I like eating the end pieces of a loaf of bread – the heel, as we always called it in my family. And that is a lucky thing. Most people dislike and discard the heel of bread as the least desirable part, but mothers are often willing to settle for it, or the toughest piece of meat, or even the leftovers on their child’s plate.
When I became a mother, my baby became the center of my life. I spent every waking hour tending to her needs or fretting over her discontents. Things I had really cared about before – my appearance, my clothes, my exercise regimen – all went by the wayside once my daughter came into my life. The only self-care I paid attention to was the nutrition I needed to be able to nurse her.
Over time, I learned to let go a little. I managed to part with her for brief periods of time, leaving her with a babysitter and myself with a lingering sense of guilt. I resumed exercising, usually with her nearby, and I even managed to put on makeup and a nice outfit for an occasional “date night” with my husband.
But mothering has almost always superseded my own needs. As a mother, I work around my children’s schedules. Before I can relax, I first make sure they have what they need, whether it be a meal, an item for school, or a personal necessity. I drop everything to take them to the doctor, help with homework, chauffeur them to activities, or listen to a tale of woe. I have no complaints. That is simply what mothers do.
But sometimes it can feel overwhelming to spend days and nights obsessing over my children’s lives. At some point, it becomes unhealthy to neglect one’s own appearance and even physical well-being for the sake of the kids. So I try, I really do. I have coffee with a friend or get my nails done or go for a walk. I make plans that don’t involve my children. Still, I have a sense of disquiet whenever this “me time” seems to conflict with what my kids want or need.
This summer at sleep away camp, my daughter learned the virtues of “living third.” The motto at camp was, “God first. Others second. I’m third.” It is the essence of the Christian ideal to put others before ourselves. And I’m so glad my daughter is incorporating this ideal in her life. Still, I hope she learns – and I hope I can more effectively model for her – that sometimes it’s okay to say, “Me first.”