I Stopped Putting My Kids First and Became a Better Mom
I see you, mama, out here momming so hard. You’re everything from the taxi driver, short-order cook, personal assistant, nurse practitioner, sock locator, cheerleader, craft aficionado, boo-boo kisser, mediator, and sometimes, the equalizer. You do everything for your kiddos and make life as comfortable as possible. So, why do people feel the need to say, “Your children should always come first?” to a rockstar like yourself?
I asked myself that question and explored why it grinds my gears when I hear it. When I divorced, a few well-meaning people shared this unsolicited advice. I have to admit; I was already exhausted, worried about transitioning from a two-parent home to one, and trying to keep our home life as stable as possible. We’ve all seen or even posted various quotes along the lines of “Parenting is a sacrifice;” “You gave up your wants when you chose to become a parent;” “When you’re a good parent, your children always come first.” For years, I fell into the trap that my children should always come first. Then one day, I woke up, stopped putting my children first and became a better mom.
My children are a top priority; there is no question there, but where I failed was not prioritizing my health, need for rest and time to recharge. If you’re running on empty, you risk sickness and, even worse, mental burnout. Plus, what example was this setting for my children?
It’s okay if children learn that the world doesn’t revolve around them. That’s a necessary life lesson that my parents instilled to prepare me for the real world. If that means I’m going to the gym for an hour or going for a run, they know I’m going to return and return better than when I left.
My Wake-Up Call
So, what had happened was I was going through some family photos and saw a picture of myself on a waterfalls hike in the north Georgia mountains. I almost didn’t recognize myself, but that conniving camera saw me, all 167 pounds on a 5-foot-2-inch frame. The result of putting my children first was a haggard, out-of-shape, exhausted shell of a human doing everything to prioritize children over my health, wellness and sanity. I’m not encouraging neglect, but I reject the idea that good parents should be TOLD to put their children first. Those of us out here providing food, shelter, creature comforts, attending school meetings, taking care of doctors’ visits, planning family adventures, and, most of all, loving our little humans don’t need the reminder. Now some people may neglect their children and parental responsibilities, but this soapbox moment is for those doing our very best at adulting and parenting.
That picture sent your girl to a fitness boot camp and training for a half marathon. I found a Christian counselor and booked my weekly sessions. Did these things require me to take time away from my kiddos? Yes. Was it selfish? Absolutely not, but it did require me to prioritize things in my life to get where I needed to be. I wanted to enjoy the time with my kiddos without hassling to breathe. I also needed to talk through the changes happening in our family life. It was worth it. In those moments, I added myself to the top priorities list with my kids instead of at the bottom of the list just below the barely-alive goldfish. Rest in Peace, Ms. Gulch.
What I Learned About Myself
Guilt: I had to examine why I felt some type of way when someone told me that my children come first. As a newly divorced mom, I was already carrying the guilt that my children wouldn’t have a two-parent home. I had to let that guilt go and make sure I didn’t try to overcompensate for managing our home as a single parent.
Validation: Why did I need assurance that I was indeed a good mom? I had to sit with that one for a moment to figure out why I internalized their statements. One thing I noticed, when I was overweight, barely getting my hair done and spending my days ripping and running with two kiddos, not one person told me to put my kiddos first. It was apparent that my whole world revolved around them and nothing else. Nothing changed when I started taking better care of myself. Well, I changed. I got to a healthy weight, had the stamina to run and play with the kiddos and had more energy. I was a better, more present mom, and I didn’t need anyone to validate that. It took me a while to get there.
Resentment: When was the last time someone told a man that he needs to put his children first? I’ll wait. I resented that I heard this said to other women and me but rarely heard anyone say this to or about men. The truth is, no good parent should adhere to this, man or woman.
Today, I’m a better mom because I learned to prioritize myself with my children. I’m so glad I stopped putting them first, and they are, too.