I'm Done Putting Myself Last -- And You Should Be Too

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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This past weekend was Thanksgiving weekend, and I spent about 12 miserable hours of it feeling depressed and irritable. It wasn’t for the usual reasons that holidays bring people down. Thanksgiving itself was fine. I got along well enough with my extended family. My kids weren’t too cranky or annoying. I wasn’t stuck in endless holiday traffic, and I didn’t have to cook or clean up. I didn’t have PMS either.

It took me one moody evening and one morning where I did nothing but snap at my husband and children to figure out what the problem was. It was that I had done literally nothing for me all weekend.

In the days and weeks leading up to Thanksgiving weekend, I’d worked my ass off so that my job-related stuff would be squared away and I could do nothing but relax and hang out with my family. After the Thanksgiving festivities were over, I made a list of all the things everyone wanted to do, and I coordinated our days so everything would get done.

I planned a family outing to shop for our Christmas tree and some new holiday decor. I made a plan for going to the movies—finding a theater that was showing each of the movies my kids wanted to see so that we could split up and everyone would get what they wanted. I zoomed through my online holiday shopping like a boss on Black Friday morning, checking each of my kids’ requested items off their detailed lists. I even made a plan to squeeze in a date night with my husband.

But I hadn’t penciled in any “me” time.

Like most moms, this is totally on brand for me. My default setting is to put everyone’s needs before my own and just hope that my own needs will get met somehow, someday … by osmosis, maybe.

I should know by now that this always, always fails. It’s not like the opportunity to do something just for me will fall out of the freaking sky. Nope, like everyone else, my life is B-U-S-Y. Between work, kids, keeping the house in decent order, and all the emotional and invisible labor of managing a household, the only way anything happens around here is if I make a damn plan.

It’s just that planning is so much easier to do when it involves anyone’s needs but my own. I’m not sure why this is. Is it because I’m a woman and I’ve been conditioned to behave this way? Is it because of the caregiving role I always played in my own family growing up? Is it something in the water?

I don’t know, but it’s the way it’s been for so long that it feels nearly impossible to change. It’s so hard to say, “Hey, I worked my tushie off for this four-day weekend, and I’m gonna take an afternoon to myself to do whatever the fuck I want.”

It’s hard as hell to do that, which is both ridiculous and incredibly sad at the same time.

This past weekend, however, after living with that heavy feeling of depression and prickly anger for half a day, I had a little revelation. It’s going to sound corny AF, but here goes: I MATTER. I matter. And that is a complete, goddamn sentence.

Getting a few hours to myself—even during the most hectic times in our family’s life—matters just as much as everyone else getting what they want.

It’s not just because of that old adage about how you can’t pour from an empty cup–that you can’t give to others unless you give to yourself. That’s true too. But even that presupposes that the only reason a mom like me should do anything for herself is so that she can be a well-rounded, even-tempered mother and wife.

That is misguided. I should be able to do something simply for me and me alone, and not just because my happiness will rub off on others. Why on earth isn’t my happiness and joy enough on its own? It sure as fuck should be.

I’m done putting myself on the back burner. I’m done delaying my own plans and passions.

So, after my pitiful night and cranky morning, I told my husband to take the kids out for the afternoon so I could spend some time doing what I love best: curling up in bed with a book and spending time writing poetry (which I love) — and that’s exactly what I did. I read and wrote and drank peppermint tea to my heart’s content. Without guilt. It felt so damn good.

My goodness, I’m going to do that more often. I’m done putting myself on the back burner. I’m done delaying my own plans and passions. I’m done putting everyone’s wants and needs before my own. It isn’t helpful to anyone, and it ignores my own need for personal fulfillment, my own hunger for joy.

For me, a natural introvert, putting myself first means spending a quiet afternoon at home alone with my poems. For you, it might mean finally signing up for that dance class. It might mean booking that girls’ trip. It might mean spending a day in the city alone browsing bookstores. It might mean restarting that sewing or scrapbooking project you shelved a few years ago.

Whatever it is, do it. Now. Don’t put it off any longer. And don’t overanalyze it, trying to figure out the meaning behind it or how it could somehow benefit others around you. Do it for the sole reason that it makes you feel good and brings you joy.

Why deny yourself something so basic—so human—as pleasure and joy? You deserve it.

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