Let’s face it – when mothers, in particular new mothers, first hear the advice: “Put yourself first;” their reactions are often of confusion and disbelief.
“Put myself first? Why, that would be irresponsible!”
“Guilt” kicks in all too quickly, even within the first minutes of motherhood. This guilt is closely associated with the constant perpetuation of the motherhood myths; these myths help to create the gargantuan and unrealistic expectations that mothers consciously or unconsciously feel they must live up to, in pursuit of being a perfect mother. While putting our baby first before ourselves can feel as natural as breathing, we may be grieving the old opportunities life before baby afforded in nurturing ourselves whenever we darn well pleased. When mothers dare to utter these thoughts, some feel they should be struck dumb in retribution for daring to speak about that part of motherhood, something that is actually a part of the natural process of adjusting to having a baby.
I can relate to the thousands of mothers who call us at PPPSS. My struggle to put myself first is ongoing. I have taken a multitude of steps forward over the years towards embracing the deep place of self-acknowledgement and self-love that felt out of my grasp when I first became a mother. This, for me, is the essence of putting myself first. I am a slow learner and luckily have had some amazing support along my mothering path to help remind me about “the unknown possibilities of goodness.”
Many of the calls we have with moms are conversations that bring me back to my early days of motherhood – when I was raw, vulnerable and emotional. I would hear the advice to put myself first by ”sleeping when the baby sleeps.” I remember being told, “Don’t hold her so much it tires you out,” or “ You need to have a break.” This only made me feel inadequate, as I thought I should be able to do it all.
My babies were not good sleepers; I was an anxious mom and carried my babies all the time. Taking the time to arrange a break seemed impossible to comprehend in my foggy-brained state. I had not yet learned that what I needed was to put myself first in a KIND and GENTLE way. I did start to learn this somewhere in those baby days, but it was a slow climb to this place of lowering my expectations, taking only what I wanted from well-intentioned others, and leaving the rest without feeling I was “less than” or did not measure up. A big part of putting myself first was stepping away from the “shoulds” I created for myself and instead focusing on what would be helpful. One of those steps forward was to ask for help clearly and directly from my husband and my family and friends. I had to take gentle baby steps in acknowledging I deserved support.
PPPSS is an exceptional place where I am constantly reminded that “putting yourself first” is a different process and discovery for every person. The discovery and re-discovery of those basic elements of self love, gentleness and kindness help to light the way to experimenting with the possibilities of modelling a deep place of acceptance so that our children will have a foundation with which to navigate the world from a kinder place.
We will take steps forward in our experiment with “putting yourself first” and then we will forget – I take great comfort in the words of Rumi, the Sufi poet,
“Come, whoever you are, wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving. This is not a caravan of despair. It doesn’t matter if you’ve broken your vows a thousand times, Still and yet again come!”
In other words—Begin and begin again!