Teaching My Kids that it’s Okay to be ‘Selfish’

I don’t like the world ‘selfish’. It’s confusing! Self, meaning a person’s individual being. The thing that separates them from others. -Ish, an adjective forming suffix that means ‘belonging to’ or ‘somewhat’. -Ish turns ‘Britain’ into ‘British’. It turns ‘blue’ into ‘blueish’. So, ‘Selfish’? It’s clearly an adjective, but if it followed these rules it would either mean ‘belonging to one’s self’ or ‘somewhat self’. Neither of these things is bad!

SELF IS GOOD- or at least it should be.

‘Selfish’ is a term used to describe actions that are done without the consideration of others. I get it. Sometimes we act selfishly, without caring how our negative actions are going to impact others, and that’s not a good thing. Sometimes, though, we act independently, free from ego or ill will toward anyone. Is that selfish? Is not considering others in my decision to pee without wearing my baby actually selfish, or is it self-sustaining?

I questioned myself and my intentions for far too long. I thought that my heart may have been out of alignment or something. I thought that everything that I did for myself inconvenienced others, and inconveniencing others is wrong. I expected the people around me to hold themselves to the same (high and mighty) selfless standards. I was disappointed and unsatisfied with life.

Now i see that self-sustaining behaviors are important! Self-care is NOT selfish. If anything, taking care of myself for MY benefit is a GREAT thing for my family and everyone i interact with.

When I participate in self-sustaining behaviors, I’m happier, more independent, more capable, less critical of myself and others, and more able to guide my kids through their relationships with others.

Today I’m going to outline some of the self-sustaining behaviors that I once thought were selfish. These are things that I do for myself. None of these things are done with ill will toward my family, but most of them are done without too much scrutiny on my part. All of them are fairly small behaviors, but the sum of them is huge!

  1. I set aside time to write blogs while they play- without me. Ok ok, so i’m in the same room as them, and I respond to crisis situations, but they’re ‘without me’ for the most part. They know that momma is ‘working’ and that this is my time too. The rest of the day is ours. I get on the floor and let them climb on me. I teach them “things about stuff” (this is my toddlers phrasing for when i tell them that I want to teach them something. lol.) I take them places to play and explore. I answer all two million of their questions. I give them lots of attention, but not during this time. (The part of me that still reverts to shame wants to tell you how good this has been for my boys. They’re learning to play nicer. They’re sharing more. They find creative ways to have fun without me. Their imaginations are running beautifully wild. I think all of this has to do with LESS attention from momma, believe it or not.)
  2. I limit the amount of sharing that I do. This sounds horrible, doesn’t it? I do share with my kids, I just set the perimeters. I know that they’re going to want some of everything that I have, so I mentally prepare. I give them some of whatever it is (food, drink, time doing the activity that I’m doing) and then tell them that the rest is momma’s. Sometimes I share more than one of whatever it is (because I’m momma and that’s what mommas do), but when I tell them “last bite” or “that’s all” or “mommas turn now” I don’t recoil. Occasionally they throw a fit, but I’m gotten to the point where I’m okay with that. I think this is teaching them just as much as it’s sustaining me. They know that momma loves them and that sharing is good, but they’re also learning that momma does things for herself.
  3. I exercise (and I no longer wake up at 4:30 am to do it.) Right now my exercise is limited. I’m insanely pregnant and I’m dealing with bilateral sciatica (it hurts!!). My exercise has taken the form of stretches assigned to me by my physical therapist, or biweekly visits to my physical therapist’s office. The boys try to do the stretches too! They get a huge kick out of “exercise time”, and it often evolves into “Walk a mile in your living room” youtube videos. I struggle with anxiety. For a while I was getting up at the bum crack of dawn to go to a bootcamp group fitness class. I felt so good, both physically and mentally, but the early morning time commitment became exhausting. I don’t think that you have to make gigantic time sacrifices to get the physical activity that you need (newborn situations are obviously different, but that phase is so short!). You can exercise around your kids, or include them in your exercise (If you’re a SAHM that is. If you’re a working parent you can take advantage of lunchtime and breaks at work. When I worked I’d go on long walks during lunch time. I’d pack portable lunches that were easy to eat while walking. It’s not ideal, but it worked!)
  4. I don’t stay up until 2 am just to get housework done! I have several friends who say that they only time that they have to actually get stuff done is after their kids have gone to bed. So they stay up as late as they have to to get everything done that ‘needs to be done’. These friends (who I genuinely love and respect) are not often invited into my home. We don’t live in filth, but I’m definitely not doing hours upon hours of housework everyday. Our home is very lived in, and it shows! My intention is not to shame those of you who are excellent at housework. That time after the kids go to be could be super valuable alone time! I think that if it’s good for you, you should do it! It’s just not good for me, and a somewhat messy house doesn’t hurt my family.
  5. I expect my kids to be as independent as they can be. This one has taken me a long long time to get to. I planned to be a mom who loves sacrificially all the time. I planned to respond to my kids’ every beck and call, but that’s just not realistic. One of our boys is very particular about how most things should be. He gets upset if something doesn’t live up to his expectations. He’s not super flexible. All of this resulted in me doing everything in my power to keep him comfortable. I had even begun to intervene before stuff happened. I was an anxious mess, and he was only learning that the world would bend to be what he wanted it to be. It wasn’t good for either of us. He has gotten older, and I have gotten wiser. Now I let stuff happen. I let him be somewhat uncomfortable sometimes. I often use phrases like “figure it out”, or “you’re such a good problem solver! Show momma how to solve this problem”. Instead of trying to fix all of his problems, I expect him to try to fix them himself. He’s only three right now, so his problems aren’t usually putting him in real harm. He knows that momma is always willing to help him if he NEEDS it, but he no longer expects me to fix EVERYTHING. My anxiety has reduced tremendously as a result of letting go of controlling his life. I’m less exhausted at the end of the day because all of my energy hasn’t gone to living for my three year old. And I’m teaching him that he is capable of most things that he sets his mind to (along with the fact that we are each responsible for ourselves.)
  6. I spend time away from my kids. Not much time, but some time…during their waking hours. I go to small group on Thursday nights. There I get to spend time with some dear friends, talking about what the Lord is teaching us, and praying together. My husband puts the boys in bed on these evenings, and I get to focus on MY heart. Occasionally I’ll do things like get a massage (very rarely, but it has happened), or get my haircut. It’s purely about me, and I’m the only one who directly benefits from it, and it’s’ good! It’s all about balance.

I am fortunate to have an excellent support when it comes to parenting and adulting. I know that not everyone is as fortunate. If you need time for yourself and you don’t have a live in coparent it’s probably much harder to focus on yourself, but it’s still important. Reach out to whoever you consider your support system. Take time to do things for yourself, and do it for YOU, not for your kids. If there’s literally no time, think about how you can modify your parenting style to make your job easier (while still caring for and teaching your kids). It is possible to think of yourself and still be an awesome momma!

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Pictured above: Super pregnant LJ wearing a “Boone NC” t-shirt that features both snot and dirt. Boys are gross…and fun!!


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