There are a few universal truths about motherhood: Moms are used to putting everyone else's needs before theirs. We're also used to reading articles that say it's OK to put ourselves first once in awhile. We've also gotten used to ignoring these articles because, while it’s a nice idea in theory, it never seems to work in practice.
Maybe it feels selfish, or maybe it just seems impossible, but if it's hard for you to put yourself first—ever—start with this list of times when it’s absolutely necessary. And remember that putting yourself first as a mom is a lot like flying on an airplane: In the event of an emergency, you have to put your own oxygen mask on before you’re going to be able to help anyone else.
1. When you are sick
As I sit here recovering from an upper respiratory infection that I waited over a week to seek treatment for, I'm reminded there are times we absolutely must put ourselves first. Forget the commercials where mom powers through with a dose of some not-so-magical medication and manages to accomplish all of her usual responsibilities without anyone even noticing she’s sick. That kind of toxic message is one we need to put behind us. If you are sick, you need to put yourself first. Will everything fall apart if you take a couple of sick days, schedule a doctor’s visit and stay in bed for 12 hours? Probably not. Stay home, go to the doctor if your symptoms don’t improve within a day or two, rest, hydrate and remember how important you are to your family.
2. When you are sad
It’s important to remember your feelings matter and are just as valid as anyone else in your family. We all know postpartum depression is real and should be taken seriously, but even if it’s not clinical depression, there are times when you need to have a good cry, indulge your inner child and simply wallow in whatever is making you sad. Bottling up your emotions serves no one and sends the wrong message to your children, who are learning how to deal with their own emotions. Seeing you cry, or be sad and quiet, won’t damage them. If anything, it’ll teach them empathy.
There are very few things that can’t be delegated or postponed, so if life is knocking you down, change your schedule and give yourself some room to breathe.
3. When you are feeling overwhelmed by life
It’s OK to want to be Super Mom. You might be one of those moms who can pull it off—for awhile. But we all hit a wall sometimes. Even those of us who thrive on the expectations and chaos of family life need some downtime. Don’t wait until you’ve gotten sick from stress and exhaustion before you take some time for yourself. And remember: it’s OK to say "no" once in awhile. Ask yourself: Am I the only one who can do this? Can I simplify it or put it off to a later date when I’m not so busy? There are very few things that can’t be delegated or postponed, so if life is knocking you down, change your schedule and give yourself some room to breathe.
4. When it’s your birthday
There is nothing frivolous about celebrating the day of your birth. Nothing! I don’t want to hear, "I’m X years old now, I don’t care about my birthday." Wrong answer! It is your day! Your day! You absolutely should care and celebrate it in whatever way you wish (and that your schedule allows). Whether that means taking a day off work to get a massage and go to a movie, or a weekend getaway alone with your spouse, or simply not making dinner for one night and going to bed early to binge-watch something on Netflix, go for it! And don’t discourage friends and family from celebrating you, either. Eat the biggest piece of birthday cake and enjoy yourself. You deserve it.
5. Whenever you need to
I know, it’s easier said than done. It feels selfish. But it shouldn’t take illness, depression, stress or your birthday to get you to take some time and put your needs first. And here’s why: By putting yourself first you are teaching your children Mom matters and your feelings and needs count, too. You’re showing them that you are not always a superhero, but a real person with emotions and interests (not to mention a normal immune system that sometimes succumbs to whatever bug they’ve brought home). Creating the illusion of selfless perfection isn’t good for your kids, your partner or you. Let go of that ideal and take something for yourself. You’ll be a better mom for it, but more importantly, you’ll be happier.