My Kids Don't Always Come First, And Here's Why

by Jennifer Lima
Originally Published: 
A girl running down a sand beach in black sneakers who kids don't always come first
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In a family with limited financial resources, how do you prioritize wants once all needs are taken care of? Do the kids automatically come first?

There is no disposable income in my family. We live paycheck to paycheck. We made some poor decisions with our money in the past and are in the process of fixing them now. Some weeks we may be able to splurge and order pizza on a Friday. Other weeks I cross my fingers and hope we have enough dog food to make it through the week.

We don’t try to keep up with the Joneses because we know we can’t. What we consider a special treat in our house is a common occurrence to our children’s friends. We have a budget that we stick to as much as possible and we plan in advance for out of the ordinary expenses. As the kids have gotten older they understand that certain purchases have to wait and they know sometimes they need to contribute towards bigger ticket items. So am I being selfish when I want to spend money on my own personal interests?

Guilt is always there when you are a mother. No matter what, you’re made to feel like you’ve chosen incorrectly. Bottle feeding? You do know breast is best, right? Going back to work? Hope you have a caregiver you trust. That’s not organic fruit? You must not mind pesticides.

When we deal with comments like that every day, is it any wonder we constantly worry we are not doing enough? When we feel like we are not succeeding in the big things, the last thing we want to do is deny them the little things.

I don’t remember ever wanting for anything growing up. My parents weren’t wealthy, but I was never told that we couldn’t afford to do something. I wish my kids had the same level of financial security that I did. I feel guilty that I can’t provide them with everything their peers have even though I know they have more than many people do.

As a mother, one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn is that it’s okay for me to put myself first sometimes. All those clichéd sayings are true — you can’t pour from an empty cup, put your own oxygen mask on first, if momma ain’t happy, no one’s happy, and so on and so on. I truly believe I have more to give to my kids after I’ve given to myself.

But carving out time is different from spending money. Taking an hour to go for a run does not deny my kids of that same hour. Using what little extra cash we might have to register for a race (or buy shoes, or get a pedicure — whatever your indulgence is) does take away from something they might otherwise get to do.

My husband doesn’t hesitate to purchase or participate when there is something he wants. Is it just my personality that makes me reluctant to put myself first? Or is it that, as a society, it’s been ingrained that mothers should sacrifice for their families?

I don’t want to model selfishness for my kids, but I also want to teach them that moms are people too and that a family works best when it works together. That means making sure that all of its members are happy. Happiness is not dependent on money, or material things, but you shouldn’t have to deny yourself of them either.

I will never choose a want of mine over a need of theirs, but I am going to make sure to put myself in the mix from now on. It won’t be every week and it probably won’t be every month, but there will be times when my kids don’t get what they want so that someone else can. And by someone else, I mean me.

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