We’ve all been there, knee-deep in the murky waters of motherhood, desperately trying to live up to family and societal expectations. Then one day you look in the mirror and wonder who the hell is staring back at you. You’ve been lost for a while—overwhelmed and living minute-by-minute. What happened to you? That person who at one time had their life together? That person who others came to for advice on how to “have it all”? That person you once were?
As mothers, we have a tendency to put ourselves last, because that’s what good mothers do, right? We pass on those lovely shoes we long for because our child needs another shirt he’ll only wear once and then grow out of. We put off going to the gym, because the limited time we do have we feel should be spent with our kids. We eat standing in the kitchen, we forego washing our hair as much as we’d like (gross but true), and we fill our schedules with activities, playdates, and the like—all for our kids.
There are several reasons why we do this. First off, we love our children immensely, so putting them at the top of our priority list is only natural. Secondly, we are bombarded with social media’s perfectly annoying Pinterest moms and articles on how women need to endlessly lean in. We are expected to do it all. What happens when you lean so far in, you tumble? In our quest to fulfill this unrealistic status quo, we’ve left someone far behind—ourselves.
I lived in this miserable bubble for a while. The time I did spend with my children, I was busy thinking about other obligations. My body was participating, but my mind wasn’t. All I did was stress about the future. My husband and I started walking through life as a team, but not as partners. My work suffered; I was losing my passion. Overall, I was drowning, gaining weight, and questioning my purpose.
After years of running in this phantom race, I decided coming in dead last wouldn’t bother me anymore. The additional stress I was putting on myself was not benefiting my family or me. In order to be a good mother, good wife, good friend and good person, I needed to make myself a priority first. I needed to reconnect with who I was and who I wanted to be.
Once you realize there’s a problem, the only person who can fix it is you. So that’s exactly what I did. I decided to put me first, so in turn, I could put my family first. I found that my kids were perfectly happy with one activity instead of three. I set time limits for work. When those limits were tested, I found a new job that fit into my life better. Because I was the breadwinner for my family, I had to dip into my 401(k) during this transition, but it was worth it in the long run. I reconnected with my spouse by having movie nights once a week after the kids went to bed. We started eating meals together sitting down and had more uninterrupted conversations. Sounds like a dream, right? I made a commitment to work out two to three times a week, which then became routine. I also took naps on Sunday afternoons without the guilt. Now when I spend time with my family, I’m present. I enjoy it. They enjoy it.
I realize if you don’t have a strong support system, spouse or partner, making all these changes can be difficult, if not impossible. But, you will find neighbors or friends who need “me” time just as desperately as you do. When my husband traveled for work during the week, I joined forces with a neighbor in the same situation as me. We would take turns watching each other’s kids and also cook a little extra a few nights a week to save the other person the hassle. Even having a glass of wine and talking with her as our kids played was a nice relief.
It only takes a few small steps to make a big difference in your life. Once you start making these little changes, it gets easier to put yourself first. Learning to connect with yourself and cater to your own needs only helps you be a better mother, wife and friend. You deserve happiness just as much as everyone else does, and it’s yours for the taking. Start choosing you.