I walk into the dark movie theater alone. I have an oversized bucket of popcorn in one hand and a caffeinated beverage in the other. I sit in a row completely empty, with only two or three strangers sharing the film-friendly space with me. I settle in as the lights dim, letting out a comfortable sigh and preparing to enjoy a few hours of entertainment, sans child and sans partner. My son is back at home with my partner, his father. They’re probably playing and definitely giggling and I’m sure my son is throwing around a toy or a hardy portion of his dinner or a heavy book or (definitely) all of the above; and my partner is inevitably rolling his eyes and trying not to loose his cool. They're there, alone, without me, making memories I won't be a part of and sharing smiles and laughs I'll miss. But I don’t feel guilty about it. Yes, I am his mom, and yes I love making memories and sharing smiles and laughs, but why should I apologize for putting myself first? I shouldn't, and more importantly, I won't.
Together my partner and I have designated one day every two weeks as “date night.” It's not a night we ever plan to spend together — it's one we celebrate by ourselves. I take myself out to dinner and a movie, completely solo and free to enjoy only my own company, and then my partner and I switch off the following week so that he can do the same.
It took me far too long, but eventually I realized that I can’t take care of anyone until I take care of myself. Yes, my partner and my son are wildly important to me, but I am the most important.
I’m sure I should feel guilty. Many might argue that needing time away from my family is selfish or insensitive or indicative of a greater problem lurking around in our home, like carbon monoxide or the monsters under the bead. But the truth is, I have no problem putting myself first, leaving my child with his father, and focusing on absolutely no one but myself. I don’t feel guilty about proclaiming my person and my needs and my sanity to be more important than my son’s or my partner’s or anyone else’s, for that matter.
I understand that it can be somewhat controversial to say it out loud or write it publicly but, yes world, I — mom, woman, writer, human — matter.
It took me far too long to learn arguably the most important lesson I’ve been privy to in my young, 29-year-old life. I used to think there was honor in martyrdom. I thought that the best thing I could do for those I loved was sacrifice myself for their needs. I shouldn’t care about what I need or what I wanted or what I thought, especially if it contradicted the needs and wants and thoughts of others. What kind of a woman would I be if I didn’t constantly give and give and give? What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t proclaim my son the center of my universe, or call him my entire world, or let everyone know that my life is now dedicated to my kid, and my kid alone?
I tried that brand of parenting for a short, unsustainable period of time. I attempted to put myself last in a long line of individuals I care for. I didn’t value self-care or personal space. I gave up the things I wanted or needed because others wanted and needed, too. And, in no time at all, I was painfully exhausted and horribly anxious and suffering from a mild case of postpartum depression. I was overwhelmed and unable to sleep and genuinely unhappy with my life and the horrific thought that this — the sacrificing and the always putting myself last — was what motherhood was all about. I didn't want to get out of bed and start any day because, really, what was the difference? At the end of every 24 hours for the foreseeable future, my life was all the same: exhausted, unfulfilled, and insignificant.
My son is not my entire world. He is a big part, no doubt, but my world also has friends and family and my career and my relationship and me in its orbit, and all of those things sing in concert with him.
It took me far too long, but eventually I realized that I can’t take care of anyone until I take care of myself. Yes, my partner and my son are wildly important to me, but I am the most important. I can't be the mother my son deserves, or the partner my partner deserves, if I don't put myself at the top of my own list. So in order to do that, I needed to shed society’s misconception of motherhood. I needed to stop saying my son was my entire world and that my son was my everything and that I live my life for my him, and my him only. It's a nice sentiment, sure, but, for me, it was totally untrue.
My son is not my entire world. He is a big part, no doubt, but my world also has friends and family and my career and my relationship and me in its orbit, and all of those things sing in concert with him. My son isn’t my everything because, well, he can’t be. He cannot give me everything I need or want to feel fulfilled as a mother, a woman, and a human being. I can’t put that kind of pressure on him, or myself, just to try and prove to relative strangers that I’m a caring mom who values her child’s life.
Now, I say “no” when I need to, and I put myself first. I am happier and healthier and a better mother and a partner to two people I deeply love and cherish. I smile more and cry less, and even though motherhood is definitely not without its stresses or challenges, I am better prepared to face them. My son sees a healthy, happy mother and it makes a positive impact on his development. My partner sees a fulfilled, joyful woman and his moods are made better by my demeanor.
It'll be my partner’s turn next week for date night, but in a few weeks I'll go to another dinner and a movie by myself. I'll sit in a dark room and settle into a comfortable seat, an oversized bucket of popcorn in one hand and a caffeinated beverage in the other. I'll enjoy a few hours without my partner or my son. I'll tell myself again that I deserve this time and that I matter, and, no, I won’t feel guilty about it.