Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Children's Needs and Selfishness

originally posted at Reepicheep's Coracle

Lately there have been a lot of discussions on blogs (see The Little Things and my previous post Parenting without Altruism) and on the OGrownups list about parenting selfishly. The discussions have been good -- how to get time to yourself, how not to sacrifice higher values (like marriage and career) to do things for your child. But there is a side of it that hasn't been explored. Sure, we should be selfish parents, but if we aren't able to give children what they really need, the selfish thing is not to have them.

Here is what I think children need (this isn't exhaustive, please let me know what you would add):

1. They need lots of time with the people they love. So, I think, at least one parent should be at home with the child or have a career that allows plenty of family time.

2. They need to experience attachment with their parents. If possible, this means breastfeeding, but at the least, focused holding while bottlefeeding. Using a sling, responding to distress, caretaking tasks like diapering and bathing, playing together - these are all attachment behaviors, and I think children need a lot of them from their parents.

3. They need help learning the skills they will need in their lives.

No amount of selfishness is an excuse for not doing these things. If you can't meet the needs of a child, you shouldn't have one. I don't think any parent always enjoys interruptions and nighttime parenting and the constant needs of children, but these things are a part of raising them well.

A CEO might say, "I have a selfish need for 10 hours of sleep and plenty of time to play golf." And that might be the case. But if he must have it, he should do something else for a career, something that suits his selfish needs better. Parenting is the same. It is a super demanding job, but no one has to take it on. I have a great amount of respect for people who look at the demands of parenting and say, "No thanks, I don't want to devote so much time and energy to that."

Anyway, my point is that though it is a good idea to keep our own values in mind and to work together in families to make sure everyone's needs are met (including the parents'), there are some things that children need (beyond food and clothing and shelter) that cannot be thrust aside, no matter what other values we may hold.

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