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Why I Had to Become More Selfish to Be a Better Parent

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I know this title is already sounding bizarre to some of you, but before I had a child, most people would not consider me a selfish person. I have always loved doing things for other people and getting gifts for others. I know I still had my selfish moments like anyone else, but overall I considered myself a pretty selfless person. I thought being a parent was all about being selfless and sacrificing everything for your kids. I eventually learned though, like they teach you on airplanes, if you don’t put your oxygen mask on first and then try to put your kids’ on, you may not get the chance to put your kids’ on. You may not physically be able to. When my daughter was first born, I was not getting sufficient sleep, I was not doing many things I enjoyed. I was revolving around my entire world around her. Then, I felt guilty for not always enjoying that. Eventually I learned that while parenting, like marriage and other relationships does require some sacrifice and compromise, it is also important to be a little selfish.

Also, it is not selfish to take basic care of yourself. It is not selfish to try and get the amount of sleep required for a normal person to function, or to take proper care of your body, or to shower, but mothers often feel selfish and guilty for even these things. If you throw in stuff like getting a massage, or buying yourself clothes you need instead of just clothes for the baby, then the guilt really sets in, but these are not truly selfish either. Now, if you get yourself clothes and everything your heart desires while your children do without, sure I personally think that is selfish, and not the kind of selfish I am talking about becoming. I am also not talking about doing anything you want just like before you had children when it comes to smoking, drinking, going out, etc. But it also OK to do these things some if you desire, and your children are still well-cared for.

Maybe if you were a selfish person before kids, you do need to become more selfless, but for me, I had to learn to take care better care of myself in order to be the main caregiver for someone else. This also eventually helped me set boundaries in other relationships I probably should have set a long time ago. Some relationships ended, but the ones that remained, and new ones that formed were way better than the ones I lost. I feel like I eventually not only became a better mother but a better wife, a better person, etc. In some ways, I did become more selfless. It was easier to be selfless when I was not responsible for another life. These days I am also responsible for two dogs. When I do something, including being a mom, and even a dog mom, I want to be great at it and do my best, but sometimes that causes me to neglect taking care of myself, and this actually results in me not doing doing my best, and not from lack of trying.

When I had a child, I knew I would not sleep as much as I wanted anymore, but I never imagined being so sleep deprived I could hardly function. I knew after having a child I could not do anything I wanted anytime I wanted, but I had no idea how hard it would be to have friends over, or that trips to restaurants for years now would include either changing diapers, feeding your child, or taking a potty training child to the restroom every five minutes just in case they really do have to actually go this time. I knew it would not be just me and my spouse all the time anymore, but I did not realize it would feel like it was never me and my spouse anymore and when it was we were too tired to function, or felt like we did not even know each other anymore.

Before you become a parent, not only is it not taught to us as mothers to take care of ourselves first, but often the opposite is taught, and others often pride themselves on and compete over who is the most neglectful of themselves for the sake of their children. If you are a servant type person, as I am to a point, and as my mother is to an extreme, it is OK to enjoy serving your kids and others, but it is still OK to take care of yourself too. I truly believe taking good care of yourself mentally and physically is part of being a good mother, and often times the hardest part. Once you figure out how to though, it can make you a better wife, a better person, a better employee, a better everything, and a good example to your child, because you want them to take good care of themselves too, even once they become parents.

Photo credit: galina-kovalenko/Getty Images

Originally published: January 2, 2021
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