Episode #114 – I’m always last on my list
Question of the Day:
There are things I want to do that are important to me, but I can’t seem to follow through on them. For example, I want to exercise more regularly. I know that it makes me a better mom. When I’ve been exercising my mind is clearer, I’m in a better mood, and I make better choices.
I will bend over backwards to make sure my daughter never misses a gymnastics practice but when it comes to my exercise class, it takes very little for me to flake. “I don’t have time.” “My daughter needs me.” “I’m tired” “They raised their prices” “It’s cold outside”. The excuses sound really legit in the moment, but after I can see they were just excuses.
I’ve got the opportunity to go on a weekend getaway with some girlfriends and I REALLY want to go but it’s near my son’s birthday. My husband and kids are totally fine with me going but I feel funny about it. I can tell I’m looking for reasons WHY I shouldn’t go even though I know they are excuses!
I want to put myself first on my list and prioritize what I want (my kids are 9 and 11 so it’s not like they are still young and needy) but I can’t seem to follow through on this goal. How do I learn to put myself first on my list when it feels so awkward.
Parent Educator Answer: Developmental Milestones.
Let’s imagine there are developmental milestones for moms just like there are for kids. We want to see nine to eleven year olds forming more complex friendships, becoming more independent from family, being physically active and learning to put themselves into other people’s shoes.
Moms of nine to eleven-year-olds have spent their last decade fully immersed in the raising of kids. You have embraced your mom identity, your friendships and social life may revolve around kid activities, and you spend a lot of time managing household logistics. You are busy, but your kids are not as dependent on you as when they were little. You can leave them at home while you exercise. They are happy to stay home while you go grocery shopping. They don’t need constant attention and supervision, so now is the perfect time to start putting yourself higher on your priority list.
The problem is that your brain hasn’t gotten the update. It’s still set on the “If I leave them at home they could die” setting. When they were three and five, you leaving them at home could have resulted in child endangerment, neglect, or at least some social shaming. We learn to suppress our urges and desires to take care of our kids. But the brain doesn’t automatically get the update that leaving them isn’t selfish or dangerous, we have to convince the brain.
How to change the habit of self-sacrificing for your kids when it’s no longer necessary:
- Don’t beat yourself up for it. So you aren’t good at prioritizing yourself, so what? The last thing you need is extra pressure from thoughts like, “I should be better at this” or “I suck at self care.” It’s been a habit for 11 years! Cut yourself some slack and set an intention to slowly and gradually bring your attention back onto you.
- Become aware of the lies and excuses you are telling yourself. Sandra did a great job of doing this in her question. She’s totally onto herself, but many moms aren’t. Whenever you hear yourself say, “I don’t have time or money,” don’t believe it. If your child needed a $5,000 surgery, you would come up with the time and money. A truer statement is, “I don’t see the VALUE in me exercising, having fun, or relaxing” or “I don’t think I’m worthy of my own time and attention.” “I think my kids’ exercise and social life is more important than mine.” These statements create a cognitive dissonance that motivates productive action.
- Ask for permission. If we think our families will suffer while we go have fun, we aren’t going to do it. Ask your kids, “Will you be sad if I go to Bunco on Thursday night?” Ask your partner, “Would you be bummed if I took Saturday off and went to the movies by myself?” Think about things that sound delicious to you (weekends away, girl trips, yoga retreats, etc.) and ask your family how they would feel about you going. If they say they wouldn’t mind, and they want you to be happy, believe them.
- Create some structured time in your day for reflection and intention. My clients who make the most dramatic changes are those who establish a daily journal writing practice or regular time to check in and make sure they are focused on their goals. It’s too easy to let the chaos of the day take you for a ride on the “gotta get it done” train. Having a set time everyday to refocus on what you want is a powerful practice to re-learn how to prioritize yourself.
Life Coaching Answer: Social Programming
We are policed by invisible social programming and we don’t even realize it. Whether it comes from our families, TV, books, friends, pediatricians, commercials, social media, these messages are out there and we soak them up like a sponge.
“A good mom should want to be with her kids as much as possible.”
“I’m away from my kids at work so I can’t be away from them on weekends.”
“It’s selfish to put your needs before your children’s needs.”
“Must be nice to just do whatever you want.”
“I could NEVER send my kid to sleep away camp just so I could have a break.”
“I wish I could work out everyday but my kid (or partner) needs me at home.”
Our culture allows working, and occasional exercise, as noble pursuits and justifiable reasons to be away from your children, so it’s a little easier for us to value these things. But if you just want a day away from your kids to rest, play and indulge in a little luxury, prepare yourself for internal or external social backlash.
This is why I’m so excited to announce my in person, mini-retreat for Moms who struggle to prioritize themselves. I’m calling it More YOU in 2022.
Since it’s social programming that keeps us stuck in self-sacrificing, why not use peer pressure to encourage self-prioritizing? Instead of obeying these unwritten, invisible social rules that keep us stuck, why not bring together a group of real moms, with real voices, encouraging each other to prioritize themselves. This is the fastest way to rewire the brain and start believing that taking care of yourself is a beautiful thing.
It’s easier to see in others than in ourselves. I was talking with a Supermom this morning and I asked her how her life would be different if every morning she woke up and believed that taking care of herself was the most important thing. It was hard for her, but slowly a picture started to form of a happier, more relaxed mom. She imagined putting her needs first would help her be more patient, more easy going. She could finally drop the resentment she’d been carrying around about how hard she was working and relax. Once she rested, it would be easier to let go of the mental clutter. She saw herself being more organized and productive. Right now, she wakes up in the morning thinking, “What needs to get done?” She puts herself on the bottom of the list, trying to get all her chores done first before making time for fun. She thinks this is going to make her be more organized and productive but it actually drains her energy, making her feel resentful and exhausted. Just that simple switch of putting herself first, gave her the result she wanted: a productive, organized, joyful and fulfilling life.
Another mom was pretty good at making time for exercise, but when I asked her what her life would look like if she put herself first, she didn’t know. She was very aware of what her kids wanted, her husband, even the dog, but her brain wasn’t used to thinking about what SHE wanted. After some encouragement, she was able to dream about home remodeling projects she’d like to take on, parties she’d like to host, and some exciting career shifts she’d like to pursue. Not knowing the exact next step to take was keeping her stuck in uncertainty, but the more we talked, the more clarity she gained around what a future of putting herself first would look like.
Supermom Kryptonite: The Narcissist in the closet
It is not uncommon for Supermoms to suppress their own desires out of fear. Fear that if they indulge their selfish desires, they will unleash a self absorbed narcissist that has been lurking in their closet. They have an idea that without constant policing and self pressure, their true selfish nature will emerge and they will abandon their children for a life of jet-setting and indulgence.
I have never seen this happen.
The reality is, when Supermoms start prioritizing themselves, they soften. They become relaxed, more easy going, and happier. Before they hung out with their kids out of obligation, now they hang out with them by choice.
Children and adolescents who have parents that aren’t available to them 24/7, learn to be more independent and self reliant. This builds their competence, which builds their confidence, something moms can’t give kids when they are always there to help.
Instead of suppressing your desires for fear you will become overly selfish and self-indulgent, try doing fun things and see what happens.
How do you feel when you’ve ditched the guilt and had some fun? Fill up your tank first, and see which version of mom comes back home after. Don’t take my word for it, try it and see if you enjoy being a mom more, once you’ve reconnected with the other parts of you.
Supermom Power Boost: Be a Role Model
Sometimes we can get so caught up being there for our kids as a helper, taskmaster, and advisor, we forget that the number one way kids learn is by imitation.
Instead of telling your kids to “Do work you love” and “Follow your dreams because anything is possible,” why not show them?
Your children (especially your daughters) are much more likely to follow in your footsteps than do what you tell them. Do you want your daughter to put herself last and sacrifice herself for her kids? If not, then you’ve got a powerful opportunity to model and show her how to live a fulfilling life.
Putting yourself first on your to-do list might sound selfish, but it is truly one of the most generous gifts you can give your family. No one else is going to take care of you. You are the only one who can decide what you want, what brings you joy and fulfillment. You are the only one who can take action steps towards living aligned with your highest self. When we do this, we give our families the best version of us. We give our kids an example of how to live a life aligned with your highest values. We role model for our kids how to opt out of social and cultural peer pressure to live a life we love.
Quote of the Day:
“The tendency to self sacrifice is just a form of wasting life.” Henry de Montherlant