Common Misperception – Selfish Mom
I have two brothers, both married with children. Josh lives 20 miles away, John over 1000 miles. With 7 kids between us, all under 7 years old, we had a depressingly attainable dream for several years. We wanted to enjoy just one dinner out together without our children. When John was in town last year, we decided to make it happen! I mentioned our babysitting dilemma to a relative, thinking that she’d feel our pain. But she replied, “Oh well, big deal! You don’t get to do those things when you have kids.” I felt confused and a little self-conscious. Was I being a selfish mom?
I didn’t feel like we were asking for a lot – just 2-3 hours to share a meal together. In fact, I told her we were considering splitting up our kids – one sitter for 3, another for 4 – to be considerate of whoever watched them.
As we continued chatting, her list of unapproved activities grew, from date nights to hobbies to extensive exercise. She considered each activity to be an unrealistic pursuit until your children have grown and left the home. The conversation seemed to insinuate that doing those kinds of things might make me a selfish mom. She had over 30 years of experience as a mother and I had less than 2 years. But I knew that despite her advice, I wanted a distinctly different experience.
Why I Became a Selfish Mom
My husband and I didn’t become parents until we were 38 and 30, respectively. By that time, we were pretty set in our ways. We were clean, organized, reserved, financially comfortable, all of the things that babies are not. So parenthood felt like a plunge into subzero temperatures.
We had a scare during delivery that resulted in some lasting anxiety for my husband. My abrupt transition from a demanding full-time career to staying home with our daughter stacked an identity crisis on top of my pre-existing depression. So there we were, anxious and depressed, never sleeping for more than an hour or two at a time. The first three months of her life were haaaaard.
Without any family nearby to help shoulder the load, we switched into survival mode. We cut out every extracurricular activity possible – no date nights, no hobbies, no exercise, no thinking of ourselves in general. But rather than helping to control the overwhelm, these cuts only intensified our stress.
We began to lose our connection to one another and our sense of identity. We weren’t Deb and Josh anymore, we were Mom and Dad – existing for the sole purpose of caring for our child. Mom and Dad gained weight, were sick more often, and felt their deteriorating mental states taking a physical toll.
Why It’s Important to Be a Selfish Mom
It’s an understandable situation until your newborn starts sleeping through the night. (Hey, there are only so many hours in a day!) But cutting out time for yourself cannot become a permanent way of life. What would happen if we just accepted this stage in our lives? “Oh well, big deal! This is parenthood!” What if we said that for 18 years?
Would I have a mid-life crisis because I didn’t make the time to pursue my own personal interests between playdates and swim lessons? Probably! Would my husband and I divorce because we didn’t regularly schedule time to enjoy one another outside of parenting, and to keep our romance alive? Maybe!
I believe that the three “selfish” activities addressed by my relative – date nights, hobbies, and exercise/self-care – are three of the most practical and effective actions I can take to improve quality of life for myself, my husband, and my daughter. I believe it’s healthy to be a selfish mom.
A Selfish Mom Enjoys Regular Date Nights
First of all, it seems like common sense that date nights are likely beneficial to marriage. A study released by the National Marriage Project suggests that couples that regularly spend one-on-one time together are considerably less likely to divorce. The report found that date nights in particular strengthen relationships by providing an opportunity to (1) communicate, (2) bond over novel activities, (3) rekindle romantic connection, (4) renew a sense of commitment to one another, and (5) relieve stress. Factor in that dates give me a break from “eating” pretend food and making animal sounds all day, and you don’t have to tell me twice to take a few hours off.
Date nights also allow my daughter to spend quality one-on-one time with other family members and learn that the world doesn’t revolve around her. Win-win.
A Selfish Mom Has Hobbies
Second, another study found that pursuing our own personal interests and hobbies is beneficial to our health. It lowers blood pressure, improves psychological state, provides an outlet from daily stressors, and engages us socially. Seem like a selfish move? Actually, when both spouses are participating in hobbies and leisure activities that they enjoy, whether together or separately, marital satisfaction has been shown to increase.
I’m personally happier when I spend occasional nap times and evenings writing instead of catching up on housework or watching tv. My husband’s contentment went way up when he started taking a few hours on weekends to work on gunsmithing. Does it take time away from our child? Sometimes. But we limit the time away, or spend it when she’s sleeping, and it always results in more refreshed, attentive, and energetic parents.
Have you been caring for your kids and family for so long that you don’t remember what your personal interests and hobbies were back in the day? Or what they might be today? Check out How to Rediscover and Pursue Your Personal Interests and Hobbies for some guidance in rediscovering what makes you unique and gets you excited.
A Selfish Mom Exercises + Practices Other Self-Care
Finally, if I’m going to be the best parent possible to my daughter, I’m going to need strength, energy, and a clear and focused mind. Those things come from making my own health a priority. This includes exercising, preparing healthy meals, attending regular health screenings, and prioritizing mental and emotional health. Exercise in particular is often viewed as a conceited endeavor. It’s assumed that if you’re fit, or God forbid, in killer shape, it’s obviously at the neglect of your role as a mother. However, I’ve personally found that just 30 minutes of exercise 5-6 times a week has been a lifesaver in giving me the energy and endurance I need to keep up with my toddler. It’s well worth your effort to find a workout that you can stick with. Your wellness, or lack thereof, will affect every other aspect of your life, including your parenting.
Selfish Moms Can Be Good Moms Too
Yes, I chose to have a child and to accept and embrace the responsibility that comes with that. I am very purposeful during our time together. I make an effort to be in the moment, to really listen and respond to what my daughter is saying, to strike a balance between learning and play, and to help her build character. But all of those things are much more challenging when I disregard my own well-being.
Wrap It Up
I’m okay with the fact that other parents might view me as an unrealistic or selfish mom. For me personally, making my marriage, my identity, and my health a priority is ultimately going to result in the best outcome for myself and my family. That’s why my husband and I make time for a monthly date night, for hobbies, and for self-care.
Are we selfish? Far from it. Are we perfect parents? We never will be. We’re just trying to stack the odds in our favor.
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