Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why Our Lives Should Not Be Child-Centered

originally posted at Reepicheep's Coracle

I'm defining child-centered as family life that revolves almost completely around what the children want to do, the children's schedules, and the children feelings and likes and dislikes. Here are some reasons it isn't good for families to be child-centered:

1. It isn't selfish. Rational people who are trying to be happy should think about themselves first. "What do I want to do today?" should be the primary question we are asking ourselves. This doesn't mean we don't spend time with our kids and do things that make them happy, as well. I hope most parents get real pleasure out of doing things with their kids and out of their kids pleasure. However, playing Hi Ho Cherry-O 10 times in a row every day might bring pleasure to your 4 year old and drive you crazy. So quit. Invite a friend over who loves Hi Ho Cherry-O.

2. It breeds resentment. This is a corollary of number 1. Any time we do something we don't really want to do, we are going to resent it. That's the nature of sacrifice. I don't want to wake up at age 50 realizing that I spent all those good years only on Livy. I want to know that I did things with her, with Aaron, and some just with me; I want to know that my life was for my own benefit, not just to give someone else a good start.

3. It gives kids a fake sense of their own importance in the world. I want Livy to grow up knowing that she is the center of her own world but not anyone else's. In the grown-up world, no one (not even your spouse) is going to care as much about your values as they do about their own. Childhood is a great time to learn that, though we care very much about each other in our families and want to know stuff about what the others are doing, our own values are number 1. And that even applies to mom and dad.

4. It robs kids of the chance to see adults doing adult things. Children are desperate to be grown; the magic of childhood is only magic to adults. When we make our lives all about kid stuff, our children don't see us doing the kinds of things they will one day do. They don't have a model of adult behavior to emulate as they strive to mature. It's good for kids to see us having adult conversations, reading adult books, and doing adult work.

5. It is annoying to other adults. If you want to have friends, you better have hobbies and work and interests outside of your kids. Cause Grandma is the only person who thinks your kids are as interesting as you do. And even she probably has a limit.

Sometimes living life in a non-child-centered way (self-centered, perhaps?) is active, rather than passive. It means saying yes, not just no. I try to include Livy in as many of my activities as I can because she wants to be with me and she wants to learn how to be an adult. I like for her to play at my feet while I discuss intellectual property with a friend. I like for her to be at a friend's party so that she can learn the social skills adults use to interact with friends. I like for her to travel with me because I like for her to see the world, the real world, not just playgrounds and jumpy castles, but the museums, the shops, and the restaurants. I like for her to hear my music, see my TV shows and movies, and hear my books, so that she knows that The Wiggles, Backyardigans, and Dr. Seuss are not the only art there is in the world.

Now, lest someone use this post for evil, I do not mean that parents never have to do anything they don't want to do. I didn't particularly want to change 800 million dirty diapers, but that's what I signed on for, and I had to do it. But we do not sign on for 18 years of being subject to someone else's values. We do the things that are necessary for children to grow and flourish (meeting physical and emotional needs), but 10 games of Hi Ho Cherry-O is not a need for anyone. My child will not be scarred and feel unloved if I do not stay and watch every soccer game she plays. She will not have poor self-esteem because I did not want to hear her describe her 48th painting of the day in excruciating detail. She will not be conceptually impaired because she overheard me talking about my political opinions before she understands their philosophical underpinnings. In fact, I think that she will grow up better knowing that I have adult stuff to do and that one day, she will have adult stuff to do too.

Here's a picture of me and Livy, at an Atlanta Objectivist party with (gasp!) beer and guitar playing. Just before this I was making up funny songs, and now Reid is giving us a solo. It was late at night. She was not in bed, dreaming of the magic of childhood. She was in the world, watching adults interact, and learning how to be a grown-up Objectivist. About 15 minutes later, she passed out on a couch.

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