Saturday, November 14, 2009

Selfish Mom

Selfish is a four letter word in the Mom world. It is the ultimate insult to any woman who loves her children, worse than a physical slap in the face, and that's why no one wants to go there. It's touchy, and it's probably going to hurt someone's feelings, and no one wants to go there.

But I will.

I think it's an important topic. On the surface there seem to be two distinct camps of mothers-those who believe that their children come first and those who believe that they come first. It can be easy to judge one as 'better' than the other, but the truth is the appropriate level of selfishness is a very complicated topic.

On the one hand there is the argument that all things should be sacrificed for your children. Their needs and happiness comes first-after all, you decided to have them and they are yours to take care of. You have been entrusted with tiny people who need you to teach them and care for them and love them and that should be top priority at all costs.

On the other hand there is the argument that you have to put yourself first in order to be capable of taking care of your children. As an example, the oxygen mask instructions on airplanes tell you to put your mask in place before assisting your children....after all, if you pass out from lack of oxygen your kids are on their own anyway. So moms on this side of the camp put their metaphorical oxygen masks on first for the future benefit of their children.

See? It's not black and white. There is one thing for certain though-people with extreme attitudes on this topic end up with extremely bad results...let me tell you a story about two moms I know who embody these extremes.

One mom is Martyr Mom. She puts her children above everything in her life. She cooks their meals from scratch. Everything in her home is hand sewn. She's on the School Board, the PTA, she coaches Coach Pitch, and she is a Den Mother. She tirelessly works for her children from sun up to the wee hours of the morning with never a complaint, and her children think that the earth revolves around her. This is very admirable (I complain all the time and I do half the work she does on a good day)-but in order to survive this, this woman is on a pharmacy of drugs. Since having her children she has suffered with depression, anxiety, OCD, panic attacks, phobias-you name it she's experienced it. She is suffering, her marriage is failing from lack of attention-but her children are tended to with absolute care.

The other mom is Oxygen Mask Mom. She puts herself above her children because she believes she is entitled to after her recent divorce, which caused her a lot of pain. She feels that she needs to take time by herself, doing things that she likes to do. She was a very young mom who never got to spend time for herself, she's coming out of a mediocre marriage, and she wants to spend time relaxing claiming a relaxed and happy mom will be best for her children. This is an absolutely valid point-but she takes it to the extreme and her children are suffering for it. She enrolled her children in as many programs as possible so that they could be shipped to and fro by bus and she could be alone most of the day. She spends only a few hours at home with them before they go to bed and then three to four nights a week she hits the bar. She reaches for alcohol and the company of strangers, bringing them both into her home after her children are sleeping. She feels that the holidays are too stressful for her this year because of her delicate emotional status and has decided that she and her children will not be celebrating's too hard for her. She is bouncing back from her marriage and is, at this point, happy and relaxed-but her children are suffering.

Obviously, none of us want to be either of these moms. Common sense dictates you must balance somewhere in the middle---but where? And how?

Where is the line between self preservation for the benefit of your children and selfish behavior that is harmful to them? At one date night a week? At two martinis? At a nap extended to benefit Mommy? At frozen dinners?

How do you walk that line, respecting your needs as a person while carefully attending your children and fulfilling your role as Mommy? Do you do something for yourself once a day? Once a week? Once a year?

How do you become a self-preserving mother, devoted to the health and happiness of her children?

That is the million dollar question...and I have not figured out the magic formula yet. My own parents were high on the selfish scale, and as a consequence I fear selfishness to an almost irrational point. Sometimes I do things that, even when I look at them, seem ludacris-like staying awake the entire time The Bean is awake at night even if she isn't crying, just in case she needs me. Like going days without a shower because I don't want to leave the kids in nap longer than the agreed upon time period. Like leaving the house only once a week to pay bills so that I don't take time out of the time I spend with the kids, even for one day. I push myself so hard that I eventually flop from exhaustion and then I go over into the other extreme-I've made entire meals out of a combination of boxed/frozen/canned items-I've made dinners with only one item! I've fallen asleep on the couch while the kids were playing right in front of me. My house has been so dirty that I have seriously questioned it's safety.

Still, there are times when I'm not too exhausted and I'm not too stressed about being entirely selfless that I seem to hit that sweet spot. The one where the house is disorganized but clean, the meals are cooked and balanced but simple, I get out a few times but still manage to spend equal time with all of the kids, and I get a nice hot bubble bath to boot. How does it happen? Luck mostly-though I do have one little secret.

My list. I make a list in my head of things that I would like to do for myself, and each thing has a different time requirement and level of involvement. Then, when I have a spare minute I see what on my list I can fit in. If I have an hour during the day I'll probably read my blogs. If I have an hour at night I'll take a bubble bath. If I have twenty minutes during the day I'll do the crossword, at night I'll watch something off the DVR.

So I'm curious-what do you do for yourself? How do you balance your Mom time with your Mom responsibilities? Where on the spectrum of selfishness do you think is the best place to be as Mom? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


Erin M. said...

It is definitely difficult to find a balance and we all struggle with this.

I squeezed in a bubble bath Thursday night. I am trying to set up a girls night next week to go to the movies.

Yesterday was so bad that a girlfriend came over and we popped open a bottle of wine at 4:00 p.m. while our kids played. That is unusual, but it had been an unusually horrific day and it wasn't like I got totally sauced...

I feel guilty when I need/crave ME time. But m y husband doesn't have any problem needing & getting HIS time. Why is that?

Kirsty said...

I think having a partner who is committed to you getting some time to yourself is crucial-and you reciprocating for your partner.

I think kids knowing boundaries is crucial. Kids need to know that moms have needs that *are* as important as theirs. But that takes work and discipline and I think lots of moms give up fighting for their needs way too soon-to the detriment of the entire family.

And of course there is a time and a season. When kids are very young there is less me time. Comes with the package. But even the youngest toddler can be taught to respect reasonable boundaries.

I posted more about this recently

I think we all come into motherhood with some amount of baggage from our own childhood. You have figured out what yours are about and where it gets irrational, which is great. I think talking to a therapist can be very helpful. Just one or two sessions can go a long way toward finding the balance.

Nicolasa said...

Wow, I think that is worded perfectly. I am not a mother at this moment in time but will be in the future. I can certainly understand the things you discuss because I have many friends who are mothers and I hear this is an ongoing battle.

Vodka Logic said...

I have done blogs on similar topics. I fall in between somewhere. Yes I had my children and I take good care of them, physically and emotionally, but how can I do that if I don't take care of my needs...and if it means being selfish sometimes then so be it. I wouldnt do at the risk of my family though. Bills, food, necessities first...

When they were younger I was more a martyr mom, but as they get older they are more self sufficient. Give and take...and what works for one may not another..
great blog

Chrissy MacCEO said...

This is a great post. Gives you so much consider. It's a very thin line to walk between those two moms and I knwo that I teeter over the line into each one of them at times. Being a mom is HARD!!

Amber Page Writes said...

I'm definitely trying to figure it out. Right now I feel like I'm stretched too thin and not doing anything right...

I hoped it got easier with time. Maybe not?

Noelle said...

i think it's our plight as never reach that perfect "in the middle" situation. and we will beat ourselves up for the rest of our lives..."did i do it right? was i selfish? did i give too much?"


good thought-provoking post.

Nicolasa said...

I have something for you on my blog!

Marilyn (A Lot of Loves) said...

I am trying to figure this very issue out all the time!

Sometimes I fall more to the side of martyr mom but I am really trying to make sure I have at least a few hours to myself once in a blue moon.

As my kids get older Hubby is more willing to step up to the plate and as they get older I am able to sneak in a little time to myself during the day while they (gasp) play by themselves. They're still really young though (3 and 1) so that play alone time doesn't last too long.

Jen said...

I really loved this article. I don't really know how to find the balance. I struggle with this all the time.

Melissa aka Equidae said...

we do dates once a month for partner time and i go yoga class once a week while hubby home with Greg and now starting an hour or two volunteering twice a this time greg is at one of his grandparents....its crucial to have this time for me and us. its good for greg to chnge environments..blogging---during nap time

Geezees Geezees Custom Canvas Art said...

What a great post!

Thank you for talking about it!

Cathy said...

I've never heard it put so well. In our house, my husband and I go on dates every 6 weeks or so. Once a month, I go and play BUNCO with the girls to get in my time. We also specifically schedule dates with our kids. Each month 1 take one child out for a few hours (bowling, painting pottery, etc) and my hubby takes the other. The next month we switch kids. That way we get one on one time with them. It helps them to feel special and loved especially in really busy times.

Anonymous said...

The balance is always tricky.

I believe my kids NEEDS come first, but that's really a pretty limited number of things. After that you need to balance your life.

My things that keep me sane - going to the gym (thank goodness for quality childcare there), blogging, making love, reading and eating chocolate alone (without having to share it).

It's definitely important to remember the things in life that make you happy and not be in mom mode all the type.

Kristina Petrella said...

A struggle it is, that is for sure and for certain. And the more kids you have, the harder it gets!
One thing I did after the birth of my third is figure out what I like to do. What does Kristina (the woman, first and foremost) like to do? I like reading, writing and blogging. I try to fit even ten minutes a day in every day of something I like to do. Even if it means turning on a movie for the kids while I go read for ten minutes, I think it is a better alternative than me getting all resentful or overwhelmed because I have not had a moments' rest in five days.
Another thing to add in regards to "martyr mom" is that living life by regarding everyone else so much more highly than yourself that you self-deprecate or it is risking your own sanity can lead to bitterness and resentment. And as moms that bitterness and resentment is directed toward those we serve ie...our husbands and kids. YIKES!!!!
The post was awesome and I really enjoyed reading it!

The Crazy Baby Mama said...

ooh, the delicate balancing act along a tightrope of both social and self judgment.

i'm still trying to figure it out, and i suppose i will be doing this until the day i plummet to my death.

in the mean time, i sometimes pretend to use the bathroom just so i can read a magazine. so sue me.