Doing The Most For Christmas: Are You Parenting Your Child Or Your Own Ego?
During the days following the holiday most years, it’s easy for me to experience, anxiety, sadness and some grief about the “best time of the year” suddenly being behind us and having to wait another 300 and something days for the Christmas tree trimming, gift wrapping and dashing through the snow build-up that we all know will ultimately come crashing down on December 26. But this year was different. As much as I dreaded returning to work on December 27th, I was filled with a twisted sense of self-satisfaction that I knew was due to nothing other than my parental ego. You heard me, I friggin’ nailed Christmas this year. My tree was up by the second week of December as my family and friends lifted my three-year-old into the air so that she could place silver reindeer and glitter-dusted pine cones carefully on every branch. There was eggnog, party games, matching onesies for myself my husband and my daughter, Christmas shopping that included carefully curated gifts that my toddler would love all delivered and wrapped by December 23rd and we finished it all up with a ride to see the Christmas light show at our local suburban farm. My husband explained it best to my sister during the drive to the farm when he described a moment he caught me in pure parental bliss during the holiday break:
“No sooner did she snap the ‘onesie’ picture did I catch her on the couch, cheesing to herself as she posted to Instagram. And I knew she was thinking, ‘I killed this ish and created a season of magic for my child.’ Half of the stuff we do is really for her and not the kid.”
He wasn’t complaining, merely making an observation but I found myself taking a moment to check myself: Did my family, more importantly my child really enjoy all of this or did I just have a point to prove to myself and my Instagram followers that I could create Debbie Macomber memories right in my own West Philadelphia townhouse? It’s moments like these that I realize it’s important to regularly check your parenting and be honest about if you’re being present and really parenting from a place where your child is the highest priority and not your own ego.
I know I’m not the only one. Many of us probably found ourselves scrolling through Facebook and Instagram feeds at celebrities and our peers alike posting pics and vids of their kids excitedly opening their gifts whether your teen finally got that iPhone X or your toddler was happy just to play with the box their Teddy Ruxpin came in. Rapper Young thug was the target of criticism when fans accused him of being “excessive” when he posted a picture of Christmas gifts given to his children that featured well over three dozen shoe boxes of brands like UGG, Nike and Adidas.
And we can’t forget the Philadelphia’s own Saudia Schuler who dropped $25K on her son’s Dubai-themed prom sendoff earlier this year.
It’s enough to make you question: When it comes to parenting and providing for your children, how much of it is done with their well-being in mind and how much of it is to overcompensate for the experiences and material things we lacked in our own upbringing? How much of it is done just for a few double taps on Instagram? And is it OK for parenting to be about your own ego every once in a while?
I’m only three years into this parenting thing, but it’s like I always tell my sister: People are sensitive when it comes to their parenting, myself included. I’m willing to bet that at the end of the day 95% of us want to be told we are doing an excellent job and we all define what that looks like differently. For some of us getting our kids to adulthood without teen pregnancy or an arrest record is a testament to our investment, hard work and sacrifice. For others, it’s being able to put a PS4 and an iPhone under the Christmas tree and witnessing the literal Holy Ghost enter or children’s bodies when they rip open that red and green paper to see that they got exactly what they asked Santa for. I’m not here to debate what does or doesn’t qualify good parenting, but if I’m being honest I’d say that a small part of parenting is my ability to pat myself on the back and I don’t think there’s any issue with that. As long as along the way in my parenting journey I take time to ask myself three questions: Is this for me, my child, others’ approval or all three? Is it benefiting my child in the long run? Am I listening to what my child truly wants and considering what’s best for them?
For example, since it’s still the holiday season, consider this scenario. If you took your child to visit Santa this year, did they enjoy it? Did you come home comforting and anxious, terrified pre-schooler just so you could get the “perfect” picture or did you say scratch the three hour wait in line and this rite of passage into the Polar Express and you perfect photo if it meant your child wouldn’t be traumatized?
One of the biggest lessons I’m learning in parenting is how selfish some moments can be for a parent, and a few moments of selfishness don’t have to mean a lifetime of therapy for your child as long as you’re guided by their best interests a majority of the time. My childhood photo albums are filled with frilly church dresses that I hated and family portraits that I looked a mess in, but when my mother looks back at them she smiles a lot like I probably looked on the couch to my husband this past Christmas Eve. It’s then that I’m reminded that at times parenting can be about the joy children bring to their parents as much as it is about the sacrifices we make for them.
So how can you tell when you parenting “ego” is taking over and your efforts are more about your self-worth than your child’s well-being? Dr. Shefali Tasbury is an author, clinical psychologist and TedX speaking alumna who wrote the series The Conscious Parent which promotes the awareness and understanding of heart-based practices which are essential for emotional growth and maturity. She uses a blend of Eastern philosophy and Western psychology to help parents learn how to build stronger connections with their children. According to Dr. Tasbury mindfulness is a huge part of defeating the toxic parental ego and she suggests parents to identify issues within their children that they themselves may be struggling to accept within themselves.
For example, are you spending your life savings on an iPhone X to make your child happy because you never got that Gameboy you asked for three years in a row? It’s important that we are aware of our own issues and how they affect our parenting even if we’re still in the process of working those issues out. For example, I know that I’m good for dragging my daughter to every experience under the sun when I can including aquarium trips, the zoo, museums and for a toddler that can be exhausting. It’s something I subconsciously do to compensate for the fact that although my parents did a phenomenal job with my sister and I, they are homebodies who most days avoid crowds and strangers. This has resulted in some slight traces of social anxiety within my sister and my adult lives. With my own daughter, out of an attempt to make sure she feels comfortable in whatever space she’s in, I schedule our family for possibly too many experiences at times and it takes my support system to pull me to the side and say, “You know she’s three and may not remember much of this and possibly is even a little overwhelmed. Sometimes it’s OK to just sit home and play hide and seek with just the two of you.”
Wanting a picture with Santa to share with all 235 of your Facebook followers or borrowing from your savings to make sure you can rent that Rolls Royce for your daughter’s sweet sixteen doesn’t mean you’re on a first class trip to narcissism and raising a child who will grow into a resentful adult who wants nothing to do with you. I would like to believe that many of us who even engage in this type of thought process want the best for our children. But whenever I’m in doubt I try to remind myself about balance, priorities and that the most valuable things we give to our children can’t always be captured in an Instagram photo. Character, self-worth, integrity and reliability are a few of the things that parents don’t often give themselves credit for. A Rolls Royce is nice, but a parent who spends their night researching a bus and a train schedule just to make sure they’re early for pick-up time so there kid know they are loved and priority is better. Also, before we go criticizing Young Thug or DJ Khaled, remind yourself it is possible to give your kid a yacht for his birthday AND unconditional love and support. Lastly cut yourself and other parents a break. We’re all just parenting the best way we know how and sometimes that means “doing it for the Gram” but more so we’re doing it for our kids.
Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.