If I’m speaking with a group of parents and I want to elicit a lively debate, I only need to say the following:
Kids shouldn’t be your highest priority.
As a youngster, I remember my dad telling me that “your mom always comes first,” but I really didn’t understand what he meant. It wasn’t until I spent many years working with kids and families that I realized that focusing your life around the needs and wants of your children was a serious mistake.
I’ve gotten some passionate feedback on this position from many parents. My favorite comment was from a mom of an infant. “I’ll tell that to my six-month old the next time she wakes up in the middle of the night screaming for food.” One reader’s comments were more personal. “You must not have kids. Having children means sacrificing what you want for what they need.”
As a parent of three children, I understand that there are many times when taking care of our kids must come before anything else. Parenting involves lots of compromise and sacrifice.
However, always putting your children first is bad for them, bad for you, and bad for your relationship with your spouse.
It’s unhealthy for youngsters to grow up feeling that they are the most important people in the world. Of course we love them unconditionally, but others do not. They will be judged by their accomplishments.
Some parents seem addicted to pleasing their children, and make endless sacrifices to cater to their whims. Raising a family is all about compromise. Kids’ needs are important but must be balanced against those of other family members.
This means there are times when you should restrict your child’s activities and say no to sports or music lessons. What may be good for your child may place unreasonable demands on other siblings or your spouse.
Child-centered families are not only bad for kids, they are bad for us as adults. We need to figure out how to meet our needs and maintain adult friendships, exercise, work and just hang out and do nothing. Our kids would have a more realistic view of life if more parents would simply say, “Not now. I need some time for myself.”
Finally, a meaningful relationship with your spouse is a frequent casualty of child-obsessed parents. Adult relationships take time, attention and emotional engagement. You need to be fully available to attend to your spouse without feeling guilty that you are not a good parent.
You’ll be a happier person, spouse and even a better parent if you are not addicted to your children.
Next week: An old-fashioned treatment for ADHD that really works!
Dr. Ramey is the executive director of Dayton Children’s Hospital’s Pediatric Center for Mental Health Resources and can be contacted at Rameyg@childrensdayton.org.