Hey Mama, You Need to be a Little More Selfish

I had the most awkward conversation with a mom-friend the other day. Mentioning off-hand that I couldn’t wait to get in for my biweekly manicure. My nails were shot, and so was my emotional resolve.

“Wait, you get your nails done every other weekend?” she asked, mouth agape. “With the kids, or…?”

I explained that sometimes my three-year-old comes along to get hers done with me and then I’ll do something later that day just for me, but usually it’s just me. My time. My thing. I go all-out, too — pedicure, gel manicure, brow wax, and whatever else I need.

“Isn’t that…expensive?”

Well, sure. We do okay, but $100+ every couple weeks isn’t an amount we don’t bat an eyelash over, for sure. As essentially a one-income family (I work a little from home, but my income is unpredictable and usually negligible), there are other things that money could be spent on:

Higher quality water shoes for the whole family, an extra day of summer camp for the toddler each week, a drop in the bucket of the college funds. But. I need it. It’s my thing. Handling my nails and brows makes me feel pretty, happy, and a little more like the woman I once was before kids. How is that not a worthy expenditure? Her logic confused me.

She also couldn’t believe that in addition to that biweekly break from the fam bam, I also take about an hour off most nights from Mommying. That’s right: my full-time working husband and breadwinner comes home, packs the kids up in scooters and baby carriers, and heads TF out of my hair for a while.

“Don’t you feel guilty taking all that time to yourself? Are you doing stuff around the house then?”

Nope. And usually, nope.

Here’s the thing: I get that most stay-at-home moms don’t get a ton of free time. Hell, I don’t get a ton myself. But my husband has a commute each morning during which he has a chance to listen to podcasts, read a book, write in a journal, or catch up with friends by phone. He goes out when he wants to because he isn’t breastfeeding an infant and it thusly it doesn’t matter if he has a few too many because no one will go hungry if there’s alcohol in his bloodstream and no frozen milk in the house.

My husband also goes to the gym every morning because he wasn’t up half the night laundering, nursing, shushing, and comforting. His to-do lists in this house aren’t nonexistent, but they’re exceedingly shorter than mine. And that’s all fine! I don’t begrudge my husband the chance to rock out to his favorite music, work up a sweat, or throw a few back with a friend. But I’m a person, too. Don’t I deserve a break?

Most of the SAHM’s I know are stressed out to the max. They feel like no matter what, there’s always more to do. They don’t like asking for “extras” even if the family budget could allow some. They’re rundown, they don’t get out much to see other adults and they let their style run into the ground. Their nails too. I hate to generalize, and I’m sure there are heaps of you out there who don’t do this — but heaps more who do.

And I get it. If your partner is providing the income to sustain your lifestyle, you feel compelled to push your own needs and wants to the side to do for your family. You want to demonstrate gratitude by being selfless. It’s not just stay-at-home mothers, either.

My working-mom friends feel guilty leaving their kids at night or on weekends — ever — because they are gone much of the day and have limited quality time at home. You place work and family at the top of your Importance List, day after day, and your own needs go down.

But, Mama, you are important. And maybe you should think about being a little more selfish. (Can you believe I just said that? That is the opposite of what mothers are supposed to be!) Hear me out…

As a mother, it’s assumed that our dispensable income will be spent on our kids, our nonexistent free time should be spent organizing their rooms, filing their paperwork, and furnishing their scrapbooks. We’re all just sort of sloughing along waiting until they’re bigger when we can get time to ourselves. But after losing myself completely in the wake of my first daughter’s babyhood, I learned that (cliché as it may sound) I have to take care of myself, or I’m useless to the family.

I realized when my first daughter was just about a year old that I hadn’t had a facial, a girls’ night, or even a damn bubble bath since I’d been pregnant with her. I was so tired all the time, stressed out, and feeling worthless. A former fashion and beauty journalist, I was using drugstore shampoo and rarely leaving my house in anything but faded leggings and a message tee. I didn’t give a crap about myself, basically. And it was turning me into a moody, anxious, downright bitchy mother and wife.

I hated being touched. I stopped loving to shop for and prepare elegant organic toddler meals. I resented my husband every time he did anything even remotely un-family related. It was time for a change. So we sat down and made two budgets. One was a financial budget detailing how we could move things around to have a little extra cash for my self-care. The other, even more difficult one, was a timing budget. How we could carve out an hour or two throughout each week for ME. Just me.

Three years later, things have improved exponentially. Around five PM when most of my mom friends are reaching the point of pull-your-hair-out, scream-at-everyone desperation after a day spent cleaning, laundering, wiping noses and butts, cooking, reheating, scrubbing, homework-helping, fight-referring, begging them to get down for naps…etc.; I am jauntily straightening up my living room and getting my laptop and planner arranged for my hour of alone time. Or better yet, cueing up my Netflix obsession du jour.

I don’t get touched-out as easily. I know that I can go have drinks with a girlfriend any time I want. My nails are cute and my skin gets the care it needs. My yoga practice is back on the schedule. Life feels fulfilling and good. Not just because I have and do these things for myself, but because doing so eases the emotional strain of mothering and relieves the stress.

Having time and things to myself makes me cherish them more. I miss them when we’re apart and come back ready to focus 100% on them. See where I’m going? It’s time to start being a little more selfish… it turns out, it’s about the most selfless thing you can do.