Putting Mom Last: The Worst Lie We Tell Ourselves
Six years ago, on the cusp of new motherhood, I was eager to learn anything and everything I could about what I should expect out of this whole parenting gig. I turned to blogs, articles, and the occasional book—though I tried to avoid most of those because they overwhelmed me with things like, “what to do if your child is born with a tail” and “here is a list of 2,000 diseases, complications, and night-terror-worthy things your baby may or may not end up possessing.”
I, like most new mothers, was desperate to uncover the secret formula. Surely after 200,000 years of existence on this planet, a human being somewhere had cracked the puzzle, right? In all of my researching, I only seemed to find more questions because every piece of “must-do” parenting advice was followed by another that contradicted it. Inundated with information, I started to do what we all do—picked the things that seemed the most popular and hoped for the best. For lack of a better option, it felt, I treated my approach to becoming a new mom like a series of Amazon purchases. I answered each method, task, and obstacle with whatever seemed to have the highest reviews.
This served me well enough, at first. Listening to the advice of seasoned moms brought me comfort when our child refused to sleep in a crib and instead, preferred the warmth and comfort of his mother’s chest. It counseled me through questionable poop textures and led me to a life-saving baby carrier for me and my stage-five clinger. I found gas remedies, tummy time activities, and the best relief for swollen, cracked nipples.
As my baby grew, I became more confident in my ability to pick and choose less based on the reviews of others, and more on what I felt would work best for us personally. I even started to (gasp!) come up with answers on my own—trusting my ability to mother more and more with each snap of the onesie. But there seemed to be one underlying theme that I couldn’t shake. One rule that seemed universal if you wanted to be a “great mom” and it seemed simple enough to follow: Mom comes last, always.
It was clear from the various articles, memes, quotes, and fellow moms of the world that if I were to be indeed all that I could be as a mother, I would need to adhere to this creed. Real moms, as it seemed, didn’t have time to apply makeup, wear pants with buttons on them, or even shower.
You’re telling me you take showers and shave BOTH OF YOUR LEGS SUSAN?! You must have an in-house nanny who takes care of your kids while you do whatever the hell you want. Or your children are neglected and probably walk around with ninja stars and explosives while you leisurely apply shaving cream to your legs. Oh, me? I’m on day 18 of sponge bathing with my kid’s baby wipes. Yeah, I do it while I’m changing diapers because, you know, babe comes first always and forever, and THIS IS MOTHERHOOD. #motherhood #momlifeisthebestlife #fuckyoususan
It sounds ludicrous, but I honestly believed this was a pillar I could not walk around or break. So even when my babies grew into tiny humans that didn’t need to be glued to my hip every second of every day, I felt guilty over the idea of prioritizing myself first, or even, at all. Weren’t messy buns and yoga pants my uniform now? Would I betray other mothers if I stepped outside of that? Would CPS come knocking at my door if I curled up with a book I’ve been dying to read or tried a new makeup tutorial I saw on Instagram? Would my children become serial killers if I drank my coffee in the morning while it was still hot or wore a sundress on a random Tuesday, just because it made me feel beautiful?
Putting mom last is the worst lie we tell ourselves. The truth is that if you’re not careful, motherhood can steal your identity. I know, because I lost mine for a long time, convinced that it was my only option if I was ever going to crush this whole parenting thing. But in truth, who you are—who we are outside of our children, matters. I had a come to Jesus moment one day when I was talking with my five-year-old about hobbies. He said, “daddy likes to work in his garage on wood and play video games! And Bennett and I like to play superheroes and color.” I then prompted, “What does mommy like to do?” and his response was, “Uhhh…I don’t know…buy groceries?” Which for one, was rude. (Gee, thanks, kid!) But two, made me realize that by always putting my family at the front of the line, I had been unknowingly teaching my son that there was nothing else to me. That realization bothered me.
I started to consider how my lack of self-care, hobbies, and general life outside of my kids might affect their view of women in general as they grow. Would my quest for selflessness and the desire to be a “good mom” cause my two boys to grow up believing that women are grocery buying, boo-boo kissing, earwax clearing, meal making, homework enforcing, laundry cleaning robots that only need Starbucks drive-thrus, Target, and comfy clothes to survive and thrive? Had I been causing both myself, and my children, more harm than good sitting at the bottom of the totem pole? And how would I ever teach these two boys the right way to treat women if I couldn’t even handle myself with the same kind of love and respect I would hope to instill in them?
There is darkness looming over mommy culture, idolizing self-deprivation and praising fellow moms for their lack of care for themselves. My friends at The Top Knot Squad shared a photo on their page the other day that drives the point home.
The original message reads, “Pay attention to the Mothers who don’t always have their nails done, hair done and have the latest phone. Those are the real women. They’re the ones actually putting their kids and households first.”
Naya and Alexis (the brilliant women behind the podcast “The Top Knot Squad”) discussed their frustrations with this message and how we need to stop shaming mothers for actually taking care of themselves, and I could not agree more. To insist that you’re only a “real woman” or “good mom” when you neglect yourself entirely is reckless. Praising woman for not loving themselves sends the message that we are not worthy of love, which is why in turn, many of us go on to over-insert ourselves into our children’s lives long after their adulthood—in a constant search for that love and appreciation we refuse to give ourselves. It then becomes our children’s responsibility, rather than our own, to fulfill our need for love, connection, and joy. We rely so heavily on them to fill the void we’ve created, which is a heavy burden for a child to carry and can have lifelong effects. Start a therapy fund for them now, ya’ll.
On the contrary, allowing our children to see us as whole people outside of them creates an environment of confidence and independence for everyone involved. When you don’t place your happiness and worth on the shoulders of your children, they are free to live their lives and make their choices, with you as their guidance and biggest cheerleader, standing by their side rather than riding on their back.
I’ve found that taking care of your body, passions, mind, and soul is not selfish—it is the greatest gift you can give your children.
Of course, there are periods where putting yourself on hold is inevitable. Messy buns, no sleep, yoga pants, microwaves for cold coffee, and half-open eyelids are part of the gig sometimes. Newborns are demanding, babies can be extra needy, little ones come down with colds that seem to last for months, and school activities can suck up every moment of free time you thought you had. But I hope you remember that those phases don’t have to be your reality forever. You can, right now in the exact phase of motherhood you are in, find at least one way to put yourself first everyday—even if it is something small like reading an article from someone you love or trying a new, fancier bun or braid in your hair that takes 3 minutes to put together.
Susan is not a selfish bitch because she takes hot showers and shaves both legs and you are not a failure of a mother if you do things for yourself. Self-deprivation is not a badge of honor; it is a swan song for the woman inside of you. Do not let her die as your baby grows. Your child needs you whole just as much as you need yourself whole. Let’s stop idolizing a life of self-suppression and instead, start applauding one another for putting the damn oxygen mask on ourselves first like we are supposed to. I don’t know about you, but I hope to help the next generation of moms step into their new roles with lots of grace and love for themselves. So I’m going to light a fat dumpster fire and throw all of those awful lies, and articles, and quotes, and memes into it and declare, NO MORE. We moms are worthy of all the things we hope for our children, and it is our job to show them through our actions toward ourselves, that they are worthy of those things too.