I used to think, like a lot of people, that having children meant I had to give up being ‘selfish’. As if life without children is all self serving, self involved, self obsessed. I prescribed to the same idea without ever giving it much thought or consideration. It was just simply the generally accepted idea. Parents had to be “selfless” and as soon as they brought a child into the world; at the snap of a finger their life now revolved around someone else’s. Like it was a badge of honour to be so altruistic.
What I’ve begun to surmise over the past couple of years is that becoming a parent isn't the end of your individuality. To call anyone child-free ‘selfish’ is just unfair and untrue. To an extent, we all need to be ‘selfish’. But what I’ve determined is that becoming a parent is not the end of one’s ability to be ‘selfish’, it is the end of one’s complete freedom. Yes, you need to put the needs of another above yours. But, you can still organize your time to make sure that you are still taking care of yourself.
It is not selfish to fit in your exercise, go for a haircut, have lunch alone, take a nap, plan a weekend away with your partner or friends. Having kids is in fact just the end of the freedom to do anything you want at your whim. It means planning in advance. It means prioritizing. It means you can’t satisfy every one of your impulses with frequency and ease. Life may be less spontaneous, but you still need to take time for yourself.
Once you have children, most of your day is dedicated to satisfying them. Making sure they’ve slept well, are clothed, have a balanced diet, are in a clean diaper, are playing, being entertained and engaged with, are learning and growing healthily and being loved on. Your home should be clean (ish), you’re making plans, you’re washing cloths and dishes constantly.
There is no freedom to sleep in after a late Saturday night out. Grab a last minute dinner reservation at your favourite restaurant.
Arranging suitable child care, packing diaper bags (don't run out of wipes!), loading kids in and out of carseats, choosing appropriate restaurants (& making sure they don't ruin every other patron’s experience!), lugging enough snacks around to feed a small army. These all put a cramp in most days.
I find routines help. Balance helps. I make sure to have one full home day alone with them weekly. Keeping them engaged, working on projects or crafts, lots of “mom” snuggles, attention and love. Then we make sure they have a few special “dad” outings a week. Walks through the woods, splashing at the beach or poking around in our garden. We plan 1 or 2 play dates with other toddlers a week (much more than that is too overwhelming). Quality time with extended family. Two mornings a week with a nanny so mom and dad can both work out of the house. Making sure we spend time as a couple. It becomes more of a juggling act so scheduling ahead of time helps.
Sticking to a sleep routine has helped us manage moods. Committing to this sleep schedule has been imperative to our household peace. Making sure that whatever putting we have planned, will not encroach too closely to nap time. It is my fault alone if I overstay my welcome at a store and my kids start to rub their eyes, fuss or have a fit.
Life certainly entails a lot more careful planning and consideration of more than just your own needs. But it is not the end of your “self”. At least, it doesn’t have to be.