We're Learning to be Selfish

3 years ago

We're learning to be selfish, my tween-ager and I.

I know you're asking why considering that  kids (and some adults too, if we’re being honest) have the propensity to believe they are the sun and the rest of us are mere planets revolving around them.

Selfishness is just a built-in perk of being human.

Our job as parents is helping these tiny Napoleons unlearn this built-in perk. So we cajole them with catchy tunes into cleaning house. We involve them in team sports. We make nice with other parents with whom we’d never otherwise give time of day as we plunk them into playgroups; and we coordinate one-on-one playdates with other kids like the President’s scheduling secretary.

If we do our job well, and I think most of us do, kids understand they are part of something larger than themselves, and soon, they understand what it means to pull together as a team.

Nice job, Us.

But how does everything we’ve taught the now recovering Napoleons play out during the post-Barney-the-Annoying-Purple-Dinosaur-Talking-Too-Loud-All-The-Time-Dora-the-Explorer time commonly known as The Tween Years? That special time when their hormone-clogged pendulums swing off tempo between the learned need to pull together as a team and the innate need to just be who they are, regardless of the team’s or anyone else’s pull.


A Case Study

Well, this isn’t exactly a case study, just my experience with my eleven year old daughter. Her litany about a certain group of girls’ pull was the accompaniment on our commute to day camp:

They say I’m a tom boy because I like drawing anime and I’m not into make-up or One Republic.

I silently thanked God. She’s a talented artist, and with her eyelashes, she’ll never need to buy mascara, and her musical leanings have saved our ears from the whine of bubblegum pop.

Her Artwork

The "Tom Boy's" Art.

She continued:

…and they say I don’t sound like a girl because (using her best Valley Girl Speak) I don’t sound like, like, all…well, ya’ know. (punctuated by a hair flip)

I added a prayer of thankfulness that she doesn’t sound like a moron when she talks.

But I knew she was riding that pendulum: needing to heed the pull, yet wanting to be herself.


On Selfishness

Every time I nudged her to be a team player, each time we talked about cooperation and every applause I meted out for sharing, deferring or giving preference in a playgroup flashed in my mind’s eye and rang tinnily in my ears.

You know, there is something you can do. This is really in your control.

For the first time in a long time, I had her full attention.

You can change. Seriously -- it’s all your face, your likes, your voice. CHANGE.

A puzzled look.

Think before you speak and decide that you’re going to make your voice higher -- like when you sing. Start using “like” and “awesome” maybe even throw in an “um” or two. Chew gum and make it pop in between phrases. It’s simple.

Her mouth hung open.

And the drawing anime thing? Stop. Just give it up. Start doodling butterflies, flowers and hearts. Ditch Cold Play and start listening to One Republic or some other pretty boy pop group. Honey, you got this: it’s all within your control.

You can do what they want you to do.

You can be who they want you to be and you’ll never get a question again.

It was the lesson of cooperation, deferring for the greater good and pulling together all over again. Somehow, in this instance it didn’t ring true and it was written on her now solemn face.

But...but...I won’t be happy.

Yeah, but they’ll stop asking questions if you change, am I right? Makes sense, doesn’t it?

It makes sense, but I’d rather be happy.

Then you listen to yourself. The things those girls pick at, that’s what makes you you. You could change to make them happy, but then you won’t be you and you certainly won’t be happy. Now is the time for you to be selfish...and it’s perfectly okay.

And there ended the lesson.


Talking to Myself

Our little conversation was as much for myself as it was for her.

How many times have I found myself at one of those after work glad-handing events where people are more concerned with what I do instead of who I am?

How many times have I played that uncomfortable game of feigning interest in the most non-interesting of topics in the interest pulling together as a team?

How many times have I done the song and dance act to make everything appear rosy to folks who have little to no bearing on my life, my happiness or general well-being?

But I was being unselfish, and that’s got to count for something, right? The only something it counted for was the slow chiseling away of the person I am, leaving everyone -- except me -- happy.

It’s taken five years shy of fifty years old for me to learn this lesson and learn it well.

I’m just hoping our little daycamp conversation will help my daughter understand the value of selfishness sooner than I did.


Rochelle Fritsch from The Late Arrival...Finding out everyday that sometimes, late is right on time.

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