Is it selfish to make yourself a priority?
I've been in a care taking role most of my life partly because of my upbringing and partly because it's in my nature. Over the years, I've learned the importance of self-care and the consequences of what happens when I don't put myself as a priority. As a wife, mother of 3, and therapist I care for others most of my waking hours. Being authentic, having healthy relationships, and caring for others is at the core of who I am. I can't escape it and I don't really want to (most of the time) but it is overwhelming and exhausting, especially when I don't take good care of myself.
When I make time for myself, I feel strong, confident and happy; which allows me to be more patient and understanding with my children, more loving to my husband, and more accepting of others. For me, taking care of myself means going kickboxing a few times a week, connecting with my husband, walks with my puppy, making time for my friends and having fun with my family. When I put myself last on the list, I feel overwhelmed, frazzled, resentful and exhausted. These feelings cause me to be rushed, forgetful, less organized, anxious, and snippy and less patient with my family. Usually, I recognize my behavior and make adjustments and when I don't I'm fortunate to have a supportive husband who gently reminds me.
I see these same exhausted, frazzled, overwhelmed looks in my clients. The ones who strive for perfection and try to "do it all" but instead fall apart because they aren't making themselves a priority. I hear the thousands of excuses of why you can't possibly put yourself at the top of the list: dishes, baby's sick, laundry, cleaning, work, drop offs/pick ups, kids sports and homework, the list goes on and on. I get it, I'm on the front lines of Motherhood just like you. I hear how selfish you think you are for making yourself a priority and how doing something for yourself TAKES AWAY from your family. SELFISH?!?!?!?!?! How are you selfish for aspiring to be the BEST wife, mother, friend, professional you can be and making sure your tank is full so you're capable of being the BEST?! Why do Mom's and women in general believe it's okay to take care of everyone around them EXCEPT themselves?! How is that fair? When you're about to take off on an airplane the flight attendants tell you to put the oxygen mask on yourself BEFORE helping others. Why? Because if you can't breathe, you can't help anybody else! If you feel suffocated by your family, you can't be your authentic self and take care of them the way they deserve. The societal pressure for Mothers suggests they should give up who they are and just focus on nurturing their children. That a Mother's needs and desires must wait and she should feel guilty for making herself a priority. These are dysfunctional beliefs that cause catastrophic problems in families everywhere because "if Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!"
Every time I make myself a priority I set an example for my children that I'm an important part of our family too and that my needs matter. They see that I'm more than "just" their Mom, that I'm a person and a professional with feelings, passions, dreams and goals to achieve. While my children and my marriage are my proudest accomplishments, they are not my only ones. Making time for myself sends the message that the world doesn't always revolve around them, sometimes they have to wait, and helps them recognize that other people's needs are important as well. I'm teaching my children what a confident and balanced woman looks like, not to settle for less, to set goals and accomplish their dreams, that they are to be valued and respected in their family, and to find a supportive partner who believes in them just as much as they believe in themselves. These beliefs have long lasting effects that trickle down for generations.
I believe that we can have it all, we just can't have it all at once. When we have balance in our lives and learn how to set boundaries and prioritize, everyone in the family is healthier and happier. So go ahead, put on your oxygen mask and don't feel guilty about it! Go get that pedicure, have lunch with a friend, take that class you've been wanting to take, read that book and connect with your passions. Your family deserves the best version of you and the only way that's possible is by making yourself a priority.