When I thought about becoming a mom, one word continuously came to mind: sacrifice. After all, it was constantly being drilled into me that being a "good mom" meant consistently (and with great joy) giving of myself. I was going to sacrifice sleep, sacrifice time with friends, sacrifice bodily autonomy, and sacrifice what I wanted, all in the name of what my son needed. I wasn't wrong and it's not a lie; being a parent does mean sacrificing. However, being a mom doesn't mean living the life of a martyr. The tiny thing I did for myself when I became a mom — that has made me a much happier parent, partner, and person — is entirely and unapologetically selfish. It has nothing to do with my son, nothing to do with my partner, and nothing to do with anyone else, but me. It's a way for me to indulge in myself, for myself, and it has made me an overall more joyful, more pleasant, and more well-rounded human being.
Once a month, without exception or apology, I take myself on a date. I don't invite my partner. My son is not allowed to attend. I don't involve friends. I make a reservation for one at a local restaurant, I pick a movie I want to see, and I date myself. This tiny, seemingly minuscule act of self care and self-love, has made me a happier mother to my son, a happier partner to my son's father, and a happier person that I'm proud to have become. I'm healthier, in body and in mind, and I am able to stay grounded in the sea of overwhelming responsibility that comes with motherhood.
It has nothing to do with my son, nothing to do with my partner, and nothing to do with anyone else, but me.
Prior to becoming a mother, I used to wear my perceived martyrdom like a badge of honor. I thought I was a "good friend," if I gave absolutely everything of myself to those around me; whether they were a dear friend or an acquaintance. If I didn't ask for anything or reach out when I was in need, I was low maintenance. If I was there to answer any question, dry every tear, and give of my time, energy, and money, I was someone people could rely on. Of course, this selflessness sounded wonderful on paper, but was the reason so many people ended up taking advantage of my benevolence. Toxic relationships were able to grow and flourish, and before I knew it my mental health was suffering in the name of "camaraderie."
While our culture likes to attach martyrdom to motherhood, and hold mothers who "give their all" to their children as the gold standard of parenting, it's dangerous.
I didn't ask for much when it came to romantic relationships, either. I prided myself on being that "easy going" girlfriend. I didn't voice my wants or needs, because I didn't think it was attractive or endearing to have any. I reshaped my goals, changed my plans, and accommodated my partners' likes and dislikes so that they could be as happy as humanly possible within the confines of our relationship. I didn't make time for myself. I didn't stop to ask myself if the relationship was fulfilling for me. I was being "selfless." I was being "kind." I was being "good."
Then I had a baby, and I realized just how unrealistic and unsustainable that mindset really and truly is. I cannot take care of someone else, if I don't take care of myself first. I can't make my son happy, if I am miserable while trying to uphold some unrealistic ideal that has been attached to motherhood. I can't be the mother my son needs, if I'm constantly sacrificing and being "selfless" and not thinking about what I want and what I need and what I deserve. While our culture likes to attach martyrdom to motherhood, and hold mothers who "give their all" to their children as the gold standard of parenting, it's dangerous. It's detrimental. It's the reason so many women lose themselves to motherhood, unable to find an ounce of individuality between the diapers and the baby wipes and the playdates.
I needed to take time out of my busy schedule and just be me. Not a mom. Not a romantic partner. Not someone who is needed and wanted and relied on.
So in the throes of postpartum depression — exhausted, lost, and unsure if I was going to be able to handle this motherhood thing — I realized that I needed to continue to date myself. I might have been a mom, but I was still a human being. I might have a parenting partner — someone I will now be attached to for the rest of my life — but I am still an individual. I needed to take time out of my busy schedule and just be me. Not a mom. Not a romantic partner. Not someone who is needed and wanted and relied on. I was just going to be, and it was going to be marvelous.
Now, once every two weeks, I map out a romantic evening for me. I take myself to that one restaurant I've been dying to try. I sit with a glass of wine and a book and I enjoy the sound of a bustling restaurant around me. I'll gaze at the other patrons, wondering what brought them to this place on this evening, and enjoy the freedom my mind has to wonder when it's not worrying about what my son is eating (or if he's even eating at all). I'll look at the couple sitting in the corner, staring at one another the way I still stare at my partner, and think about the first few dates we shared, almost four years ago.
No exceptions. No apologies. Just me, loving the company of me.
I'll leave my son with my partner and buy a ticket to see a movie — sometimes one my partner doesn't have any desire to see, and sometimes one he does want to see, but we both know we won't be able to catch together — and enjoy popcorn and a sugary beverage and the freedom that is losing yourself in someone else's story for a few hours. I get to enjoy an evening in which I am beholden to no one, and it's the solace I need and deserve in the beautiful, wonderful, sometimes exhausting, always fulfilling chaos that is my life as a mom to a 2-year-old toddler.
Becoming a mother doesn't mean I no longer matter. Having a parenting partner doesn't mean my individuality has ceased to exist. I still need to focus on my happiness, and my solo-date night allows me to do just that. No exceptions. No apologies. Just me, loving the company of me.