as parents to tell our kids what to do, to set rules, to have expectations of them? How can this be selfish?” And I would say yes, I agree that our children need us to set boundaries for them, teach them valuable life lessons and keep them safe. Absolutely! The only thing that I am putting out there for consideration is that maybe, just maybe some of us are letting our selfishness do the guiding and rule setting unchecked and I believe that that can work against us as parents, depending on our children and the kind of relationship that we want to have with them.

I would also add that there are times when I make decisions as a parent that are primarily based on what I want (like my decision to breastfeed Vicky as long as I did) and those decisions, while I would categorize them as “selfish” in their origin are not necessarily “bad”. I don’t define selfishness as “good” or “bad”. The difference between “good” and “bad” being whether or not we are aware of our driving motivations or not. I think that recognizing the part that selfishness plays in our decisions as parents has the potential to shift our parenting. Moment to moment the parenting journey becomes more about the experience that is unfolding for us and less about us trying to fix our children.

Is parenting a selfish act? The only answer to that question that matters is your own. By now, the idea has begun to resonate for you or it has not and either way works! This is a no judgment zone here. One of the gifts of seeing parenting as a selfish act is that it helped me to quickly stop judging other parents because I replace the thoughts of judgment with honoring the parenting experience that that parent wants to have.  You have been chosen to parent.  I invite you to enter into that opportunity as consciously aware as possible of all of the things that impact your parenting. I think that I have said enough. Did it make sense to you? Did any of this make you pause and reflect? Let me know!  Thanks for stopping by and allowing us to be a part of your parenting journey. Don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already done so and please share if you think this blog may help another parent on their journey.

In service,

Yesenia