As a woman, I have an inherit desire to make everyone happy, but as an adult I realize that making everyone happy is a fictional concept, at best. In fact, I've failed at making everyone happy more times than I'd care to admit. Unfortunately, that hasn't stopped me from trying. I usually find myself apologizing for things that merit no real apologies, just for the sake of someone else's appeasement and because I feel this innate, underlying guilt when I have inevitably failed at pleasing everyone. In fact, now that I'm a mother, I find myself in a constant state of remorse, saying sorry for things that every mom needs to stop apologizing for, but especially one big thing: taking care of myself.
The concept of self-care isn't a new one, but it's one that I, and many other moms, still feel guilty about actually exercising. Why is taking a few minutes or hours or even days to nurture our own needs something that we should be sorry for? Do we not deserve the same care and devotion that we dole out to our families on a daily basis? Do we not deserve the attention or the focus or the momentary freedom of temporarily not being needed? Do we not deserve our own love? Of course we do, and we need to stop saying we're sorry for having our own basic needs, too.
I've been a mom now for almost three years, and admittedly feel like it's completely consumed me at times. I've read so many stories and baked so many cookies; I've lost countless hours of sleep and tamed an insurmountable amount of tantrums; I've laughed and cried and yelled and cried some more; I've sacrificed so much, and fashioned my own needs in a way that they prioritize those of my family, first. I've done these things because I'm a mother, because I love my children and my family unconditionally, and because I'd carry them through every day on my exhausted shoulders if I had to. Still, that love and devotion doesn't keep exhaustion at bay. It doesn't keep me from feeling overwhelmed or outside myself or alone. Sometimes, I want to take a nap or get a pedicure or drink mimosas at brunch or lose myself in the Netflix abyss, just so that I can escape the day-to-day trials of raising and caring for other human beings. It's not just that I want to, it's that I need to.
I need to spend five minutes in the shower washing away the baby food caked underneath my fingernails, and I need to sit in silence long enough to hear my own thoughts again. I need to go for a run or drink a glass of wine or converse with someone who's vocabulary consists of more than just colors and shapes and cartoon characters. I need to take care of myself, because if I don't, I'll crack. I'll pour out every physical, emotional, and mental reserve that I've got to the point that I've got nothing left for myself. Then, my glass won't be half full or half empty, it will cease to exist and I'll have nothing left to give; not my kids or partner or friends or job, but especially nothing for me.
Being a parent doesn't mean that I have to lose myself to my children. I didn't stop being myself the moment that I became a mother, I just became a different version of myself. I'm this new, 4.0 version with different responsibilities and priorities and obligations, but I'm still me. I still have needs, and if I want to even be capable of meeting the needs of my family, I've got to remember to come up for air myself. The struggle of being a mom who is constantly trying to improve herself, to better herself for her family, is that in the midst of trying to be better for everyone else, we forget to do anything for ourselves.
Before airplanes take off, the flight attendants instruct everyone on what to do in case of an emergency. They demonstrate how to properly apply an oxygen mask, and they always direct parents to apply their own masks before they apply their children's. Why? Because if parents don't take care of themselves, they're incapable properly taking care of their children. Day-to-day parenting is no different. I might not be in a plane that's going down, but sometimes it does feel like I'm suffocating beneath the needs of everyone else, and if I don't remember to take care of myself, how could I possibly and effectively care for my children?
I, as well as every other mother, have got to remember to breathe. We've got to remember that underneath that over-sized tee shirt and hair that hasn't been washed in a week, there's still a person in there; a person that deserves love and respect and care and attention; a person that deserves a break and a glass of wine; a person that deserves to have her own needs met, too.
So if you're a new mom and you're feeling like you're lost or like you need to scream or like you just need five minutes to yourself, do it. Scream, take a break, and go find yourself. Take as long as you need to catch your breath, but don't ever apologize for putting yourself first. Your kids need you, yes, but you need you, too.