Great parenting doesn’t require sacrifice, it requires you to have fun.
This is a reprint of a post that I wrote this time last year. As I was reading back I realized that we could all use a parenting pep talk once in a while, so here it is again.
Most parents start off their parenting life in sacrificial mode.
Parenting is a duty that you owe to your children. And duty requires sacrifice, right?
Let’s face it. If you are used to hanging out with your friends every Friday night, and now you have a new, hungry bundle of joy, things are going to change. And that change feels a whole lot like sacrifice.
Fun time is over. That birthing was expensive! Even with insurance. Maybe there were complications that really ran the bill up. Then there’s baby food, diapers, and all that paraphernalia and stuff that, apparently, babies just gotta have.
And, of course, you need a minivan to haul it all around.
If you are the primary income producer of the family (or if you’re a single parent) then you know that you have to get to work to pay those bills. And a great deal of your discretionary time and money just vaporized.
If you are the primary caregiver, your considerable and highly educated skills will now be focused on how to most efficiently change a very smelly diaper without gettin’ any on ya.
This is all true. So what’s this about having fun? Is it just a bunch of nice sounding bullcrap?
What you are experiencing as a new parent is the need to adjust your time to deal with the new realities of parenting. And yes, babies do need special attention and equipment that can put a stop to what had been a perfectly comfortable lifestyle.
What the quote at the start of this post is talking about is how to be a great parent. And the false idea that you must sacrifice the pursuit of your own happiness in order to be that great parent.
All these years you thought that you would grow up and pursue your dreams, didn’t you? Now you believe that your new role as a parent means that you must sacrifice those lifelong dreams to that role. That duty.
In fact, the opposite is true.
To be a great parent you must begin, if you have not already, the serious pursuit of your true life’s purpose.
We are raised in our culture to implicitly believe that work is not fun. And that if work is fun, then you are not really working. My mom used to say that medicine doesn’t work unless it hurts. Of course we know now that her statement was a bunch of malarkey (I told her then but she never listened). 🙂
Well, the idea that work is not fun is totally out of date as well. In fact, if you are not having fun at work, you are probably not producing your best results.
Remember that sentence.
The same cultural misconception is often applied to parenting. And we do this without thinking.
Being a great parent is work, right? At least that’s what our parents said (or strongly implied). And they were right of course. And being human, and therefore prone to laziness, we prefer to avoid work. We think that happiness requires a lack of work. Well, all that may well be true if you are working for someone else. And throughout history, the vast majority of people did just that.
This time you won’t be working for someone else. Not your boss. Or your partner. Or your kids. At least not directly. No, this time you are going to work for you. And the “project” that you will be working on is the Project of You.
This is not self indulgence, or a justification for lazy parenting. This is a necessary and often lacking component to being the best parent that you can possibly be. You see, if you are not having fun while parenting, you are probably not producing your best results as a parent.
Chances are, hanging out with your friends on Friday night had little to do with the pursuit of your life’s true purpose. It’s just what you did to casually fill up your ample free time. It’s the kind of thing that you’d been doing since you were a kid. And now that time is filled with other things.
Having children creates new responsibilities that never existed before. What it also does is force you to get serious about living your life. Being a parent is not the time to stop focusing on your personal happiness. It’s the exact opposite. It’s the time to start focusing on you.
Most people drift through life until this moment.
I mean, there may have been times, like a Bar or CPA exam, or some athletic challenge, or boot camp, when circumstances forced you to stop goofing off and really dig down deep inside to find the root of your personal drive and energy. But once that challenge was over, you slid back into your comfortable clothes and chilled. Old habits take over.
Am I saying that having kids is like boot camp? It can feel that way at times, but no. It’s not even close. Unless you have a particularly difficult child or one with very special needs, its gets much easier over time. And your confidence in your parenting abilities improves as well. You learn to parent and chill at the same time.
What I am saying is that being a parent forces you to start living your true life’s purpose. It forces you to grow up. And to get serious about being happy. And that’s a good thing, because being a perpetual teenager at age 35 gets old, especially for your partner.
True happiness comes from knowing yourself, and then living out your life’s true purpose. Achieving these goals will require that you hunker down and focus a bit. But not on your new kid.
You’ll have to get serious about this eventually.
Guys, do you want to find yourself at mid-life with a new Porsche, a new trophy second (or third) wife, and a big empty pit where your heart ought to be? (Well, maybe the first two ;-)) Ladies, do you want to find yourself at mid-life alone, unkempt, and unloved (mostly by you)?
These situations happen all too often. Why? Well, one reason is that these people bought into the lie that they had to sacrifice as parents in order to do their duty to their children. What they have really done is sold themselves into slavery to their kids, who often grow up spoiled, overly dependent on mom and dad, and unhappy. And mom and dad are burned out and worn out. And unhappy too.
Generally speaking, today’s parents aren’t lazy. They’re misdirected.
The sooner that you get started on the most important project of your life, the Project of You, the sooner you are going to love your life. And love yourself. And be the best possible parent that you can be. If you thought childhood was fun, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. If you fear that your best years are behind you, you are quite mistaken.
Being a fulfilled adult is much more fun than being a pampered kid without true direction in life.
To be a great parent requires that you focus on, and not sacrifice, your life’s true purpose. It also means that you don’t have to pretend that your life’s purpose just changed to being a full-time servant to your kids instead of whatever else you thought it was before.
Being a great parent means modeling behavior that your kids can emulate – either now, or when they are older. Children are a lot like chimps. They copy what they see. And hear. It’s a big part of how they learn. If you beat your spouse, there’s a very good chance that your kids will grow up and do the same.
If you live the life of your dreams, your kids will grow up and do that as well.
Be a model and a mentor to your kids, not a boss and an instructor.
Your kids are not an engineering project. You can’t plan, and then build them. They are living things. They know how to grow. What they need, as all living things do, is a safe, healthy environment, and a great example.
Be your child’s example of how to live a great life. And be a mirror for them to know how well they are living theirs.
So, if you define great parenting as raising healthy children who grow up as happy, well adjusted adults, then you need to act like a happy, well adjusted adult. And the easiest way to do that is to be one.
The day you first become a parent is, for many people, your first day of living a better, more fun-filled life. So forget the sacrifice myth. You’ve got a fantastic life to live. And children to share it with.
Give living the life of your dreams a try. I think that you’ll like it. And it’s your duty as a parent to live it to the fullest!
Talk to you again soon.