I woke up with that painful pressure building in my head again, my ears were popping and I was dizzy and weak. I hoped it would go away but day after day, I still felt miserable. Over the last few weeks, I took care of my sick kids who had a terrible virus. As soon as they went back to school, I came down with it and my gosh, it hit me hard. Go figure, right?
After three weeks of being so sick with this thing, I finally went to the doctor. Apparently, it had turned into a raging sinus infection.
Then she asked why I didn’t come to get treatment sooner. “I thought I could fight it on my own.” I proclaimed with that sigh of conviction, knowing full well that I had failed. Then I added, “And well, motherhood.” To which she nodded and said, “Ah, yes. Mothers always put themselves last.”
And my gosh, isn’t that the truth?
To be fair, I had tried to take care of myself and put myself first as much as I could. I missed several of my son’s wrestling meets and canceled many things in order to stay home and rest and recover. But as all moms do, I also pushed my health aside to keep my house in order and keep up with all the details that go into parenting my kids on a daily basis. It’s impossible to let it all go.
Putting ourselves first is never an easy decision, is it? We want so badly to always be there for our kids. We sacrifice so much of our time, our energy, our own needs for the sake of our kids, and oftentimes it’s at the expense of our physical or mental health.
But I’m learning more and more that when we don’t take care of ourselves, we simply can’t be at our best, and it’s not only us who suffer but our kids as well. They want a healthy mom, and taking time for all the things that keep us well is a critical piece to our parenting.
We need rest. We need refueling. We need to take time to heal and recover when we are sick. It’s not selfish to put ourselves first, it’s wise. We must stop thinking self-care is an option, but rather consider it as a mandatory ongoing practice to maintain our physical health and well-being.
It’s so easy to dismiss our needs. It’s much easier to keep going and going until we fall apart. I know. I’ve been there many times.
But every time I have actually stopped in my hurried tracks to call that doctor, take that nap, meet that friend, go for that walk, read that book- invest in self-care? Well, I’ve never regretted it. I’ve certainly felt that maternal pang of guilt, but I also feel relief and joy for having put me first.
I’ve learned to say no to much more over the years as I’ve gotten older. I’ve also learned that showing my kids how I take care of myself will help them understand better how to take care of themselves, too.
When they see me cancel things for the sake of my health, I hope they learn that it’s okay to let go of responsibilities when their body needs to rest and recover.
I hope when they see me pick and choose what I can and can’t do when it comes to our busy schedule, I hope they learn to discern how to manage their busy lives too.
I hope when they see me leaving the house to spend time with a friend, or go for a walk, or attend a special event, they learn that it’s important to make time to do things that are fulfilling and nourishing on a regular basis.
When they see all the valuable friendships I’ve made and how we treat one another, I hope they realize the significance of healthy relationships in their own lives, too.
I hope they learn that taking a much-needed “time out” of life to simply shut down and veg on the couch watching Netflix is sometimes the healthiest thing we can do.
And when I can’t show up for them, I hope they see that sometimes it’s okay to disappoint people and set limits to put themselves first.
I want them to know that although these can all be hard choices to make, they shouldn’t be seen as optional, but rather critical to having a healthy and fulfilling life.
I’ve finally figured out that not showing up for our kids when we must tend to our own needs, isn’t abandonment, but rather a choice that can nourish both strength in ourselves and independence in them.
The world doesn’t fall apart for our kids if we aren’t there to hold its axis. There were years I believed it would, but I was wrong. Oftentimes, our kids are just fine without us. They are quite capable of managing things without us present all the time. I’ve missed a lot of my kids’ things throughout their lives because I put me first. I’ve also sacrificed much of my physical and mental well-being to show up for them too.
It’s a delicate balance we all need to find in our own lives according to our own needs. We can push through our own pain and exhaustion and personal issues to parent our kids and at times, that’s necessary. But we can also choose to let go of that pressure, to give up that weight and worry, and not put us last, but instead make those hard decisions to put us first.
I’ve proven to myself that when I take better care of me, I’m a better mom.
I’m still learning this truth, but I’m getting better at it every day.