I never thought of myself as a selfish person. Who does, right? I never knew that selfishness was a huge problem I need to deal with on a daily basis until I got married and we had our first child. My previous career was in ministry (probably a topic for another day), and I knew all about selflessness.
Here is the truth - the idea of selflessness is only an idea unless you have gone through the daily challenges of marriage and parenthood. I believe this is especially true for men.
Now I know that selfish behavior is not only a male problem, but I will argue that it is far more a male problem than female. My wife and I both work. She does extremely important and valuable work. If she can’t work than MANY people are adversely affected. I wish I had this kind of job. Generally speaking, who takes 3 months off of their career when a baby is born? I might have been able to talk myself into taking 3 months off if our family had no other options, but I would have certainly fought it. Do I love our daughter any less? I don’t think so, but selfishness is more of a man issue. I’m not even going to get into the many households that don’t even have a father present, because he didn’t want to sacrifice time or money to raise a child.
So, I do have a problem. That’s a problem with selfishness. In my case, I also fueled it. When my daughter was born I let my wife’s excitement excuse my inactivity during the late hours of the night. My wife was SO happy to be a mom, and she didn’t want to miss a single moment with my daughter. She volunteered to get up every time my daughter woke up in those first 3 months. She didn’t have to work and I did. I worked in a sales position at the time. I don’t remember who said it. But either I said this, or my wife said this. The idea we operated on during that 3 months was, “If I am tired and I don’t sell as much then we won’t have as much money.” If I said it I clearly manipulated the situation to my selfish desires. If my wife said it then I let her believe this line of thinking was ok. Is that thought even true? Here is the truth. I have consistently sold more after I had kids than before. The extra motivation of needing more money always trumps the fatigue.
How have I improved? It wasn’t a choice that I made. It was circumstances. 15 months after my daughter was born we had twin boys. Those boys can get anyone out of their comfort zones. They are considerably easier to deal with now that they are almost 3 years old, but I honestly thought they would be the death of me. As I write this I admit that could still definitely happen. I would never wish twin babies on anyone. But I no longer had the choice to sleep through the night, because there was no way my wife was going to be able to handle it. I’m not kidding - it seemed like someone was always crying at night. If my wife tried to do it all then it meant that she never got ANY sleep at all. Those boys have pushed me way out of my comfort zone ever since they were born. I had to start thinking of my wife and I as more of a team. And even though I still struggle with selfishness, my kids have at least made me acutely aware of it.
My solution for dad’s: get out of your comfort zone. I was 32 years old before we had my daughter. I developed a lot of ME habits by then. Develop more US habits. I read a book years ago that described selfish behavior in an interesting way. If you see someone that you can help in some way, and you choose not to help, you subconsciously make them into a person that is not worthy of your help. I think it might be a stretch to say I lowered my wife in my eyes in order not to help like I should, but there was certainly a lot of justification going on to not get out of bed. In those moments I made the decision that my wife’s needs weren’t as important as mine. Men need to dare to change the norms. Change their habits. Commit to being the first one out of bed. And even if you can’t shake the selfishness at least acknowledge that your happy wife means good things for you.
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