Before I became a mother, I almost prided myself on not taking care of myself. That sounds horrible, and it is, but I thought being selfless to an almost (and usually) unhealthy degree meant that I was being a good friend or a good partner or a good "woman." Yeah, that's not true. Sadly, it wasn't until I became pregnant and pushed my son into the world, that I realized that taking care of myself, and definitely my mental health, is one of the best things I can do for my son. Being a mom makes you realize that your mental health matters, in a way very few things can, and I'm forever thankful for this gift (and essentially, this constant reminder) that my son has given me.
Now, procreating shouldn't be a prerequisite for learning about the importance of mental health, and for so many people it certainly isn't. I know plenty of women who don't have (and don't plan on having) children, and they take care of themselves and their mental health and value their self-care. However, women are also told, by a patriarchal society that benefits from the selflessness of women, that in order to be kind and considerate and caring, you have to disregard your own self. That message seems to only magnify when you have children, and many women are told or convinced that if they want to be considered a "good" mother, they must sacrifice every single aspect of who they are, including their mental health. If you're so exhausted you're struggling to function, you must care about your kid. If you're not eating or not finding the time to shower, you must be so devoted. If you do take time for yourself and go into the world sans child, you must be selfish and you must not care as much as some other parents care about their children. That messaging is so dangerous, so harmful, and one of many reasons why mothers suffer in silence, feeling completely alone and inadequate.
I have, without a doubt, failed my son when I have failed to take care of myself. When I am too tired to deal with a tantrum, I lash out when I know that I should be calm and understanding. When I'm not eating properly, I lack the motivation and energy to play with my son outside. When I'm not taking time to get back to neutral and focus on my individuality, I'm losing myself in my son and, in turn, making him responsible for my happiness. However, when I focus on myself and my mental health I am becoming a better mom that can be all the things my son deserves, and here are just a few moments that made that undeniable fact all the more obvious: