Why I Never Want My Children To Call Me "Selfless..."
Sounds odd coming from a mom, but I never hope to hear my kids refer to me as "selfless." I see selfless as someone who puts the needs of others before their own on a fairly consistent basis. To be clear: doing a selfless act here or there is not the same (in my opinion) as being a truly selfless person. To me, a selfless person is someone who places themselves on the back burner regularly and I honestly believe it leads to people pleasing and built up bitterness over time. Personally, I would much rather my children see me someone who loves them deeply, but who also sets boundaries and takes care of her own wants/needs. There is a reason that flight attendants urge parents to put on their own oxygen masks first, BEFORE their children. Not because kids are less important, but because we cannot care for them, if we have not taken care of ourselves first. It is simply a matter of common sense and survival. Mommy has to be okay for the babies to be okay.
I have three children...two girls, ages 9 and 7 and one boy, age 5. I am a wife and I run a busy and successful physical therapy practice. I am an author, speaker, physical therapist and life coach and in addition to all of my responsibilities, I have friends, close family, sorority sisters and a social life that are all very important to me. I like to read and watch mysteries, create exercise routines, meditate, care for my plants, drink tea and wine and relax on my deck. I am a WHOLE, FULL, person...not just a mother.
I want...actually I NEED my kids to understand that. Why? Because one day my girls might be mothers...and my son may have a wife who is a mother, and I desperately want them to understand the challenges that come with maintaining your own purpose, direction and calling in life, while simultaneously mothering children (and being a wife...but that's another blog). Being "selfless," though it is a highly praised attribute, is not a goal of mine. The spirit behind it is kind, sweet and loving, but I view it as an invitation for self-neglect and I have no interest in that. In a world where women already do so much, but are paid less, treated worse and viewed as disposable, I refuse to play into the false narrative that what I want and need is somehow less important than anyone else.
If this doesn't resonate with you, that's fine. I realize that not everyone shares my sentiments on radical self-care. Perhaps, though, an example might drive my point home. The other day, my seven-year old was in quite a mood. She was stomping around the house, screaming and yelling at anyone in her path and being quite testy with me. In the middle of her cascade of mini-tantrums, she grabs MY ipad to play on (without even bothering to ask). I stop her in her tracks and explain to her that I need to use my ipad and that I did not recall her asking me. Full disclosure: I could have very easily used my phone for what I was planning to use my ipad for. But...honestly, I did not appreciate her attitude.
Her behavior continued and she ended up spending an extended period of time in her room without entertainment. Fast forward an hour or so and she comes to me to apologize, hug me and let me know what was actually bothering her in the first place. We talked it out and hugged it out and when I finished what I was doing, I handed her my ipad.
Now, one might suggest that had I let her take the ipad in the beginning, she may not have had this lengthy tantrum. And that could be correct...but in that moment, I did not care. I guess you could say, I had time. Time to teach her a valuable lesson about how you should treat people (in general), but especially when you need something from them. During our talk, I had to explain to her that I am a person...and just because I am her mother does not mean that she can disregard my feelings or take me for granted. It is absolutely not okay to be rude to me and then expect that she can use something of mine. I also encouraged her to carry this practice into her own life. When someone mistreats you, you do not have to continue to give them space in your day (or life sometimes).
Now clearly, this is my child...so I will always hold space for her in my life. But the point is, even as a mother, I do not believe that I have to accept abuse or disrespect. I can acknowledge it and utilize it as a learning tool for my child (or anyone else for that matter). Give firm consequences for this behavior and talk it out when everyone is more calm to ensure that the lesson is learned. I am a firm believer in the ideology that you have to TEACH people how to treat you...and that includes your babies.
So, while I strive to be a really loving, kind, helpful, supportive, fun, open-minded, encouraging and excellent mother...I am not hoping to add "selfless" to my character list. Instead, I want my kids to see me as a woman who values and loves herself in a way that inspires them to do the same. I hope they always work toward treating themselves well and that they always love and care for others, but never frequently at their own expense.