Posted by: Deborah Drezon Carroll | January 12, 2010

Is Your Kid the Center of the Universe?

Yesterday, Shira and I went grocery shopping together. It’s usually a fun thing to do. We don’t see each other every day and her schedule is pretty crazy, so we make time when we can, even doing a mundane chore if need be. It gives us a chance to talk and even to discuss recipes. It’s all good.

As we approached the store’s entrance, Shira stepped back from the carts, indicating that she wanted me to be the one who pushed the cart. That’s fine, I don’t mind, but it did seem a bit deliberate on her part so I looked at her quizzically.

She understood the question, even without my having to articulate that I wanted to know why she wanted me to push the cart.

“Fecal matter,” she responded.

She had read that fecal matter is found on a lot of surfaces you’d rather not think about, but especially on the handles of shopping carts. That freaks me out in a big way if I let myself think about what all these people are doing with crap (literally) on their hands. So, I try not to go there mentally or I’d never want to leave the house again. Don’t even start me on what’s lurking on the doors and floors of public bathrooms. (And my mother worried about my tush hitting the toilet seat. She should have been more concerned about my purse on the floor!) So, as I said, I try not to “go there” and I return to the situation at hand.

“So,” I say, “you don’t want fecal matter on your hands but it’s okay with you if I get it on mine? Is that okay? Isn’t there something wrong with this picture?”

Her look said it all. It was the face that says “Duh” loudly and clearly. I could almost hear her thought… “Isn’t that what mothers do?”

Now, the thing is, Shira is not a brat, far from it. After all, she is an “amazing” daughter, right? But, when it came to having feces on her hands or mine, she picked me. (Full disclosure, I think that if I had asked her to push the cart and take the “matter” into her own hands, she would have. I don’t want to make her sound worse than she actually is.)

But the scene got me thinking. When our kids are little, we take care of them pretty much 24/7. That continues, seemingly without a break until… well… that’s the question. Are we doing them a disservice by making them believe they are the center of the universe… forever?

Don’t misunderstand, our girls are truly loving and caring. And, we’re lucky that they grew up realizing that they’re not, unfortunately, the person around whom the world spins. They have all chosen professions that reach out to others. They’re all loving and giving to people. But, I think we were just lucky. We “overfunctioned” for them in a lot of ways. They just turned out okay despite that.

So, I have a suggestion for anyone who has a child over the age of 2. Start now getting your kid to take care of you. Why wait? Any able 3-year-old can fetch stuff for you from another room or whip out the umbrella when they see you headed out on a rainy day. Any kid who uses a microwave can make you a snack or a cup of tea. Need your toast buttered? That’s a job any kid can do. How about a nice massage? How old does a child have to be to run his hands along your back? Start now calling your child’s attention to the fact that you have needs, too, and sometimes it’s nice to have them attended to by someone who isn’t you. Yes, even by someone who is very small and somewhat self-centered. Making them a little less focused on “self” probably can’t begin too early.

I mean if we’re willing to be the fecal matter shield for our kids, shouldn’t they be willing to do the same for us? I’m looking forward to seeing the day when a very small child pushes mom or dad away from the cart and says, “Oh, no, let me protect you from the dark and disgusting.

Just a thought…

Alexis Writes:

I think this blog could have made its point minus the fecal matter. I don’t think amazing daughters and fecal matter go together. I would love to write a well written post about how important it is children learn to be responsible and independent at a young age but I am so bamboozled by fecal matter I can’t. Shira–never mention fecal matter to me ever.

Tamra Writes:

Just FYI..I was the one who informed everyone about the fecal matter – see, I do read things. Alexis, if you want fecal hands, that’s your business, just don’t give me a high five after food shopping. Also, I don’t think this blog would have been quite as powerful without the fecal matter – I think it hits home with most people. Finally, Alexis, if you’re uncomfortable with the fecal matter, why don’t we just say that someone peed on the carts?

I don’t want to be responsible in a world full of fecal matter.

Shira writes:

This post makes me look crazy. Thanks, mom. Wash your hands.

Ned writes

Shopping Carts? What about toilet handles in a public bathroom? Try flushing that with your elbow or foot.

Hey, Lex. You are right on target. Kids should learn responsibility at an early age. Sometimes it was more work for your parents to get you all to clean up or set the table or feed the cat but it is important for children to understand that doing the work is a necessary part of life. We required you all to do your laundry, take your dishes to the sink, and put your belongings in your rooms and clean them once in awhile. I really can’t think of any other chores you had to do? What do you think about that? Did we do enough, too much or just the right amount? There may be a cash prize for the best answer. Creativity and comedic value count.

Tamra Writes:

You must have done something right…I know how to change a roll of toilet paper.

Plus, you guys are really good looking… (what kind of cash are we talking about…?)

Shira writes:

I know how to drywall. How many 25 year old girls can say that?

Remember that home video where we’re dancing around and being adorable in triplet tutus and dad comes in and says “Can you get the girls to clean up their dolls.” That’s too much I think. We just wanted to uh-dance!

Alexis Writes:

How did you guys do? Better than most. One time I had a mom come in to my classroom and she proceeded to sharpen every single pencil the kid had in her desk. Then she complained to me that the pencil sharpener wasn’t working right! Even though we didn’t have a lot of chores we didn’t have a large allowance (that’s probably where this alleged cash prize is coming from). I think it’s important that kids are given the right motivation to do things. You don’t clean your room because you are getting paid, you do it because you don’t want to live in a pigsty. Intrinsic motivation is the true lesson you seek to teach. You simply want your child to do something because they know it is right and their responsibility. Kind of like the reason I do this blog : ). By the way, did I win the prize? I think you’re both way better looking than Tamra does.

P.S. Tamra–I carry scented hand sanitizer in my purse and yes saying the carts were peed on does sit better with me.



  1. You’re so brave…as for having girls take care of their Moms…it will happen when and if it needs to. Both my amazing daughters have helped care for my mother-in-law now that she suffers from both cancer and dementia. This didn’t happen because I raised them any better than anyone else. Or even because I asked – which I didn’t. The really sad thing was their grandmother was so far gone, she didn’t really know who was taking care of her. Good thing was, she thought they were her friends.

  2. No, I must disagree. You did raise them better than some! I love that your mom thought they were her friends. That’s beautiful if you think about it. Maybe in her mind, she is young and vibrant just like they are. And, hey, in my mind… so am I! (well, on good day). Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts.

  3. Interesting post (and interseting blog — I love that you and your daughters are engaged in conversation here! ) — but I think there are two issues at work.

    One is how to raise kids who don’t take us for granted, who realize that they sometimes need to go the extra mile to be kind or helpful even to their parents.

    The other is, to me, an even more complicated issue — the one raised by your title, how to teach kids that they’re not the center of the universe. That was always so hard for my husband and me, because they WERE pretty much the center of our domestic life — when the 4 of us were at the dinner table, our conversation always followed the girls’ lead, not ours. And even now, our daughters (who are in their 20s) know that we’ll pretty much drop everything at a moment’s notice if they need us, including stupid things like borrowing the car, or one of my daughters, who are both journalists like me, needing me to edit something for her. If we had half-hoped to drive somewhere ourselves, or if I have a work thing I really should do before I help a daughter with hers, I often rearrange things in a way that makes it possible to help them first. Is this wrong? Maybe.

    But maybe not. The girls both know they’re not the center of the universe, that the rest of the world, with the possible though not automatic exception of their mates, will not drop everything for their sake. But isn’t it kind of wonderful for them to know that there are still two people in their lives who WILL?

  4. You are exactly right, your girls and everyone else’s in a perfect world, are entitled to know that, just as you say, in an otherwise unfeeling world, there are at least 2 people who will drop things when they need them to.But, the important part is what you indicate — your girls know that the rest of the universe doesn’t revolve around them– so you obviously did something right. And, as such, I suspect that they, like our girls, ask less and are grateful when you do help them. I suspect they are the sort of young women who do go the extra mile for you. I know mine do. It’s the adult children who take their parents for granted that are the problem. I cannot tell a lie (well, I can and often do but not here), I, too, will drop most things to help out our girls but I do work hard at NOT always living my life putting them first. It’s a balance and I know it’s okay to allow our needs to occasionally be paramount. Even though they are adults, we still teach them, I believe, and by letting them see that we take care of ourselves sometimes, I think we continue to teach them the value of NOT letting one’s children run one’s life. And, truly, if I ever felt that my girls were taking us for granted or taking advantage of our good nature, I’d definitely let them know. One thing I do is to tell them the stories of my friends and their children when I think their kids are grown up brats who don’t appreciate their parents. It’s a non-aggressive way to let my kids know what I do and don’t think is acceptable adult child behavior. It helped a lot in the recent planning of Alexis’ (the oldest) wedding as she had already heard lots of stories from me of what I saw other people’s kids doing in planning their weddings that I thought were NOT okay and exhibited adult BRAT syndrome.
    BTW, I love that your girls, like you, are journalists. Ours are, like we once were, all teachers. Guess we all did something right. Thanks for writing.

  5. I am sorry to say that my three daughters were the center of my universe as they were growing up. My youngest is getting married in March and will be moving away. I get very emotional when I think about it because she and I have been so close. My daughters and grandchildren will all be living in other cities, and it is a very hard adjustment for me to make… to go from being needed to the one who gets visited on holidays.
    BTW, my girls totally awesome!

  6. How could your girls not be totally awesome? After all, look at their mom? I know what you mean about them moving away. No one ever tells you how hard that is. They’re born, you spend virtually every moment thinking about their well being, and, if you do your job well, they move on and don’t need you! Something’s askew there if you ask me. But, I guess if you do your job well, they may not need us but they’ll always want to spend time with us and that helps. Still, the distance is hard. Our oldest lives an hour and a half away and even that makes simple times together happen less often.

  7. At Giant Eagle where we shop there is actually hand wipes to wipe off the cart handles. I agree kids should help parents with things when they are young.

    Congrats on your SITS day.

    • Yes, I think you’re right. The more we engage kids in life, the better for everyone. And, too, our supermarket just got those wipes! No more fecal matter for me.

  8. As a mother of 5 sons, let me tell you, you are living the dream. Boys move from sharing EVERYTHING about their life to not knowing how to talk to mom. It is most disconcerting. I think I miss the grown up conversation the most.

    About the grocery cart! My grandmother always insisted on pushing the cart. I do the same, too. Whoever controls the cart, controls the trip! LOL (For some reason, I cannot focus if I’m not pushing the cart).

    I so love girl communication! Sigh! I really don’t want to be jealous!

  9. I have to say that I think the fecal matter brings this post home. As mothers we ARE willing to stand between our children and the fecal matter (I mean they pretty much get it all over us as infants so what’s the diff, right?), but the point is that it is nice once they are grown up that they are willing to step in between it for us…. even if we wouldn’t let them.

  10. Congrats on your SITS Day!

  11. LOL! Shira, I don’t think you come off as crazy at all. Fecal matter is a genuine concern! šŸ™‚ And good for you that you can drywall. That’s more than I can say!

  12. Yes, get the wipes! Your store might have them available right in the front. But seriously. We mothers take it all on for our kids. This post made me laugh a lot and think a lot too.

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