Selfishness Masquerading as Selflessness
“Your number one job as a mother is to make your child need you a little bit less every single day”
A very wise woman said this to me only a few weeks after Olivia was born. In my heart, I already sort of knew it to be true, but it was sobering to hear someone else confirm it. And, although it goes against every single emotion you feel as a mother, I’m here to tell you, it is absolutely true.
As a mother to Emmeline ( 1 year ) and Olivia (3 years) , I admit that there is no greater feeling than being needed … it’s a powerful drug. And as the daughter of a mother who didn’t fully understand the importance of teaching me independence, I can also tell you, if you fail to instill this quality in your child, she will suffer as she reaches adulthood. It’s unfair, I know. But there’s a reason why motherhood is recognized as one of the most selfless acts a woman can undertake in her lifetime. There’s joy to be sure. But that joy is always in celebrating someone else, your child – a unique, independent soul – as she grows, makes mistakes, learns, matures, and evolves. This journey should never be purely about your feelings … it should be about teaching her to find her own identity and become self-sufficient.
To be clear, none of us start out wanting to control our children or use them to puff up our own sense of self-worth … but over time, as stresses continue to mount, and life creeps along, we always fall back on the most basic of human tendencies … selfishness often tops that list, even if only subconsciously. This is when we must always remember, what’s best for her may not be what makes us as mothers feel the best. That’s genuine selflessness … subordinating your wants and feelings to someone else’s needs.
The difficulty is recognizing when selfishness begins masquerading as selflessness. It happens over time, and often without you even noticing. When your child first enters the world, what is best for your child oftentimes overlaps with what makes you feel most alive, loved, and needed – when she cries for food, you console her and cuddle her. When she’s first learning to walk and falls and scrapes her knee, you scoop her up, clean her wound, and comfort her. These actions tend to both of your souls and gives you both a sense of joy neither of you have ever known. But the older your child gets, the less likely her needs will overlap with your emotional desire. The same motherly urge that hit when you watched your little girl fall and scrape her knee, will also hit when you see her choosing to give up a sport she’s played for years, spend a semester abroad, or choose a college major that you think won’t provide her with the skills to compete in today’s job market. You don’t want to see her get hurt, or fail … so you spring to action, in effort to protect her. You convince yourself that you’re being selfless … that you’re saving her from a huge mistake. And to top it off … it makes you feel good … it makes you feel needed, and you tell yourself that one day, she’ll see the sacrifice you made in saving her, and she’ll appreciate it.
The truth is, the only thing you’re preventing her from doing is learning and growing. She needs to fail. She needs to get hurt, within reason, of course – if she’s being abused or taken advantage of in some destructive way, you have every right to intervene. But, usually, that’s not the case. More often than not we simply don’t want to see our loved ones get hurt, in any way, and we rush to prevent it. The end result of course, is that you feel like a hero for saving her, and she misses out on a learning opportunity … she misses out on realizing that she’s strong enough to survive a fall, and that she can pull herself up and persist. But one day, you’ll no longer be there to protect her from herself, or anyone else. She needs to learn to do that on her own. Denying her the chance to learn because it makes you feel wanted and needed is not noble … it’s selfishness masquerading as selflessness.
You signed up for this … and it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever do in this lifetime … invest everything you have in someone so that she can take the love, knowledge, and skill you’ve shared, and move on, in a sense, leaving you behind.
You’ll turn yourself inside out and upside down for her, and one day, she’ll take everything, and go. And far from being hurt by that, you should celebrate it. That’s your number one job … to teach her to need you less and less, until one day, she needs you no more. Put on your big girl pants mama, because that’s motherhood in a nutshell, and that’s true selflessness.