Have you heard the one where the mom is already on edge and right about to her breaking point, just finally about to get the chance to go do something for herself – we’re talking so close she can taste it – when the child has a full-fledged breakdown? Don’t leave, mommy! I need you to stay and play mommy! I will miss you so much mommy! I need you mommy!
Of course you’ve read something like this a million times. And you know what those sweet little blogs say happens next. The story is always that the mother looks deep onto her child’s eyes and realizes her child needs her more than she needs a break and the time is so fleeting, so she forgoes whatever she was going to do to be with her little one, to make sure the child is happy.
Except that isn’t the story I want to tell anymore. In fact, I think that story has fucked me up. And not just me, but many, many other “good” mamas.
When I drop my break/self-care/date night/me-time because my child is upset, I am teaching him or her several things – but one is that mommy’s needs don’t matter. That mommy always puts others first even when she is hurting/exhausted/burnt out/angry/resentful/unhealthy. Because mommy learned that’s what a “good mom” does. And then guess what my daughter believes when she becomes a mother? And guess what my son expects of his wife when he becomes a father?
This selfless, martyr mother narrative doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t bring me joy or purpose – it leaves me feeling cagey, resentful, unfulfilled, angry, bitter. That’s not the kind of mom I want to be. I’m not sure how being all of those things makes me a “good” mom just because I am sacrificing my own needs for my children.
What if we stopped teaching our girls that they must always put everyone else’s comfort and needs above their own? We praise “selfless” women. We praise the “best moms” who sacrifice and give up what they want, even what they need for their family. I do it too. I praise my friends when they are sacrificing and putting others first and prioritizing family over themselves.
I also know a hell of a lot of women who are Burnt. The. Fuck. Out.
Who are at the end of their ropes.
Who lose their patience because they are fucking exhausted and overwhelmed and can’t remember the last time they did something for *just* themselves.
By staying when I really need to go, just because my child is upset, I am also teaching him or her that I am the one responsible for his or her happiness. Without me, they could not possibly be happy. I am teaching them that I️ am the one responsible for his or her happiness, that I️ don’t believe they can be happy without me. And most mothers can tell you – those child emotions pass in the blink of an eye.
I’m not raising my kids to learn that someone else is responsible for their happiness, just like I don’t want them growing up thinking they are responsible for mine. I aim to raise resilient little buggers, children who can experience the discomfort and get back up again. Not children waiting for someone to rescue them.
So instead of looking into their little eyes and feeling resentment and frustration, I want to kiss my daughter or my son, get down and hug them tight and look them in the eyes and tell them how much I love them. And how mommy also loves herself, and that means sometimes I need to take care of myself by doing something good for my body, brain, or spirit. So mommy is going to leave and take care of herself so she can be the best mommy for you.
I’ve listened to stories of how to be a “good mom” my whole life. I’ve learned through stories and examples what counts and what doesn’t, what gets rewarded and punished. I’m going to create some new stories for my children.