Should We Always Put Our Children’s Needs Before Our Own?
Our society tends to judge moms who put their needs before their children’s. But could they be onto something?
I admit it. As a first-time mom, I was a tad self-righteous.
I’d read the parenting literature and I’d come to some very staunch conclusions. Breast was best. Controlled crying was wrong. Moms who went back to work full-time when their babies were young were either forced to because of financial reasons or they just weren’t very maternal. Super judgy, right?
All those judgments came from a place of insecurity and fear. I had to be 100 percent certain that I knew what I was doing when it came to raising my baby. It was black and white – no room for grey zones. Because if I allowed for alternate opinions, I could end up being wrong and messing up my child. That was an unbearable thought for a perfectionist like me.
Fast-forward twin babies and six years later
Oh boy, have times changed! I’ve been steamrolled by three children under three – including twins. They’ve squeezed every drop of physical and emotional energy out of me. The exhaustion and anxiety I’ve experienced have made me seriously call into doubt some of the attachment parenting practices I so firmly believed in. Maybe, just maybe, if I’d weaned a little earlier or done a little sleep training, I wouldn’t have run myself into the ground.
Now, when I see a mom bottle feeding her baby, I think, “Good for her. She must be able to leave her baby and catch up with her friends for coffee. Me-time is so important.” When I hear about parents whose six-month-old is sleeping through the night because they let him cry it out for a few nights, I think, “Maybe sleep training isn’t so bad after all. Imagine all the sleep they’re getting. They must be much calmer parents for it.” When I hear of a mom who’s going back to the career she loves when her baby is young, I think, “How nice that she gets to have that balance in her life.”
I understand now that there isn’t just one correct way of parenting. I also know that putting our children’s needs before our own all the time isn’t healthy. When we’re running on empty, we can’t be our best selves and parent wholeheartedly. We suffer and our kids suffer, too.
Kelly chose to put herself first
As marketing director of a global beauty brand, Kelly knew before she was pregnant that she’d have to run a tight ship at home to keep up with the demands of the career she loved.
“I established a very strict schedule from the moment Coco was born,” she says. “I stuck to Tizzie Hall’s Save Our Sleep religiously and she started sleeping through the night very early on. Other moms wanted to stab me, but I needed it to happen because I went back to work full-time when she was just a few months old. She’s seven now and I’ve continued to work full-time as a single parent since then.”
Over the years, Kelly has also taken three two-week vacations without Coco to recharge her batteries. “I went to Malta when Coco was four, to Paris when she was five and to Italy when she was six,” says Kelly. “My parents and her father looked after her and she had a great time. Some people were shocked that I’d leave my child for that long, but I didn’t feel guilty. I knew that it was the best decision for our family because I came back refreshed and able to be a better mom. I plan to go away on my own again soon.”
Sarah changed her ways after her second child
When business development manager Sarah had her first baby, she took six months off work and gave her heart and soul to motherhood. But when it was time for her to go back to her demanding job, she was a frazzled mess.
“I went in for a meeting to discuss how I’d re-transition into my role and my colleagues looked shock to see me,” says Sarah. “One of my best friends at work pulled me aside after the meeting and asked me, ‘Are you okay? You look like hell.’ I took a good look at myself in the mirror when I got home and realized I hadn’t colored my hair in a year, I was barely wearing any makeup, whereas I was always so put together before, and I had an unknown stain on my dress. I did look like hell. I felt like hell, too.”
Sarah decided she needed to pull herself together before returning to work. She asked for an extra two weeks off and she gave herself what she calls a mini makeover. “I went to the gym every day, got a completely new hairstyle, bought myself a few new ‘power outfits’ and talked to a life coach,” she says. “I had my head back in the game by the time I got to the office. It felt great to be back.”
When Sarah got pregnant again less than a year later, she swore she wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. “I kept in touch with the office regularly while I was on maternity leave, did some conference calls from home and went back part-time when Levi was three months old. I’d realized that my career was as important as my children – as bad as that sounds to some people – and I needed to stay focused for my well-being and my family’s.”
Finding the right balance
Because every mama’s formula for happiness is different, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. But maybe it’s time for us to stop creating a false dichotomy between the self-sacrificing, extended-breastfeeding, baby-wearing Earth mamas and the self-serving, formula-feeding, sleep-training working mamas. That’s far too simplistic. Parenting isn’t made up of two extremes – it’s a continuum along which we all need to find the space that’s comfortable for us.
So, instead of creating an unhealthy divide between mothers, let’s encourage one another to let go of the judgment and embrace whatever works. Because this parenting gig is hard enough without us working against each other. Let’s build that village we all crave.
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