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Why It's OK to Be the Bad Guy

We teach our kids to share, especially with children who may have less than they do. We teach our kids to cooperate and compromise, especially if they have a tendency to bully for their own way.
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It's OK to be the bad guy. This is something all good parents know in their bones and live in relationship to their kids. The word "no" is the tool by which we do right by our offspring; the word "no" is also the most divisive word to say. No, you may not watch more television (even though I am exhausted and frankly could use the quiet time). No, you may not have another cookie (even though it would assure you'd skip off instead of stomping). No, you may not have the latest iPhone, ride your bike without your helmet, paint a "masterpiece" on the wall. It is an endless cycle of disappointing expectations that earns you not only stomping, but also glaring, eye-rolling, exaggerated sighing and, depending on the kid, full-on tantrums and name calling. Denying a teenager his or her heart's desire can even get you shunned. But we do it anyway; we are willing to be the bad guy because we know what is best for our children.

So now, let's expand this premise: If it is OK to be the "bad guy" for our kid's best interests, is it possible that it is also OK to be the "bad guy" for our own? Radical thinking, I know. But the word "no" can be used on our own behalf to some good effect. We are all willing to make sweeping, unilateral decisions if we feel they benefit our family in some way and no amount of whining, cajoling or guilt-tripping will manipulate us into standing down. When was the last time that was true when you made an unpopular decision that was in your own self-interest? This is where we get tripped up, because isn't "self-interest" synonymous with "selfish"? And don't we often say no to our kids in order to teach them how NOT to be selfish?

We teach our kids to share, especially with children who may have less than they do. We teach our kids to cooperate and compromise, especially if they have a tendency to bully for their own way. We teach our kids to prioritize the greater good, even if it means a bit of sacrifice for them. We teach our kids not to be selfish, but all they have to do is watch TV to understand that some of the most powerful people in the world embody and advocate the exact opposite of those ideals. Frankly, being selfish pays very well and is often key to climbing the ladder to success. It is also the key to keeping other people off of the ladder, thereby increasing your chances of making it to the top. So now we are on the horns of the dilemma: Is it possible to be unselfish and compassionate and still "be all that you can be"?

Of course to a logical mind, this is not an either/or scenario; we need not take one horn or the other, but endeavor a middle path, striking a healthy balance between the two. Perhaps we overcorrect our children because a child can really only perceive self-interest up to a point, and so we train them to the extreme in order to create a balance. But are we overcorrecting ourselves as well? Do we feel a healthy give and take between the number of times we say "yes" and the number of times we say "no," or have too many of us built our self-esteem on compliance with other people's wishes? If the latter is true, how many times do we back ourselves into an endless loop of self-abuse by realizing and re-realizing that you can only please some of the people some of the time?

This is why you have to be willing to be a bad guy. Because the truth of the matter is YOU ALREADY ARE, at least in the minds of some others. The denial of this fact causes us much unhappiness, because it is our belief that we CAN please all of the people all of the time that leads to exhaustion and pain. Not only is it OK be the bad guy, it is actually inevitable. Whether you do it deliberately or not, there are always going to be people who don't like you, or hold a grudge against you or think you are an idiot/selfish brat/social climber/lazy slob/arrogant snob, whatever. It may be your "fault" and it may be entirely a projection, but the result is the same. So next time you have to say "no" or make a decision that may prove to be unpopular, try taking the court of public opinion out of the equation. Are you making this choice because people are watching? Or are you authentically yourself, a person who doesn't steal or kill, but may occasionally not be in the mood for a Tupperware party? When you accept that you are already a villain in someone else's play, you realize the only story you have the power to rewrite is your own.

Parents know: Some days you are the good guy, some days you are the bad guy, most days you are everything in-between. We accept these roles on behalf of our children, so why is it so easy to forget when we are thinking for ourselves? I am willing to be the bad guy because the pain of someone's judgment about me is no longer more acute than the pain of living an exhausting life that undermines my faith in myself; because I've lived enough to know being willing to make a decision, even if it is a hard one, is so much better than stagnation. I'm willing to be the bad guy because I'm willing to forgive you on days when you take that part. And you will take it, whether you want to or not. So, rip off the Band-Aid and become deliberate; you own this role. You may not relish it, but life will be so much simpler if you can accept it.