Community Magazine

I Do Not Put My Child First

By Amanda Bruce @RecoveryisCake

I saw this meme recently.

This one.


And something inside me recoiled, like the part of me that always recoils when someone posts something about how being a SAHM is a thankless job, or about how working moms are the ones who really have it bad.  It was a post meant to divide, not unite.   And what does a “real parent” mean anyway?  Who gets to qualify for that category?  How much do you need to sacrifice to fit into it?

But then, that insecure part of me sat there, questioning my own self-care routines like a critical, naggy aunt who thinks you really should be doing things differently.  Was I selfish?  Was there something inherently immature about me, something underdeveloped that required me to still chase my passions?  Was I missing out on important developmental time by going for a run instead of teaching Fiona life skills?  Was that something that was supposed to pushed aside to devote entirely to the most important job- motherhood?

Let me step back in time for a bit.

In 2006, I nannied for a wonderful, informed, progressive family in Cambridge.  At the time, I also still actively struggled with drinking, eating disorder behaviors, and depression.  Being the ace high-functioning grad student that I was, I was still able to show up to work and school.  And I watched the mother of this family go back to work.  And go for runs.  And sing in a choir.  All while breastfeeding and handling all the other things that go with motherhood.  It was the first time I really saw a mother with an identity outside of “Mom”.

She didn’t seem to neglect her kids – at all.  In fact, the two are star athletes today.  And she seemed to be a real parent.

I got sober in between then and now, and let me tell you: it was a precious, dear gift. Because I went into church basements that taught me that you have to put sobriety before anything else.  Even your kids.  I didn’t have kids at the time, so I made a hasty mental note of that piece of advice and shelved it.  It wasn’t until two years into sobriety, when I was standing in the kitchen at 3am with a newborn who was underweight and didn’t sleep, that I realized that putting sobriety first was a metaphor for the rest of my life.  I realized:

It is not just important, but VITAL that I put myself first.

When I didn’t sleep, I was a mess.  I would snap at John and had difficulty focusing at work.  And I was miserable.  I had this infant, this creature who wasn’t giving anything back to me, and days seemed to grow into a never-ending tunnel of Will-I-Ever-Get-A-Life-Back?  Not sleeping definitely didn’t up my Mom skills.

Thankfully, sleep increased, and I got things back, little by little.  And I started running again.  And writing.  And going to meetings when I needed.  Because if I was going to show up for my daughter on my days off, and be truly present in the way I desire to be, I needed to have time to myself once a week.

See, the thing about children is that they don’t do what we tell them to.   They do what we do.  Take a look at your own history.  Which of your parents are you similar to?  Did you marry a spouse that’s like one of your parents?  Did you adopt your mother’s caretaking tendencies?

My truth is this:  my daughter does not need a martyr for a mother.  I refuse to teach her that life is about sacrifice and that is it.  I also refuse to teach her that my needs are selfish.  My needs are IMPORTANT.  If I am going to be the leader of this household, my own ship needs to be upright.  I need to have a solid foundation so I can shoulder her strong emotions, maintain a career, a marriage and maneuver the complicated dynamics of living with my mother and brother.

Let me clarify something.  There is no wrong or right in parenthood.  You have to do what feels right for you.  But what is right for me is being opinionated and running when I need to and expressing myself so my little clone can learn that having strong emotions is not just OK, but that you can FLOURISH with them.  I want her to see me doing that so she knows it’s possible.

How do you approach parenthood?

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