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Moms Talk: Mommy Martyrdom

How much sacrificing for your kids is the right amount?

My daughter’s elementary school does a three-day sleepover camp at the beginning of the year, so that the families and kids can get to know each other. It is one of my girl's very favorite things in the world.

Not so much for me.

This was my second year going, and as a hardcore introvert, those three days of constant people interaction are a real challenge for me. By the end of day two, I pretty much want to roll into a ball and never see another human again.

I still get up and do day three. For my daughter's sake.

Modern parents are frequently told to take care of themselves first. Not to put our kid’s needs ahead of our own. To always make sure that we put on our own oxygen masks before assisting our child.

I call bull.

If I always did what I wanted without thinking of my child first, I would never have left the hospital with her. I was panicked, exhausted, and already rolling in the post partum depression that would become the hallmark of that first year. Picking her up in her carrier and strapping her in the car to come home was the first truly selfless thing I think I’d ever done. I had to push past every selfish instinct and do what I had to do.

And I do it every day.

If you think I want to get up at the crack of dawn on weekday mornings to make breakfast, pack a lunch, and drive to Kirkland, you are incorrect. I’d prefer to sleep in until 10 a.m. and have my daughter bring me tea before hopping in bed for cuddles and video games.

But you do what you have to do, and I feel in my bones that I have to get my girl to school on time, well fed, and with lunch.

Parenting is the job of filling all of a child’s needs in the beginning. From changing diapers to cooking for your hungry toddler to buying clothes and school supplies for your teen, parents do the things that kids can’t yet do for themselves. We are the source of what they need, from food to affection. And putting those needs before our own is natural.

I think we parents do get in trouble when we put our kids’ wants ahead of our own needs. When I don’t make myself breakfast because I’m busy making her a third yolk-free fried egg, I get resentful, hungry, and am no use to anyone, including her. When I make myself something after her first round, then I can go back to short order cooking with even blood sugar and a smile.

I think for me, the priority order that works best is:

  1. Her needs
  2. My needs
  3. Her wants
  4. My wants

And I’m definitely open to discussion about the order of the last two. It seems to be changing as she gets older, so we’ll see where her wants fall on my priority list 10 years from now.

Children are a pile of needs. They need everything from us the day they are born, and then they need less from us every day after. For the few years left that she is reliant on me, my daughter and her needs will always come first for me. 

Except for that oxygen mask thing. I think they’re really right about the order on that one.

How do you balance your children's needs with your own? Tell us in the comments.

Torrey September 24, 2012 at 04:03 AM
In the first year of my first daughter's life my husband and I would sort of get into these tiffs about who needed what between us (our daughter, as you mentioned, always getting what she needed no question). Finally one day we had the epiphany that with a baby involved, the two of us simply could NOT fulfill everyone's needs. So we tapped into outside resources (we were blessed to have friends without kids of their own, and a MIL nearby). Before she was even born we bought a subscription to 5th Ave so that we'd have built-in date nights so we KNEW we'd get out of the house together about once a month. Also, I got to go out the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays to meet with a bunch of other Moms over hot chocolate and cookies or a beer and just be adults together. Now, with my second daughter born this year, I'm back to not getting my needs met, but I'm way more able to deal with it, and I already know that I can't expect/ask my husband to give me what I need (though we also realized that didn't mean he couldn't help me resolve the issues even if he couldn't fix them himself). I've just gotten to a point where I only do the bare minimum around the house and such - just enough where we don't live in chaos and squalor, but just little enough that I can find little slivers of time to... well, do things like this! It keeps me just this side of sane.
Malia Kawaguchi September 24, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Ann - I'm sure that Patch would love a "Local Parenting Offerings" blog! We're always searching for new voices. Thanks for reading!
Malia Kawaguchi September 24, 2012 at 03:11 PM
Torrey - Wow, I love the built in date nights! And a community of friends going through the same issues can help so much. I'm sorry to hear that you're back in the "put your head down and push through until it's over" place, but you really sound like you have a great attitude and the resources (and communication skills!) to get back to what you need when there is the time, space, and breathing room in your second daughter's schedule. Until then, keep remembering how much less the squalor matters than the joy of the family inside the squalor. :)
Torrey September 24, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Hi Ann, I'm new here so I'm not sure which other posts you mean, but I just wanted to chime in that I didn't seem to read this the same way you did. I think it's entirely possible to struggle with parenting and find it hard at times but still have it be a positive experience. That's where I'm at - I love my daughters SO much, but that doesn't mean it's always easy. I had never changed a diaper before my first daughter was born, or interacted with a baby younger than 6 months, or spent more than 2 hours in their presence. I had NO IDEA what I was dealing with and it was hard, hard, hard and overwhelming. But I still cried tears of joy the first time she smiled at me, and it was such a blessing to get to watch this amazing person grow. Maybe you've always had an easy time with it, which is great for you and I could see how this might seem unhelpful and not like your life, but I think you'd be in the minority, so I'm glad for the chance to have this dialogue even if you skip it. Also, as far as this being appropriate or not for the community, I think a place to discuss the hardships of parenting is one of the best things my community can offer me. Especially as parents of young children who can't always take ourselves out to the community easily, it's great to have a forum such as this where we can connect virtually. Support is so essential (at least for me), and being new to the neighborhood I don't necessarily have a group of local moms that I can turn to. Thanks, Malia!
Ann September 24, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Hi Torrey. There used to be other parenting things on this site that were more inclusive of the entire community including a dad blogger, a mom with special needs children, The Tot's Spot owner and the safety expert. It seems now that Patch is just reposting one city's writer to a bunch of sites. It used to be about Woodinville and what's going on here. Maybe because Annie is gone? I do look to the mom bloggers for support or a laugh, Lord knows I need it as a working mother with a husband with medical issues, but this particular column just doesn't do it for me.

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