I recently watched an amazing TED Talk entitled “How to stop screwing yourself over” where Mel Robbins introduces the concept of “parenting ourselves.” She says that as children we had someone there to stop us from playing too many video games, eating lots of junk food, or from staying inside on a beautiful weekend day. Our parents set boundaries and guided us with our best interests in mind, and they pushed us when we would not have pushed ourselves.
Just think about it. When you were little, would you have come inside from playing when the streetlights came on and washed up for dinner all by yourself? Heck no! You did it because you knew it was expected of you.
Kids want to do what they want when they want. They want to do these things because they’re fun and make them happy, with no regard for the potential negative repercussions. When they begin to overindulge (stay up too late, eat tons of candy, or watch TV all weekend), it is up to the adults in their lives to put a stop to it and set them back on a healthier path.
Let’s face it; adults also want to do whatever they want when they want. And aside from work or family obligations, there is no one in our way to stop us from doing that. We can party all night into the morning, we can Netflix binge all winter break, we can eat cereal for dinner every evening…and we do.
We do it because we’re free, because we can, and because “you’re not my mom.” It’s as though by doing all the things we weren’t allowed to do as kids or things we know are bad for us, we are attempting to make up for all the stuff we are forced to do as adults, like pay bills, navigate a career, or get mammograms/prostate exams.
We rebel against doing all the things that suck by overcompensating and doing what is fun, easy, or maybe even a little irresponsible. Unfortunately, this rebellion can’t discern the superfluous activities from the substantive ones; the activities that are fun and also have awesome, positive outcomes, but that take more effort to do. I’m talking about exercising, eating well, and trying new things, which are all the things our parents and grownups made us do.
I first noticed this rebellion in myself several months ago. I would tell myself in the morning I planned to go to yoga, but by the end of a long day I would think, “Ugh, I’m not sure I want to go to class. I think I’ll go home, watch TV and eat trail mix instead!” Going to class would take more effort and be better for me than going home and chilling, but that isn’t what I really wanted at that moment. Since no one can make me do something I don’t want to do, I’d go home where I would secretly delight in my grown-up decision to do whatever I want.
What? The truth is that I ultimately receive so much more satisfaction and fulfillment from going to yoga than just about anything else. But the appeal of rebelling and doing what I want tricked me into doing what I didn’t truly want. This is where self-parenting comes in.
Sure, some call it self-discipline, but who on earth wants to be electively disciplined? Just the word “discipline” implies you are doing something wrong. However, since the problem isn’t that we did something but that we should do something, “self-discipline” leaves you feeling inherently wrong. If that isn’t something worth rebelling against, I don’t know what is.
Self-parenting, on the other hand, isn’t intended to be infantilizing; it’s meant to be loving. Just as a parent loves a child and therefore creates structure and boundaries to help them grow into healthy, happy people, self-parenting is about helping yourself live the most fulfilling life you can. It’s about firm encouragement and healthy expectations that challenge you and help you grow.
Parenting yourself brings validity to your goals and desires, especially the challenging ones, because you not only take on the role of a rebel but also the caring, objective adult who just wants the best for you. As Robbins says, “You’re never going to ‘feel like it!'” We will always be rebels when it comes to doing work, even if the work will ultimately leave us satisfied.
By parenting ourselves we can look at each fork in the road, whether it’s “yoga vs. TV” or “getting shit done vs. procrastination,” and choose the path the path that will provide us with a better life experience even if we don’t really feel like it in that moment. It provides us with loving nudges and allows us to tell ourselves, “No.”
Adulthood is much more of our lives than childhood, and it’s a bit challenging to face the reality that we have to hold ourselves accountable for life’s outcomes once we enter it. But it also provides us with so much freedom and so much empowerment.
Instead of using the strength and autonomy that comes from adulthood to eat candy for breakfast, why not use it to go skydiving or move to a tropical island or pursue our art? Why not use our power to do what makes us truly happy, because no one else is going to do it for us and no one else can stop us?
Let’s make every decision and every moment count, because we can do whatever we want whenever we want. The only thing standing in our way is ourselves. And if you think that’s a pipedream, well, that’s ok because you’re not my mom. 😉