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Moms Talk: Mommy Martyrdom

How much sacrificing for your kids is the right amount?

My daughter’s elementary school does a three-day sleepover camp at the beginning of the year, so that the families and kids can get to know each other. It is one of my girl's very favorite things in the world.

Not so much for me.

This was my second year going, and as a hardcore introvert, those three days of constant people interaction are a real challenge for me. By the end of day two, I pretty much want to roll into a ball and never see another human again.

I still get up and do day three. For my daughter's sake.

Modern parents are frequently told to take care of themselves first. Not to put our kid’s needs ahead of our own. To always make sure that we put on our own oxygen masks before assisting our child.

I call bull.

If I always did what I wanted without thinking of my child first, I would never have left the hospital with her. I was panicked, exhausted, and already rolling in the post partum depression that would become the hallmark of that first year. Picking her up in her carrier and strapping her in the car to come home was the first truly selfless thing I think I’d ever done. I had to push past every selfish instinct and do what I had to do.

And I do it every day.

If you think I want to get up at the crack of dawn on weekday mornings to make breakfast, pack a lunch, and drive to Kirkland, you are incorrect. I’d prefer to sleep in until 10 a.m. and have my daughter bring me tea before hopping in bed for cuddles and video games.

But you do what you have to do, and I feel in my bones that I have to get my girl to school on time, well fed, and with lunch.

Parenting is the job of filling all of a child’s needs in the beginning. From changing diapers to cooking for your hungry toddler to buying clothes and school supplies for your teen, parents do the things that kids can’t yet do for themselves. We are the source of what they need, from food to affection. And putting those needs before our own is natural.

I think we parents do get in trouble when we put our kids’ wants ahead of our own needs. When I don’t make myself breakfast because I’m busy making her a third yolk-free fried egg, I get resentful, hungry, and am no use to anyone, including her. When I make myself something after her first round, then I can go back to short order cooking with even blood sugar and a smile.

I think for me, the priority order that works best is:

  1. Her needs
  2. My needs
  3. Her wants
  4. My wants

And I’m definitely open to discussion about the order of the last two. It seems to be changing as she gets older, so we’ll see where her wants fall on my priority list 10 years from now.

Children are a pile of needs. They need everything from us the day they are born, and then they need less from us every day after. For the few years left that she is reliant on me, my daughter and her needs will always come first for me. 

Except for that oxygen mask thing. I think they’re really right about the order on that one.

How do you manage to balance your children's needs with your own? Tell us in the comments section.

Chris Macbeth September 24, 2012 at 07:34 AM
I agree that I often have to do things I don't want to really. Like get up early, sit at a barn for an hour 3 times a week and wrangle a 3 year old while the older one takes riding lessons. However, I did recently pay to do a program that required time and commitment and was all about me. I did feel akward and guilty making others adjust but having finished 10 weeks I now am happier. I am still trying not to feel bad or guilty for asking for help so I can go to the gym when I want. I do believe that by taking care of me I am a better parent. Of course there has to be a balance and I will still give up my stuff for my kids.
Suma September 24, 2012 at 09:43 AM
agreed 100%. You were spot on about children being a pile of needs, and making the connection between their needs and your wants. Suma.
Melissa September 25, 2012 at 05:04 AM
Becoming a parent is simultaneously the most selfish and selfless thing you can do with your life! Driven by a (partially biological) selfish desire to carry on / pass on / love on, with the result demanding that you selflessly give so much more of yourself than you were ever aware was necessary (or even existed) prior to delivery. This article is a well stated reminder (and justification) to take just a little back for yourself. In a time when it seems so many people are giving too much to their kids, and not keeping enough for themselves. Which makes parents who try to take something back for themselves feel guilty. It is so refreshing to hear someone else so it's OK to oh, say... bike for 2 hours every Saturday and Sunday :-)
Bob McCoy November 04, 2012 at 06:48 PM
I agree with your numbered list. You misjudge the oxygen mask thing, though. Your child NEEDS a clear-thinking parent in an emergency. Hypoxia can occur fairly quickly, and a child needs a parent to help them with the mask. While you are calming your child and trying to put on its mask, without wearing one yourself, you are becoming less capable by the second. I have seen military pilots refuse to put their O2 masks back on in the hypobaric chamber, as they were too far gone to realize their need for oxygen. Nice blog piece.

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