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Moms, Stop Always Putting Your Kids First

Photograph by Twenty20

"Where are you going, Mama?" my oldest one asked me as I grabbed my purse and keys.

Before I even had a chance to answer, his little brother asked, "Can we come, too?"

"I’m going to get coffee and then get a pedicure," I answered. "And no, you can’t come."

Then I made a run for it, before their disappointed faces convinced me to scrap my plans for a trip to Sweet Frog for frozen yogurt. But the guilty feeling lingered.

Being a mom is hard work. It seems like there's always some new task or responsibility I’m taking on in the name of good parenting or simply to make my kids happy. It can be downright exhausting to always be "on" and responsible for my children’s happiness. I have learned the hard way that sometimes it's OK to be a little selfish. Sometimes I need to do something just for me. And, by doing something for myself, I’m teaching my kids a valuable lesson: I matter, too.

'She’s a mom,' shouldn’t be the only way your child describes you.

I know the parenting articles tell us it’s OK to take time for ourselves. But it’s so much harder to walk the talk. Of course we should put ourselves first once in awhile! And not just when we're sick. Taking care of ourselves when we’re sick should be a given.

I’m talking about putting ourselves first in other ways, whether it's telling the toddler that after 30 minutes of reading to them, you're going to read your own book for 30 minutes, or eating at a restaurant of your choice, or getting a babysitter so you and your spouse can go on a date. These "selfish" choices are good, healthy ways to teach our children that we are important, too. By saying, "Hey, we’re going to go to the park, but first I’m going to get a coffee," I’m letting my kids know that everyone matters, even Mama.

It can feel like the opposite of being a good mom to center yourself. But putting your interests first once in a while teaches your child from a young age that everyone in the family is important and that the world, including your household, doesn’t revolve around them. It’s the antithesis of everything we've been taught by our kid-centered culture, in which holiday toy commercials air from July until December and the ideal family vacation involves costumed characters and cartoon-themed hotel rooms. Wanting to make our children happy isn’t a bad thing, but focusing solely on their preferences 24/7/365 isn't good for us—or them.

I’m proud that when my kids are asked "What does Mommy like?" they can actually answer with some of my interests and favorite things: reading books, watching movies, going to the botanical gardens, taking care of animals—and them. They know they're on the list of my favorites. But they also know there’s more to me as a person than just being their mom. And while that might seem silly—of course, they know I’m a person, right?—the only reason they know what I like is by seeing me do the things I enjoy, even if it means they’re sometimes bored or left at home with Dad.

Showing our children who we are as people teaches them empathy, patience and consideration for others. It shows them that a woman’s role is not defined by how many children she has or how much time she spends with them. This understanding is good for our children. "She’s a mom," shouldn’t be the only way your child describes you. If it is, it's time to be a little selfish, Mama.

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