I am going to stick my neck out here, and I am afraid that it might get chopped off! But I must be true to what I believe. I am reading some things lately about authenticity and being true to yourself, and while I believe those things to a point, I also have some different thoughts than some that are popular. So, here goes.
I believe that we are called to be our best selves. We do no good to others, including those others who depend on us, if we are living a life of duplicity. So, yes, we need to be happy and fulfilled. We need to be our best selves. We need to strip away all of the riff raff, and get to the core of who we are, and live from that place. I do believe that. But I must make some qualifications to this.
Being our best selves includes being who we need to be for those who depend on us, specifically, our dependent children. I believe that when we choose to have children, we make the choice to subjugate our personal happiness to their needs during the years that they are dependent on us. Yes. We choose to put the best for our children ahead of what we may think is our own personal best, when our children are dependent on us. This is selfless love, and it is what we as parents are called to not just accept, but embrace. As a parent, we put the needs of our children ahead of our own needs. This may conflict with what we want as best for our authentic selves. So be it. It is what is right, regardless.
Now, do not mistake this for the choice to live in a dysfunctional relationship. That choice is not good for the parent or children. But it does mean that just because you don’t think that your spouse is your true “soul mate,” that such does not give you a license to look around for someone who better meets your requirements. When you bring children into this world, you owe them a functional family unit, to the best of your ability. That means that you choose to be satisfied with the other parent, even if or when your desires indicate otherwise. Now remember, I qualified this statement earlier; this is not about dysfunction. It is about putting the needs of your family above your own needs. Yes. That is what I said. Your individual needs are subjugated to the needs of your family, especially your children. And do not allow yourself to see this as martyrdom, or even as codependency. It is really only about the selfless love of a parent. And I realize that in this day of “me first,” this philosophy is not common. But as a parent, it is what I consider most authentic.
Now, I am going to stick my neck way out even further. I will give an example from my own life, for the purpose of clarity. When I lost my job in the early 80’s, I had some major decisions to make. My job was as a health care executive. Given the politics, it was not possible to get a comparable job in the area. So I was faced with the decision to relocate, travel, or look for a different job in a different field in the area. Our daughters were teenagers, and Mike had an important job that would not be easy to replace quickly. So, my decision was pretty clear, although not easy to make. I knew that it would not be best for the family for me to travel for my job. I also knew that with Mike’s job being what it was, considering relocating the family for my work was not the best decision for any of us. So, even though I loved my work, I was good at it, and I knew that I could get another job in that field by relocating, I made the decision to put the needs of the family first. And I never regretted that decision. It was the very right decision for us to make, especially for the benefit of our teenage daughters. I made the decision to start my own business; speaking, consulting, and coaching individuals and teams to be their best. And now, almost twenty-five years later, I know that decision was the right one, not just for our daughters or the family, but for me as well.
I am not saying that the decisions I made as a parent are the right decisions for everyone. I am not saying that I know what others need to do to be their best selves. I am saying that I believe we know when we need to make decisions in the best interest of others, especially our dependent children, and that sometimes those would not necessarily be the same decisions if we put ourselves first. If we are fortunate enough to live long enough, we see those children grow up and leave the nest, and our ability to put our own interests first, in coordination with any appropriate others, such as a spouse, returns.
Being authentic in the broadest context means doing what we know to be best, not just for ourselves, but for those others who depend on us. It is not always about “me first.”