As a mother I have always put my children first. It is what I thought all mothers did, and in fact all parents did. I didn’t see it as a sacrifice, I simply saw it as the natural order. It wasn’t conscious, it was automatic. I heard the stories about burnt chop syndrome (a very Australian phrase that signifies mothers eating the food that isn’t perfect while serving up the good, perfectly cooked food to their children and partner – worth googling) and just chuckled knowingly, because of course I eat the burnt chop. That is what mothers do. Right?
Well, no more. I have become so good at putting my children first, at being a ‘good mother’, at making every decision in my life (career, marriage, finances, food, sleep, car, exercise, holidays….) based on what is best for my children, that along the way I seem to have lost the ability to look after what is best for me.
Well meaning friends and acquaintances have counselled me for years that I do too much, and that I need time for myself. For a while I had a taste of that time. After my husband left and when the children would go to his house for one or two nights a week I had what I felt was a huge luxury of time and space. I would read books, listen to music, arrange to catch up with friends in trendy bars and restaurants, where ‘mummies’ like us didn’t normally go.
But then he left the country and I had the children 24/7 for a few years. And I was working full time in a high pressured position. My son started school and started to exhibit all sorts of troubling behaviour like running away. Daily. My girls were missing their father and couldn’t understand why he had chosen to leave them. (Heartbreaking stuff.) And I was trying to keep the wheels on the wagon, to be the best mother they could have to make up for the father they didn’t have, to be really good at my job so that I could advance and earn more money to pay for the things that they would have had if they had two parents living together, to keep them feeling secure, loved, and yet let them be independent.
I stopped reading books. Didn’t listen to music at home. Didn’t go out. Anywhere.
I kept pedalling as hard as I could to hold down a job, to leave work to rush to the school to help locate or calm my son, then return to the meeting I had fled and assure everyone that everything was okay and continue on, being as professional as possible.
I can’t write more detail about just how hard it all got because it is too upsetting. I felt I had no choice (and I really didn’t have many choices) but to keep going and putting my children first.
Until there was almost nothing left of me. Luckily I have people who care about me who recognised what was happening and gave me the right support to see that if I didn’t make some changes there would be nothing left of me.
This year I am putting myself first and doing what I need, to look after myself. I deserve to be healthy, to be happy, and to be fulfilled. And my children deserve a mother who is more than just surviving. Today marks the day that I say no to the burnt chop. I am going to build a life that nourishes me, and fulfils me. I am going to stop being the selfless martyr. And after all these years of being told that I am a ‘good mother’ I am going to choose to be a more selfish mother, so that I can in fact start to be the great mother that my children deserve.
I am now stepping down from my soap box and heading to the kitchen to eat the single serve dessert that came with our takeaway pizza order tonight (our first in 5 years but the heat has driven me out of the kitchen!) that I am not sharing with my children.
Have a great weekend and remember that refusing to eat the burnt chop is not a bad thing!