More and more these days, I’m finding that I’m constantly pushing myself to the back of the line. I’m giving up my spot in line, so that someone else can benefit for the umpteenth time. Maybe it’s because I’m such a generous person and love to see everyone else succeed while I flounder back and forth, just trying to catch my breath. <Insert HEAVY sarcasm!> But while I’m sure that statement sounds absurd to many people, it’s partially true.
I think this goes back a long way. I’m inching closer to 40, and I can look back to my elementary school days and see this pattern starting to take shape, so yes, it goes back a ways.
I always struggled to fit in. I was (and if I’m honest, still am) a little different than everyone around me it seemed. Part of this I blame on my mother. If you saw some of the things she dressed me in, you’d understand! Mismatched clothes, shoes that had different color laces, and the Dorothy Hamill bob haircut….I digress. I’m only partially kidding. My mother was also a single mother, and I know that she did the best that she could. In all honesty, I’m seeing myself mimick my mother in her selfless, giving of herself.
But honestly, as I look back at much of my childhood, I was always awkward, socially and otherwise. I was always the girl that was bigger than everyone else. I remember vividly looking at my 2nd grade glass picture and I remember that I was only a LITTLE bit bigger than the other kids in the class. These days, some would have considered me skinny back then. But, as we all know, kids are cruel, and they’ll hone in on your insecurities and capitalize on them. So starting in 2nd grade, that’s when I can see the demise of my innocence.
As I grew up, I struggled, almost on a daily basis. Struggled to see that I was a good person. Struggled to acknowledge that I am a great friend. Struggled to fathom that I could even potentially be somewhat attractive. To this day, these are still constant struggles. I always wanted people to like me…I thrived on the acceptance. So in that instance, I would do whatever it would take to be accepted. So began the cycle of putting myself last and elevating the needs of others on a continual basis.
Part of this stemmed from a very strict religious upbringing where it was frowned upon for women to put themselves ahead of others. Women were the “helpmeet” for others. They were to put everyone else first. We always talked about this acronym: JOY which meant, Jesus, Others, Yourself. That was ingrained in us from as far back as I can remember. Which, for the most part, is not a bad way to think about life. But if you are constantly putting yourself last, you run out of steam to pick yourself up and function at times.
Now, I’m not saying that putting others first is a bad thing. Not at all. In fact, I encourage that mindset with my children on several occasions. My boys are 8 (almost 9) and 6. They are selfish people. I’m not shy about saying that. I think that all kids this age are selfish to an extent. As a mom, I encourage them to think of others. I implore with them to not fight over who is first all the time. I try to teach them that you don’t always have to “win” and that there’s no shame in helping others. In fact, I’m starting to look at opportunities where we, as a family, can put that mindset into a tangible action, whether it’s volunteering at a soup kitchen, or participating in a toy drive, or giving out care packages to homeless people. I’m trying to teach them to look for the opportunities to help others and live a more selfless life.
BUT, in the same notion, I don’t want them to feel burnt out and constantly giving of themselves that they feel like they are suffering. That’s a very fine line to follow, especially when I feel like a hypocrite for doing just that myself! I honestly don’t remember the last time that I did something JUST for myself. I’m wracking my brain to think of a time where I wasn’t putting everyone else’s needs before my own. And that’s not a bad thing necessarily. It’s just draining and exhausting.
I’m sure you have ALL seen this meme, whether it’s floating around on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram (which I still have YET to sign up for!):
And yes, it’s quite kitschy, but it’s so true! I fail at this, often. And what I’ve figured out about this is devastating. There really was no “lightbulb moment” where I sat there and pondered this and said “Eureka”!! No, this is something I’ve known for a long time, but have failed to implement in my life on a consistent basis.
I feel like I’ve failed my children so often by not being able to do everything for them that I want to, or even that their father can give them. I know I shouldn’t compare, but it’s hard not to. I don’t make a lot of money, and as single mom, it’s a month to month struggle sometimes. I don’t want my children to struggle because of me, or despite me. I want to afford them all that life has to offer them, and in doing so, I’ve found that I’m in a sense, failing myself more.
For example, this past Christmas was difficult financially. I had surgery a month before Christmas and was out of work for 6 weeks with minimal disability pay. I don’t have a huge savings account, so that couldn’t offset it too much. I wanted to be able to give my boys a great Christmas, but just couldn’t afford it. So what does this mother do? I took the money I was given for Christmas and the gift cards that were given to me, and I in turn used them to buy my children gifts. I used the gift cards to buy groceries for my boys. I’ve had a spa gift card for almost 2 years now. I’ve yet to use it because I haven’t made the time for myself. I’ve often thought about gifting it to someone else. But again, that’s all on me.
Because of our crazy life schedules during the school year, family meals were a rarity. I’d get off work in time to pick up my boys from their dad, rush home, take the dog out, make food for my picky children (who tend to just want to eat grilled cheese and quesadillas), help with homework, get the boys showered and ready for bed, get clothes set for the next day, pack lunches, and get my boys to bed. Eventually, I would sit down to eat, but usually not until everyone else was taken care of. After my kids were asleep and taken care of, THEN I would eat or finally sit down for the first time in hours, usually to a cold meal or something just thrown together.
That’s not fair to me or my children. They need a mom who is refreshed, who is alert and enthusiastic. Not someone who is always run, run, run to get everything done. Not someone who is constantly feeling like a maid or butler or short order cook. They need a mom who is PRESENT. I’ve failed my children in this time and time again. If I can’t take care of myself, how in the world can I be expected to take care of others? There’s definitely a flaw in my reasoning that I’ve been holding on to!
It’s NOT selfish to take time for myself and get a pedicure (when I can afford it).
It’s NOT selfish to make sure my children learn to do things for themselves so I don’t have to do everything.
It’s NOT selfish to say “no” sometimes to all the requests that are hurled your direction from family, school, church, etc.
It’s NOT selfish to take a “day off” from household chores (THIS is my biggest struggle).
As a mom who co-parents, I have shared 50/50 custody with my boys’ father. This means that I have some weekends “off.” There are times when I won’t have my children for a few days while they are with their dad. But what does this mom do on those off days? Clean up toys that the boys didn’t clean up before they left. Clean the house, dust, mop, vacuum, do laundry, clean closets, cook, etc. I am in a constant power struggle with myself. I feel like I HAVE to be doing something at all times so that others aren’t disappointed in me. This all goes back to feeling like I don’t fit in and I need to do anything to be accepted. But in all reality, a Netflix and chill day is sometimes all that I need to be “refreshed” and ready to tackle the next day, whatever may come of it.
People aren’t going to reject me if my house is messy or dusty. People aren’t going to look down on me if I don’t put the laundry away for a day. People are not going to judge me if I have some wayward Super Hero Mashers in my living room. I have kids, young kids, and my house proves that. I don’t live in a museum, and honestly, never will. But I have to let myself relax and take some time off. The laundry will be there tomorrow. The dust isn’t going to get outrageously out of hand in one day. It’s ok if my kids have a pop tart for breakfast and not a gourmet pancake and bacon meal.
What it really boils down to is that I’m too hard on myself, and instead of letting myself relax and just “be”, I’m constantly on the go, giving all of myself to others so that I can feel validated. But in turn, when I do that, my children suffer. And that is SO counterproductive. I don’t want my boys to “follow my example” and feel like they always need to put themselves last just to fit in. I want them to know that their needs are important as well. I don’t want them to feel so downtrodden and their own feelings pushed aside. Yes, it’s a hard pill to swallow and sometimes comes with a side of guilt.
But more importantly, I want them to learn that they need to be their best selves in order to give their best selves to others. And this mommy needs to learn that it’s ok to take a break and take some much needed “me” time. The guilt associated with it can be harsh, and sometimes overwhelming, but there is going to be a learning curve to this new mindset. A mindset that has taken over 30 years to accomplish.