Good, Selfish Parenting


A guy sat in my office a while ago and called me selfish because I have four kids. He was ashamed of me, he said, because I was so egocentric that I had gone and tried to create myself all over again, four times. Little versions of me, he insinuated, each kid another attempt to add some more Dan-ness to the face of the planet. The guy was single, which could have been an explanation for some of what he said.

Life would sure be a whole lot easier if all four of my kids were more like me. Yeah, I could be selfish, because everything about them would really be about me. That is, if all four of them were nothing more than little versions of me. Which they are certainly, certainly not. My son Alan is a processer. He thinks ahead, looks down the road, plots steps for moving forward. Unlike me, he doesn’t get caught up in emotion often. He’s cool-headed, even, intentional. So, when I’ve missed seeing somebody else’s side, when I’ve charged ahead with my own ideas and opinions, Alan can call me back to a different perspective and help me be more understanding. When things need to be cleared up, it’s often his clarity I trust.

My son Josh is a spur-of-the-moment kind of guy. He’s like me in that, but he doesn’t sift his choices as much as I do, and he doesn’t have to. What’s the next fun thing? He’ll do it. When I let myself get weighed down by relationships and tasks and places to go and the monthly electric bill, Josh is a breath of fresh air reminding me to enjoy the moment and quit worrying about things. Just being around him can lighten the load.

Next in line is Crissy, who could teach almost everybody a thing or two about caring for others. She’s sensitive to people’s needs; she can see almost instantly what they’re longing for, what would mean the world to them. Then she does her best to provide it. Crissy reminds me to really see people and to really care—“Just go give them a hug,” she’ll say. I wouldn’t remember to have that outlook nearly so often if she weren’t in my life, modeling what matters.

And the youngest, Anna, loves to laugh. When she laughs, she laughs hard and long. She likes being fun and funny, and she doesn’t often run out of things to talk about with people. Anna sheds light on the lightness of life. In no time she can spark joy in me, turning my day toward a more positive slant, helping me to be happy and live on the bright side, taking me back to the simple things.

They’re all great, you see—different from me and constantly teaching me to be better. I don’t want them to change, and when I say that it’s not just for their sake. It’s for mine too. If that makes me selfish, I’ve got no problem with the label. I figure it’s okay to be egocentric about some character traits, because there’s endless humility in knowing I’ve had to learn them from my kids.