This is the post I meant to write when I wrote about animal people. This post is about people who say “I have to do what’s best for my family.” And how I think they’re selfish.
Here’s what I don’t like about the phrase: More often than not, I hear people use it to justify doing something that is less than kind, like cutting off contact with an another person or skipping out on an obligation. Example: Uncle T has made some mistakes and gotten into arguments with family members. Woman says, “we won’t be inviting Uncle T over anymore, because I have to do what’s best for my family.” Maybe Uncle T isn’t the best influence in the world, but he’s never done anything inappropriate around Woman or her kids. In fact, he’s great with her kids. Woman just doesn’t want to deal with Uncle T’s drama, so she uses her family as an excuse. Being married with kids is not a free pass to disregard (or live in happy oblivion with respect to) the rest of the world.
Here’s the other reason I don’t like the phrase: It often implies that other people aren’t doing what is best for themselves or their own families. Example: School N is a public school. It’s not the greatest. There is a fight at school. Woman* says, “I’m putting my kids in private school. I have to do what’s best for my family.” I have no qualms with Woman’s decision. But the statement implies that people who leave their kids in School N aren’t doing everything they can for their kids. Maybe other families desperately want out of School N, but don’t have the resources for private tuition. How does the “it’s what’s best” language make them feel? Maybe other families are totally down with the semi-rough school environment: it’ll teach their kids how to work through conflict, or something. Obviously, different things work best for different families, but when you start talking about what’s best for you, it can still sound pretty preachy.
Other problems with the phrase: it’s underinclusive. It excludes people whose families look different. Now that I’m married, all of a sudden people understand when I want to skip out on happy hour or a weekend get-together because spending a night at home with Husband is good for “my family.” Shouldn’t we have been afforded the same luxury when we were dating? Or when we were single? I’m sure when we have kids, we’ll be able to throw the phrase around even more: I’ll be able to quit my job, we’ll get to turn down any and all invitations from people we don’t want to spend the evening with, and maybe I’ll even get out of time-consuming volunteer opportunities that come up at work or church.
Finally, while of course I do think that people should do what’s best for their families, I think that we should also be asking other questions. Maybe this one: what is best for my community? Maybe instead of pulling the kids out of the public school, the woman in the second example should join the PTA. Or maybe this one: what is best for me? Maybe quitting your job is on the surface the best thing for your family, but not having a job will make you a crazy person. Or maybe we should be asking what’s best for somebody entirely separate from ourselves. Maybe the woman from the first example in this post should be asking what’s best for Uncle T and choose to love and support him, even if it makes life for her and her family more difficult. Maybe the question isn’t always what’s best, but what’s most pragmatic, or what’s possible, or what’s right.
This post is not as cohesive as I’d like it to be, and is too full of maybes and hypotheticals. You might say to me, perhaps that’s because I’m writing about parenting when I am not a parent. To that I say, I’m not writing about parenting, I’m writing about families, and I have one. His name is Robert. And we were a family before we got married. And I have another family that I’ve had since before I was born. I think this is sufficient to qualify me to write about families. In addition, I am preparing to make my family bigger someday. I know that I will eat my words a thousand times when I have kids, but I also know that the things I am learning now about the kind of parent I want to be — no, the kind of person I want to be when I have children — are important.
*I used women in both examples because I’ve never heard a man use this phrase. I’m going to generalize here, but I suspect that men have an easier time just doing what they think is best without justifying it to anybody and everybody who will listen.