Why I don’t want the best for my child

By kate on July 3rd, 2007

“I want the best for my child.”

That’s a commonly heard phrase, and if you don’t examine it closely, it sounds pretty good. I kept thinking about it, though, and realized that I disagree.

The corollary of “I want the best for my child” is something like “my child is uniquely special in the world and deserves the best.” At this point, I start to see red flags. As much as I love Ruby and feel she is amazing and special, I don’t believe she is innately better and more deserving than other children. And I don’t want her growing up believing that, either. I think this is where some very well-meaning parents go wrong, accidentally bringing up elitists. I’ll cop to some elitism myself, something that I sometimes struggle to see around. While Ruby should always know that her parents think she is the best kid in the world, she should also understand that the rest of the world has no obligation to see it the same way. It’s a fine line.

So, instead of the best, what I want for Ruby is the “good enough.” The pursuit of the best would be a waste of time, money, and other resources. (I’m talking here about things like lessons/classes, clothes, toys, furniture, etc.; basically stuff and activities.) Ruby can be a happy, well-adjusted child without infant Swahili lessons or fancy educational toys. I keep reminding myself that millions of people have reached adulthood without all of this single-minded striving to provide the best. Ruby will be happy with good enough toys – why shouldn’t I be?

As far as her future success, she will find her own level, and we can’t influence that too much. The giant parenting industry trying to push toys, supplies, activities, and media greatly overestimates the impact that parents can have (especially when you’re talking about non-poor kids in loving homes). I can certainly encourage and support Ruby when she shows an aptitude for things. But there are countless examples of successful people with terrible or absent parents. If she’s as smart as I think she is, she’ll do well in school and work without the need for me to buy her flashcards this week.

Besides, now that I’m an adult, I find I define success more broadly than “they” did in school. As long as you can get to the baseline of having a decent job that pays you enough to live comfortably, real success comes down to your attitude and interpersonal relationships more than your title or how much you make. When I think about what feels most successful about my life, it’s my marriage, my family, and my friends (and that’s not to say I haven’t been successful at work). Even career success depends on how well you relate to others, and you just can’t be good at that while believing you’re better than them.

I want Ruby to have similar success, and I’m starting by trying to teach her about our common humanity, rather than why she is entitled to the most expensive toys. I want her to feel empathy for others instead of putting them into labeled categories. She shouldn’t grow up feeling like the world owes her something.

Don’t misunderstand me — if Ruby shows an interest or aptitude for something, we’ll certainly encourage it. The bar for what’s “good enough” would get higher in that case, as we pursue whatever it is. It’s just more of a reactive model. I prefer to wait for things (good and bad) to develop, and then address them, instead of throwing all kinds of time and money at “what if”s.

It’s fine (and likely) for Ruby to be better than some people at some things. She may even be better than everyone in her class or school at something, and that would be great. But that’s very different from being unilaterally better (more entitled) than others. That’s what I’m trying to avoid by resisting “the best” for Ruby.

Filed under: consumerism, parenting
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2 Responses to “Why I don’t want the best for my child”

  1. Baby Bro Says:

    I’m quite impressed with this post, and very much support what you’re trying to say. When I contemplate raising my own theoretical kids, I wonder about the fine line about bringing up great kids that are well adjusted and aren’t elitist, driven but not overworked and without perspective. I often wonder how things worked out so well for myself in the end and I think it does lie in a lot of what you discuss, mainly not fighting for “the best”, but supporting kids in being their best as they discover it.

    One point of devil’s advocacy for discussion though – which activities/passions should you seek to expose Ruby to, and to what extent? I’m torn by the example of sports, where I’ve always been of the idea that children should be exposed to as much physical activity as is reasonable at an early age because it gives them the opportunity to be athletic at a later age (muscle memory), should they chose. Children who have too little focus on physical activity at a young age I think struggle much more to be athletic at a later age.

    Thus bears the question – some level of exposure at a young age opens up a greater level of free choice at a later stage for children, but what level is appropriate? Swahali and flashcards at this age is probably too much, but would it be that unreasonable to have Ruby play with foreign kids some day to make learning languages (asian, european, or african) easier, and more natural one day when she’s older and truly interested?

  2. kate Says:

    Thanks for the reply! You have good points. I definitely think it’s advantageous to give kids the opportunity to try a wide range of things. And that physical activities and foreign languages are good things for early exposure. It’s such a fine line between trying to do a good amount of things and not cramming every minute full.

    Ruby will surely be getting some physical activities pretty early, namely circus classes (probably) and soccer (maybe), just because that’s what we’re into. Plus, there will be family activities like bike riding and hiking. Ideally, once she’s in school, gym class will provide exposure to a wider range of sports and she can look around to see what she likes.

    As far as Ruby’s language development, Steve throws in a few foreign words, but they might as well be English for all she knows. Steve’s dad speaks a lot of French to her, which is good. I wish we knew more people who were fluent in other languages and would speak to her regularly.

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