Parenting is tough. Blah, blah, blah.

I hate to break this to you, but it’s not that tough. Yes, there are days early on when you might look around at the brightly colored plastic blocks strewn about your home and think, ‘what happened to my life?’ But mostly parenting is just a shift in perception. You have to care less about yourself, and more about this new humanoid. And if you aren’t down with that, I beg you not to have children. Because your own selfishness will rub off on them. And the last thing the human race needs is a planet full of people who focus exclusively on their own selfish desires.

But it’s happening. After having been around kids now for a decade, I can say with total confidence that selfish people are breeding and raising selfish children. Of the non-scientific research conducted by me over the past decade – only 50% of children I know use terms like “please” and “thank you.” The rest just give commands and don’t take time out to show gratitude.

My parents didn’t do a whole lot right. They were very young and I was the first born (aka the guinea pig). I don’t hold this against them. As parenting goes, most of us just do the best we can. But one thing my parents did right was instill in us a deep respect for other people. Especially for adults. We said “Yes, ma’am” and “No, sir” and “Please” and “Thank you” and “May I?” and “You’re welcome.”  And if we didn’t, we got a switch. The two humans my wife and I currently raise don’t get switches. So we’ve had to drill the concept of gratitude over selfishness into them by being persistent. And you know what? They say “please” and “thank you,” etc. Our friends routinely remark at how polite our children are in this way. They’re good kids. Sure, they’ve got their own selfish agendas. We all do. That’s human. But they are always aware of others. And I’m proud of that.

Before you read any farther, I want to make this next part as clear as possible – THIS POST WAS NOT WRITTEN TO ILLUSTRATE OUR SUPERIOR PARENTING SKILLS so that you comment about what great parents we are. I don’t care whether you think I’m a good parent or not. Social approval has no influence on me. As parents, my wife and I make mistakes like everyone else. But one thing we’re most weary of is our responsibility to the planet to integrate humans into the village who are as selfless as possible. I honestly believe that this our primary function as parents.

Look, selfish people break laws. Every crime you can conjure up in your brain is based in selfishness. Murder = I want someone gone. Rape = I want to satisfy my sexual appetite. Theft = I want a thing. Running a red light = I want to make it to the place I’m going on time. Yes, every crime is based in the concept selfishness. Even Jean Valjean’s theft of bread, while innocuous on the surface, was an act of selfishness. He didn’t have the means to buy the bread and yet he wanted to feed his sister’s children. The key word here being “want.”

There are people who will tell you that the young people entering the workforce today are an ‘entitlement’ generation. (And yes, it’s true that some politicians will twist the term entitlement to make you think this only means poor black people who feel entitled to free government programs that they will milk and which keep them in their current state of helplessness with no way out. Whatever. I happen to think those people need those kinds of programs – but they also need the kinds of programs that provide hope as a way to escape their hopelessness. One without the other only keeps them in a hole.) Anyway, the type of entitlement I’m talking about is more like, “l went to college, so I deserve a high paying job at a big company RIGHT NOW! And I want a million dollars.” But, as anyone over the age of 30 knows, that’s now how it works. Not in corporate America, anyway. And eventually, most of us come to understand that the world doesn’t owe us a goddamn thing.

Which begs the question – where does this feeling of entitlement come from? How is it that so many people believe that just because they’re breathing in and out and not walking around breaking (major) laws means that they’re entitled to a life of prosperity? I think it’s parenting. In fact, I would bet that all people, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity, who walk around with this chip of entitlement on their shoulders are the result of parents who didn’t make them say “please” and “thank you” when they were children. Don’t laugh. Instilling these simple phrases into a child’s lexicon may seem meaningless for the first ten years or so, but eventually they get it. They start to see that people they engage with act differently when they show respect to them. Think about it – if someone says, “pass the ketchup” – you’re less likely to respond as pleasantly as when someone says, “please pass the ketchup.” Life is an echo chamber. You emit positive vibes, you get positive vibes back. The opposite, however, is also true.

In Plato’s Republic, he talks about how society should be broken down into very specific jobs. Leaders should only be required to think. They should have no want of money or material possessions. There should be workers who are only required to do very specific jobs in order to positively contribute to society. There should be guardians who do nothing but protect the Republic. And there should be people who only raise children. His vision was something like this: you’re welcome to do your biological duty and procreate, but after that, you give up your children to people who know how to mold children into productive members of a society. Children are too important to risk on bad parenting. Society, and the future of the Republic, is too important.

But, we don’t live in a Utopia.

If your idea of giving a child the best future possible means teaching them to go hard after whatever they “want” – and to push people down in order to get it, because that’s the only way you know how to do life, then you’d basically be adding to the problems of the world by raising criminals who will do nothing to positively contribute to the human race.

If you’re not prepared to be selfless as a parent, please – don’t have children. And if you already are a parent, take the time to teach your children to use terms like “please” and “thank you.” Instill in them a sense of gratitude and selflessness. Because if you’re not doing these things, then you’re failing as a parent by raising selfish human beings. And the last thing this planet needs is more selfishness.


Jim Mitchem

Note: That’s our daughter Cozette in the picture above. Between our two daughters, we had fun trying to snap the ultimate ‘brat’ picture. Lots of good outtakes. 

Bastard Out of Carolina
Those Were The Days

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.