If you’ve got kids, you know they de facto became your number one job from the moment you welcomed them into your world.
And, that’s okay. It’s better than okay, actually, as these studies confirm that child-centric parents who put their children’s needs before their own are happier and have a better sense of life fulfillment.
But, here’s the rub: When it comes to your own self care and wellbeing, it’s time to prioritize your needs ahead of your kids’ needs, because their wellbeing and happiness depends on you.
Think of it in terms of the well-worn adage: “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”
Most agree that the pressures of being a mom today are greater than they were a generation or two ago. A glut of mommy blogger advice and a stream of happy-family social-feed snapshots pile on top of the blurred lines between work and family time. The result: Moms end up incrementally short-changing their own needs, and rarely end up first on their own to-do lists.
Genevieve Shaw Brown, ABC news anchor and mom to three young children, realized she’d fallen into that pattern when she looked at the carefully prepared, home-cooked, organic meals she packed for her kids’ lunches while she often scarfed down a lunch of fast-food in her car. She decided to systematically tweak her parenting to prioritize herself, and wrote about her experiences in: “The Happiest Mommy You Know: Why Putting Your Kids First Is the Last Thing You Should Do.”
“You can’t just think, ’Someday soon I’m going to take a day for myself,’ ” she says. “We have to prioritize the same as we would prioritize things for our kids. We’d never miss an appointment for our kids, because they are important. Equally important is prioritizing yourself and your own needs.”
Although it may seem counter to being a self-sacrificing, child-centered mom, it turns out that taking care of your needs first is the best gift you can give your kids. Here are some of the ways Brown and a mix of parenting experts suggest you practice putting on your own oxygen mask before helping your child put on his or hers:
Wanted: Energy-depleted, stressed-out, functional-but-not-a-lot-of-fun babysitter
Would you hire that sort of sitter for your kids? Of course not! So why do you think it’s okay for you to be that sort of mom, even if it’s only on occasion, because you aren’t getting what you need to be your best self? Research confirms that your stress is as bad for you as it is for your kids. Putting your self-care needs first — however you define those — enables you to become the less-stressed mom your child needs.
Make alone time a must
Regularly scheduling time alone to relax, reflect and revive — either in your own home with no family obligations or chores allowed, or outside your home — is a proven way to help know yourself better and plan your life goals, build physical and psychological wellbeing, and re-ignite creativity and productivity. Take time to enjoy the things you used to do solo, and explore new things to enhance the present and future you.
Plan play dates for yourself
Old friends, new friends. Schedule time to cultivate both, strengthening social bonds that will be there for you now and after your kids have grown and flown. Aside from the joys of sharing life’s ups and down with friends, you’ll model what a healthy in-person social network looks like to your digitally wired wunderkinds.
If date night is DOA, resurrect it
Therapists agree that scheduling time away from your kids with your spouse or partner will make you and your kids happier. Brown takes week-long couple vacations with her husband. Your comfort-zone might start with a regularly scheduled date night or a weekend away. Just don’t only talk about your kids!
How you decide to parent is an extremely personal path. And, however you choose to prioritize yourself — perhaps simply saying no to work or volunteer asks so you can say yes to other things you want to do, like taking a trip or pursuing some new interest — it’s bound to make you and your kids happier.