Adam and I were watching TV the other day and the commercials came on. Somehow, we got around to talking about how to treat commercials when Sam is around.
Adam brought up the subject by saying that he is very careful not to say negative things about commercials in front of her, because commercials are good, and allow us to watch and listen to all of this programming for free. My response was that I found that disingenuous, because, although it may be true that commercials are not evil (as anti-man, primitive-worshiping morons claim) it can still be true that one can be annoyed by them, or find them distracting, or any number of other valid complaints. I told him that I didn't think he should be trying to teach her this kind of "moral lesson" by faking his true response, and that she would learn the abstract issues later.
But then Adam corrected me (and I probably should have known better than to think what I did). He said that he would not put on an act for her to "protect" her from bad ideas, but that what he was doing by not disparaging commercials was checking his own reactions to them. He thinks that a disdain for commercials is really an out-of-context emotion - a dropping of the whole context of the good that commercials represent, while focusing on some narrow moment of irritation.
Thus corrected, I still disagreed with him that irritation at commercials was necessarily an out-of-context emotion. But I no longer felt that he was doing anything wrong in regard to Sam, even though he would be acting differently than I would be.
Thinking about the implications of this, I generalized and came up with this formulation: if you feel that you should alter your "natural" behavior in front of your child, there is an easy way to check whether that feeling is valid - if you are doing it as an act of self-improvement, for your own sake, it is probably valid; if you are doing it to teach a lesson, or primarily for the child's sake, it is probably an error.
That's an example of selfish parenting. It's also an example of the real way in which "having children makes us better people." It's not because we have to sacrifice, repress, compromise, give up, and suffer, all in the name of some warped version of love. (The idea that this would make one a better person is enough to make my head explode.) It's because children help us to see ourselves objectively. Hopefully we are already morally ambitious, and recognize the benefits of self-improvement. But it's not always so easy to see the ways in which we can improve. When you have children, you see yourself through their eyes. Innocent, honest, trusting eyes - the clearest mirror you will ever have. And valuing that mirror is selfish parenting, too.