I have spent my whole life setting myself on fire to keep everyone around me warm—sacrificing my time, emotional energy and quite often, my well-being and sanity for other people. It certainly wasn’t ingrained within me to do this just in motherhood. Oh no, it started far before children, when I was a kid myself. I learned to wipe my own tears, stuff my feelings down and do what was right for everyone else…everyone but me.
However, due to this self-sacrificing nature that my childhood demanded of me, I developed a trigger about taking time for myself away from my children. I was determined not to make them put their needs aside, like I had to do as a child, that I didn’t take care of myself at all. Like seriously at all. I hated the term self-care. I couldn’t relate to moms who went out without their kids, literally ever. I had two pedicures in seven years and my daughter was with me both times. I think I was so afraid to err on the side of not being there for everyone and not taking care of my kids in the way they deserved, that I erred on the side of holding myself to an impossible standard and never allowing myself a break.
I was quite willing to happily sacrifice my last ounce of sanity and self to parenthood. Sure, I was burnt out, but they were worth it and I felt that was what I needed to do to be the best mother possible. I am sure I did a fabulous job taking care of my family, my kids and my friends, but my skill set, in no way involved how to take care of myself and my mental health. Not only did I not know how to set healthy boundaries but also how not to feel bad about setting them.
What does this slow burn look like for me in the rest of adulthood? I spend all my time fixing people’s problems, absorbing the pain and anxiety of others, giving out advice, competing for the title of “Most dependable human being, friend, daughter, wife and mother” and trying to do the impossible for all those around me. It means I put my needs on the back burner, while putting other’s needs as a higher priority, thinking I’ll get back around to some form of self-care at some point and guess what? It never happens. I have sacrificed my health, my peace, my joy, my comfort and even my safety to keep everyone around me happy.
Then finally, this past year, after a lifetime of pouring out all I had and everything I was and after almost ten years of mothering in the same way, I broke down. Not just an “I need a break” kind of meltdown but a complete and total realization that I had to change how I looked at everything, to sustain being a good parent and person.
I realized having healthy boundaries doesn’t make me a bad person. I am now learning to listen to my gut when it tells me that I’ve had enough of something and that I need to have a break or step back. Continuing to be a good wife, daughter, sister and friend can only happen if I give myself the permission to help where I can and to also stop when I can’t. It means I recognize that I can assist in other’s journeys without feeling like I have to do the work for them. I can care without carrying everyone else’s burdens.
I have always viewed sacrifice as the mother of all virtues and listen, as a mom, I think most of the time it is a virtue. My kids are my #1 priority and I will never put myself before them, but I learned a very important thing about self-care in the last year that made a lot of sense to me. Taking care of yourself isn’t saying me first, it’s also saying, “Hey! My health and my well-being matters as much as yours and being the best mom that I can be requires some breaks and resets sometimes.”
You can be an amazing mom, a great partner, a supportive sibling, a kind daughter, a competent coworker, a good friend and an amazing individual. You can give to others without it always being to your detriment. You can meet other’s needs without completing abandoning your own.
Taking care of yourself also means you want nothing more than to help your children chase their dreams, while running right alongside them, chasing yours as well.