‘Put Yourself First’: One Mommy Mantra Goes Too Far

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I love a good Mommy Mantra.  

She won’t be in this phase forever. It must be her teeth. Tomorrow is a new day.

They’re all sweet and comforting and normally help to calm me down after a rough day. Lately though, I think one mantra has been taken too far. I’m sure it began with good intentions. I know Oprah and Oz and Phil all meant well. But those helpy-lovey gurus have created some monsters. I am officially striking down one of their favorite pieces of advice.

If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else.

Now listen, this started out as a good self-help standard. It was a reminder for mothers to take a shower and get a little alone time. Lots of mothers have been told this, thought this and applied it to their lives with no ill effects. It’s what we tell ourselves when we go to bed early and make our husbands handle bedtime by themselves. It’s what my mother tells me when I haven’t had my hair cut in eight months. These little instances are not why I want to trash, “if Momma’s not happy, no one’s happy”.

Lately, “taking care of myself” has begun to mean more than a quick shower or trip to the doctor’s office. On a recent Teen Mom, Butch tells his son that he can’t get clean for his children, he has to do it for himself. I think that’s bullshit. Of course you can get clean for your children. They need you and you’re in jail. Your peace of mind is not the top priority.

A friend of our’s recently walked out on his pregnant wife and three young children to move in with 20-year-old intern. Instead of being ashamed of this decision, he told me, “I couldn’t be a good father if I wasn’t happy with myself.” Apparently, to be happy, he needed to hurt everyone around him. If you’re unhappy in your marriage, there are other ways to deal with it. Ways that don’t hurt your family and endanger your unborn child by causing untold amounts of stress to your wife. I’m sorry, but whether he’s happy now or not, he’s still not being a good father. 

When you choose to have a child, you’re choosing to put someone else’s needs and happiness above your own. I’m not arguing that people need to be miserable simply because they’re a parent. However, some parents might be over-estimating the worth of their own happiness. Sometimes, we need to suck it up and deal with things, whether they make us happy or not. Sometimes, we need to make the hard decision, instead of ten easy ones. More than anything, we need to remember that making ourselves happy shouldn’t come at the expense of everyone else’s happiness.

I really believe that most parents work themselves silly to take care of their families. When a working mother gets sick and refuses to take a day off or a father of five has a stress-induced stroke at the age of 31, these people really need to hear that mantra. These types of parents deserve the opportunity to take a little time for themselves, so that they can better take care of their family.

But if you’re using, “If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of anyone else” to excuse irresponsible and selfish behavior, you’re perverting it for everyone else. You’re ruining a thoughtful expression and turning it into a whiny excuse. Everyone’s health and happiness is important, but it’s not worth causing harm to those you’re supposed to love most.

(Photo: Posters)