Selfish mother. It’s really not the sort of title anyone likes to give themselves, but in many respects, for the past year that’s exactly what I have been.
After 10 years of parenting, an international move abroad, a return home, and a marriage separation under my belt, it was clear to all that I was running on empty. All those years of putting myself at the bottom of the heap had finally taken their toll on me, and I simply had nothing left in the tank. If you find yourself as a parent with nothing left to give, you need to pretty quickly find a way to start replenishing the supplies – and how I did that was by being selfish.
Since having my first child 10 years ago, followed by her brothers two and four years later, every decision, purchase, meal, outing and life choice had been about them. Like many women, I placed myself at the foundations of the family and spent all my days desperately holding up the house and everyone in it as my arms became weaker and weaker. At that time, I didn’t realize that there was an alternative. I had children, I loved my children, I put them first. Every single time. It was that simple.
Until, of course, it wasn’t. As the family unit crumbled, so did I. I was finally forced to admit that I wasn’t fine, and that I needed help. So I disrupted other people’s lives and allowed them to carry me for a time.
My family offered me financial help and I took it. My sister gave up all her free time to spend it with me and I let her. My brother and his family invited us to countless dinners and we went. The parents of my children’s friends supplied endless playdates and I willingly accepted them. In short, I stifled the usual “I’m fine” response and took whatever was being offered – money, time, food, child care and endless mugs of tea and sympathy.
The realization that I soon came to was that as they all took care of me and my needs, I in turn was able to take care of my children’s needs – the more I was given, the more I had to offer.
Soon I began to buy comfort items for my new little nest. A nice rug, a big sofa, cozy blankets and throws. I didn’t consider what I could have bought for the children and I didn’t ask for anyone’s opinion – I picked them for me and I found that I liked it. And surprisingly – I didn’t feel guilty.
So I splashed out on some new bedding. Whilst I luxuriated at night in crisp white sheets and huge fluffy pillows, the children made do with secondhand family castoffs.
And I didn’t feel guilty.
I then decided that I needed new clothes, and I didn’t even try to justify why. I spent an entire morning in Topshop with my best friend and spent three times as much as I had in my pocket. Meanwhile, I bought the kids basics in Tesco and eagerly accepted their cousin’s hand-me-downs.
And I didn’t feel guilty.
It seemed that the more I did for myself, the easier it became, until I began to wonder what the hell I had been doing for the past 10 years.
My friends all advised me to “Be kind to yourself,” “Take time for just you,” “Lean on us.” Having been the chief caregiver 24/7 for all of my mothering days, it was tough at first to let go, but with all three children safely tucked up at their fathers’ house two nights a week I needed to do something with this new concept of “free time.” And so naturally I arranged some nights out.
I got dressed up without small children pulling at me and asking me not to leave the house. I talked and laughed over tables laden with good food, great wine and wonderful friends. I danced madly and badly in pubs and clubs. I chatted to strangers outside bars, and I walked crookedly home with a smile on my face.
A friend mentioned a new yoga class – how it was great for the body and the mind and that I should go. So I signed myself up. It became one more little haven in my new world and gave me the peace and tranquillity that I needed for a weekly recharge.
And so now, a year later, my internal reserves have been replenished and the tank is nearing full. I have enough energy, love and happiness to give freely again. A balance has been restored in the home. It’s not all about me anymore, but it’s not all about them either.
Now if the children need a day out more than I do – then that’s what we’ll do. But if I need a new haircut more than they do – then that’s what I’ll get.
And guess what?
I don’t feel guilty. I feel great.