The 6 words my daughter said that proved my self-care wasn’t selfish

Photo above by Bruno Nascimento used by permission via Unsplash.

Right before you can hear it coming, you can see its bright-yellow reflection on the windows of the house just down the street. That glimpse of the school-bus yellow is the cue for me to shut down talks about heavy world topics or that one thing that happened at work — and flip into parent mode.

As the driver activates the brakes in front of us, I have a moment of holding my breath wondering what’s about to come down those steps.

Did they have a good day, or is someone going to release the tears they’ve been holding in since a tough moment at recess? Will they be excited about going to practice, or start complaining about it before we can even say hello?

I just. never. know. what I’m going to get.
But I know I have to be ready for whatever it is.

On one of those days, the minute my daughter leaned into my hug on the sidewalk, I could see on her face the visions she had of plopping down on the couch with a snack to just “be” after a long day.

But her friends? They had other plans.

“Do you want to come to my house?
“Who wants to play wiffle ball?”
“Let’s do driveway chalk!”

My daughter looked at me with “the eyes” — the ones she hopes will send her thoughts through her stare, so I can help her navigate the moment.

I know her well enough to know she didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings by not accepting the invitation — but she really just wanted some space to decompress after a long day.

“It’s ok to say it,” I whispered.

She nodded, turned to them and said, “Thanks for inviting me, but right now, I just need some ‘me’ time.”

The second her words hit the air, my heart exploded in happiness. Then, almost immediately, my own visions of the YEARS of time wasted took over my mind.

YEARS where I said no to girls’ nights, skipped yoga classes, cut an at-home workout short, felt weird about getting a mid-day babysitter to go take a solo hike or put off going to a yearly appointment … all because I thought it would be taking away from my kids.

YEARS I told myself:

“I’m going to look like a bad mom if I make self-care a priority.”
“A good mom puts her own needs aside for her family.”
“I don’t want my kids to think anything is more important than them.”

YEARS I bought into this narrative that a good mom sacrifices all sides of herself for her kids.

And yet right in front of me at the bus stop, my daughter proved those thoughts all wrong.

Just six years prior, I’d had a tearful moment on my kitchen floor among my two toddlers and newborn.

I had hit a breaking point. Putting myself last wasn’t making me a good mom. It was making me one who was a shadow of myself. I was a mom who felt resentful and unhappy way more than I didn’t.

I was coming to my role as half of a human being … all because the world told me to leave part of myself behind if I wanted to ace the job I’d landed when those two lines showed up on a stick.

Photo courtesy of Brea Schmidt.

Back then, I knew something had to change or nothing would change. So I stopped buying the “Self-Care Makes a Mom Selfish” headlines, and instead started writing my own story — one that believed self-care didn’t take away from my role as mom, but instead was a critical part of coming to motherhood FULLY. It was a lesson I wanted to pass on to my kids.

So when I heard my daughter choose self-care over what her friends wanted to do? It was an exclamation point on the years spent working to honor that belief.

Modeling the behavior wasn’t always easy, but I tried to find ways to show it to my kids where I could.

For instance, when I left for a run, I would say “Mommy is feeling a little stressed, so I’m going to go practice some self-care and move my body because that usually makes me feel better.”

Or, when they cried as I left for dinner with a friend, I would say “I will miss you, too. Just like it brings you joy to be with your friends, it brings mommy joy to be with hers, too. And when I come home, I’ll bring back some of that joy and share it with you.”

Other times, when I went out on my back deck to enjoy some nature, I would say “Hey everyone, Mommy is going to go enjoy some sunshine. If anyone else wants to come hang, you can bring some art or one of your books to read. But it’s quiet time for our minds.”

And listen… these moments didn’t always go perfectly. Those back-deck moments weren’t always quiet and the kids didn’t always “accept” mom taking time for herself. Heck, even today as I try to keep self-care at the forefront, I still have weeks and months where I struggle with it.

But just like that reflection of the bus in the window cues me to flip my switch into mom mode and get ready for whatever my kids have for me, I also have cues in my life that remind me I need to get back to self-care.

When stress keeps inviting me over to its house.

When impatience seems to always be at bat.

When overwhelm is written in chalk all over my life.

That’s when I know it’s time to flip the switch and be bold enough to say, “I need some ‘me’ time.” Because when I do that? It…

  • Allows me to come not just to parenthood — but to LIFE — feeling more centered, patient and present.
  • Sets a positive example for my kids about the importance of having an outlet to release stress from school, sports, friendship (or life) …and honor their physical and mental health.
  • Shows them that when they become parents or athletes or artists or career individuals or ANYTHING they choose to be — they know they can still make the people they love a priority and find success in life without completely abandoning themselves along the way.

So, no … self-care doesn’t make us bad parents. It makes us parents who aim to value our entire selves. And it makes us parents who hope to show our kids how to do that, too.