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When did it become noble for women to sacrifice their own health and happiness once they have children?

A lovely woman I know mentioned during casual conversation that her husband gets bored a lot and is always looking for something to do that’s new and fun. It sounded like a good idea to me.  But she looked at me like he was off his rocker!

“Fun!” she cackled. “He just doesn’t get it,” she said leaning her body toward me and nodding with conviction encouraging me to nod in agreement.

“Us Moms get it,” she continued. “Being a mom changes everything. We don’t live for us anymore. We live for them. We don’t worry about fun anymore. Our fun is in watching them. Our lives don’t matter anymore. Our life becomes all about them.”

Be still my heart! Is that really the way the majority of “us Moms” think?

She’s still in her 30s and sounds like she’s ready to throw in the towel on her own life. She looked at me expecting me to reinforce her statements, but all I could give her was empathy.

Once she realized she I wasn’t jumping on the bandwagon with her, she backpedaled a bit. She softened her stance and demeanor. Then she said in an almost sad voice that was much more telling of some inner turmoil around this subject that she must have been grappling with in her heart, “At least that’s how it was in my house growing up.”

I had plenty of empathy to offer her because I once believed the same falsehood.

Whether we were conscious of it or not growing up, this is the message we heard. We learned it through the TV shows we watched, the books we read, and even more poignantly, we learned this by watching our mothers and grandmothers sacrifice their self-care for the needs of their family.

Our feminine qualities also wire us to be nurturing caretakers.

But can’t we still be loving, caring mothers while tending to the needs of our own health and happiness?

I had a little bit of a leg up on her. I was a health professional before I became a mom. So maintaining a healthy lifestyle post-babies wasn’t something I struggled with. I believed I’d be a better mom if I took care of myself. So I did … at least physically.

I went to the gym and exercised, but that was the extent of my “self-care”. I could do these things guilt-free because I wanted to be a good role model for my kids.

But my self-care practices pretty much stopped there. Why? Guilt. How often do you feel guilty when you prioritize YOU?

This is especially difficult during the baby and toddler years. I would waaaaaay over-analyzing the reasons why I should or shouldn’t do things for myself.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

“I long for some girl time. I need a good laugh. I’d love to actually blow dry my hair. Gosh, it would be nice to wear something other than workout clothes and running shoes.”

“But I might miss some monumental milestone. Or what if they cry uncontrollably? Oh, it’s so hard when they clutch at my clothes when I leave. I know they’ll be distraught the whole time I’m gone. And the house will be a disaster. The boys will be a disaster. My husband will be a disaster! Oh gosh, it’s not worth it!”

Every once in a while, my husband would shove me out the door. And guess what happened? We all survived! The boys got a little extra bonding time with Daddy. Daddy always seemed to appreciate Mommy just a little bit more (bonus). And my little window of self-care turned into a several day mood booster — which benefitted everyone!

As they say, a happy wife means a happy life!

Has a similar situation ever happened to you?

Now that my boys are a little older, I’ve learned that we truly are more able to show up more fully as the mom we want to be when we take care of our whole self — our physical, mental and emotional self-care needs. If I could go back in time, I would’ve said to myself (respectfully, of course), “Dear Lord, Sister. Get a grip!”

So I decided to strap on my big sis shoes and offered this woman these words:

Being a Mom doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve to experience our own happiness. Our greatest joys may come from raising our children, but we’re still entitled to tend to our needs so that we can maintain our connection to ourselves as a woman, not just the part of us that’s a Mom.

When I spoke these words, her eyes and mouth softened. She admitted that she did finally tell her husband that she needed a night off a few weeks ago to spend time with a girlfriend for the first time in 2 years. Then she whispered as though she was admitting to a naughty confession that she had an amazing evening.

When we have children, our priorities do take a monumental shift. Our motivations change. Our perspectives change. Our desires change. And our capacity for love grows!

“Us moms” know that just when we think we couldn’t love anymore, our child does something that we see as miraculous and we can literally feel our hearts expand. Or we wonder how we could ever love our second child as much as our first. Then, Bam! It happens. There’s room for US to be a recipient of this love, too!

There’s no shame, Mamas, in maintaining a strong sense of self post-babies. When we cut ourselves off, our hearts can begin to feel constricted. Consciously or unconsciously, resentment can set in. But when we include ourselves in the mix and take time to care for our own needs, our hearts remain expanded and our love can flow more freely to all the beautiful loves in our lives.

So my friend, and other Moms in the trenches, motherhood does not make you invisible. You’re a beautiful spirit whose life matters each and every day.

I saw a quote from a blog called, Dirt and Boogers that says it perfectly. “Taking Good Care of ME means the people in my life get the Best of Me rather than What’s Left of Me.”

Food for thought: As a child, would you choose a happy, connected parent who models self-love, self-respect, self-assuredness, and self-care? Or would you choose a parent who’s lost touch with their sense of self, demonstrates low self-confidence, doesn’t take care of themselves, and whose happiness is dependent upon you?

What is your biggest area of struggle when it comes to self-care? Please share below.