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Revolutionary Road And The Art Of Selfish Parenting

One of the aspects of fiction I love, and one of the reasons I began to prefer fiction to nonfiction, is the emotional intelligence I gain by watching the lives of these characters and relating them to my own life.

After all, these characters and stories were written by authors who have experienced life, dealt with their own issues, and have more than likely put pen to paper to help cope and understand.

As a new parent, I’m always interested in reading about parental roles in the novels. With the exception of Atticus Finch, some of the parents in the first 25 books have been pretty below average in the old parenting skills department. Think about the Lamberts from The Corrections or the Angstroms in Rabbit, Run.

The newest crappy parents are Frank and April Wheeler in Revolutionary Road. These two are, perhaps, the most selfish individuals in the history of fiction.

The Wheelers hate life in their middle-class, suburbanite town. To escape, they develop a plan for Frank to quit his job, pull the kids out of school, and move to Paris.

What are they going to do in Paris? They really have no idea. No plan. No job. No housing. Nothing. For a moment, Frank pauses to reflect on common sense:

I don’t know. It’s just this does seem a pretty inconsiderate thing to be doing, when you think about it, from the kids’ point of view. I mean, let’s face it: it’s going to be pretty rough on them.

Not to be outdone by common sense and compassionate parenting, April responds:

They’ll get over it.

I won’t tell you much more about the plot, except that April Wheeler’s selfishness continues to grow, and The Wheelers life together doesn’t appear to have a happy ending.

The moral of this story, in my belief, is about the consequences of poor decisions. If you’re not ready for kids, don’t have kids. That’s not selfish; that’s smart.

But, the moment you have kids, life changes. Your responsibilities, priorities, and future changes. When that happens, it’s time to put on the big boy and big girl pants and take care of your kids, no matter what.

After 15 months of parenting, I know about one-tenth of 1% of what I’ll know 30 years from now. But one thing I do know is that my wife and will never put our own comfort and convenience in front of what’s best for our kids.

The two kids in Revolutionary Road are almost non-existent. They hardly appear in the story. Frank and April Wheeler are totally consumed with themselves, at the cost of their kids’ well-being.

The book was written 50 years ago, but some things never change. I’m sure the Wheelers are, sadly, carbon copies of some parents out there today.

Anyway, hopefully I’m not being too preachy today. Sorry ’bout that.

But I’m curious: What’s one thing that a novel might have taught you about yourself?

15 Comments Post a comment
  1. Fabulous post, you see you wanted to interrupt too! I can’t answer your question properly but I ridiculously hated Ian McEwan’s Atonement because the main idiot was called Lola – my daughter’s name. It is probably clear what that should have taught me about myself.


    September 15, 2011
  2. Great Post! I’ve always been a firm believer in Dr. Pangloss and his theory that all things happen for “the best of all possible worlds”.


    September 15, 2011
  3. Agreed, great post.

    Most curious is your view on their parenting. Having been ‘burbed for 17 years while we raise our three kids, I totally identified with the Wheeler’s view. The suburbs are a soul crushing way of life. Consider the ultimate cost (I don’t want to spoil it) they pay for the decision they make.

    Oddly enough, April’s flippant “They’ll get over it” is spot on. Within a day or two the kids are looking forward to moving.

    I loved this book’s damnation of adult normalcy; probably due to my starting to plan for empty nest-titude. This supports your love of fiction relating to your own life.


    September 15, 2011
    • I can identify with it. But you don’t think they were being selfish?

      You don’t have to move to Paris to get out of the suburbs. I don’t think April really cared what the kids wanted, and that’s why she said that…not that she had some insight into their personality.

      I think it comes down to balancing your career goals and personal happiness and what’s best for your kids. I think the Wheelers had that totally out of balance.


      September 15, 2011
      • No question the Wheelers are unbalanced…..immaturely imbalanced you might say. In the end, the tendency towards selfish versus selfless led to tragedy. Personally I still can’t believe what happened even though you could see it coming.

        Yates drilled into painful/tough issues for the post WW2 family unit using immature characters that haven’t yet learned to sequence life.

        Now, if you thought you could pull it off, would you pick up and move your family to a foreign country for the adventure? Could you convince yourself that it is in the best interest of everyone in that they would learn to be more self-reliant and better rounded “citizens of the world”? Fun, rhetorical questions that are perfect for a cocktail party.


        September 15, 2011
  4. Teresa #

    Great post and great conversation. I kept wondering why they couldn’t live their desired sophisticated life in the neighborhoods of the city. Not everyone goes to the burbs. I think that Yates is spot-on with his analysis of why April is such a poor parent. She is clueless in so many ways. (I still have 70 pages to go – don’t know how it ends)

    As for learning something from books. I have “flit about” a great deal in my life. I really enjoyed the message of faithfulness to causes and to others shown by Frank, the protagonist, in “The Assistant”. He won my heart. He is quite the opposite of April and Frank.


    September 15, 2011
    • Very interesting. Hadn’t thought about Frank from “The Assistant.” You’re right…he really is the antithesis to the Wheelers.

      And I’m with you…I don’t understand why Paris was so important. Why not Boston? Hartford? I guess it just shows the extent of their desperation.


      September 15, 2011
      • I understand that they wanted an ideal…Paris just fit that ideal. Me, I live in the boondocks in a 3rd world country. If I ever get a viable job opportunity that takes me to Paris, heck yes, we would take it,

        But, more than selfishness, I couldn’t believe the impracticality of what they were thinking. April is hardly employable, she’s been a housewife for some time. They are thinking of throwing away Frank’s steady income and financial stability for just a pipe dream. Such foolishness!


        September 19, 2011
  5. If you like bad parenting, just wait till you get to the over-indulgence displayed in American Pastoral. It’s a different sort of screwing up one’s parental role, but even with an equally devastating result. The whole time I read it, I figured one solid spanking back in the day would have solved everyone’s problems.


    September 15, 2011
  6. Sam #

    Before sharing my disagreement, I will go ahead and say that I have not read the book. Your reviews are usually spot-on, though – so I’ll trust you on the super selfish parents thing (this deosn’t mean I’m taking their side). But, I do want to make a general comment: I think that it’s kind of a terrible idea to put your kids above all else when making big decisions. This is one of those parenting things that I really think many people get wrong. When you let your kids run the family instead of prioritizing your beliefs, your marriage, and sometimes your career, things get a bit confusing for everyone. Kids are just kids. They grow and change and learn to deal with life as it comes. And, from what I can tell – that is how they grow into wise adults. Obviously teaching discipline and a list of good values (e.g. not being selfish…) are really important, but I don’t think that a kid can learn much about respecting authority or adapting to difficult situations if you never make decisions that force them out of their comfort zone. In my experience, the occasional “they’ll get over it” is not only valid, but sometimes necessary.


    September 16, 2011
    • Great points. The saying “What’s best for the kids” comes to mind here. I’m not saying to obey your kids or do everything that they tell you to. By putting the kids first, I simply mean doing what’s best for them–whether they like it or not.

      In the case of the Wheelers, moving to Paris wasn’t in the best interest of their kids. So April’s comment was more out of indifference toward her kids, not some type of Mother knows best mentality.

      I think you should definitely stretch your kids and put them out of their comfort zone, but the Wheelers were going to yank their kids out of school and move across the world to be homeless and penniless in Paris. I don’t think that’s a comfort zone issue…that’s just bad parenting.


      September 16, 2011
      • Sam #

        I would probably have to agree with you about the Wheelers. Just wanted to make a general comment since I’ve lately seen some examples of poor parenting on the other side of things. Love your blog, by the way!


        September 19, 2011
  7. I hate that I’m late joining this discussion. I’m catching up on blog posts I missed when my semester was crazy.

    I haven’t read Revolutionary Road, but I did see the movie. It was disturbing.

    The excerpts you’ve shared from the book remind me of my parents because they pretty much did exactly what the Wheeler’s were planning. When I was in the 5th grade, they sold about 80% of what we owned and we moved across the country to Californina with no job, no housing, and no plan. The thought that this act was selfish never crossed my mind as a child or as an adult. On the contrary, it is one of the most salient things I remember about my childhood. It was stressful, no doubt, but I learned so much more about life, culture, geography, economics, faith, and human nature than I ever would have from a textbook or my teacher in my 5th grade classroom. It was definitely a formative experience.

    Your post has inspired me to tell more of that story. That is my writing project for this week. Thank you!


    January 2, 2012
  8. I enjoyed your review of Revolutionary Road because it focuses on one of the plot points which people usually skip over. I expected a blog post on this novel to address what the primary focus of the plot: Frank and April’s personal problems. But it was refreshing to think about it from another angle because I’ve never really given much thought to the children in Revolutionary Road. Frank and April are terrible parents, there’s no doubt about that. They clearly aren’t right for each other and I think they are both stifled by the social expectations of the era. They followed the 1950s blueprint of marriage, children, white picket fence…etc and it all went terribly wrong. Despite the fact that Frank and April are pretty unlikable most of the time, I couldn’t help but feel some kind of pity for them when I read the book. Anyway, after that rambling comment I shall conclude!

    By the way, I was just nominated for the Sunshine Blog Award and one of the criteria for accepting it is to pass it along. I enjoy your blog and thought I would nominate you as well. (


    March 25, 2012

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