The Sacrifice of Selfishness

I’m a working mother. And by that, I mean I work really hard at being a mom. I’ve never really considered myself as “maternalistic.” Though strangely, I often take on the role of “mama bear” with my peers ensuring everyone’s taken care of and shit is getting done. For some reason, that just doesn’t translate to the under 10 crowd.

I suppose I get some of it from my father—he always said he was useless with kids until they were old enough to have logical arguments, a mantra I’ve heard myself repeating on occasion.

And that’s not to say that I’m unfeeling or unloving toward my kids. My six-year-old daughter is obsessed with “mama snuggles” and even my 11-year-old son still asks me to tuck him in. But I’ve just never been one of those “I live for my children and sacrifice everything for them” kind of moms.

I guess you could say I’m selfish. And I’m OK with that word. Sometimes (many times?) I put myself first. I don’t drop everything to play yet another game of Monopoly or see what trouble Barbie’s getting into. Because after a grueling eight-hour workday, where I’m required to be “on” every minute, I need some downtime—it could be watching mindless TV or reading a book or scrolling through Facebook. That’s how I recharge and turn off my brain. And without that time, I’d be a nightmare for my family. Stressed, anxious, and snippy.

Now as they’ve gotten older, my kids sometimes join me in that downtime ritual (currently we’re watching “The Amazing Race” in descending season order and they’re hooked on “Smallville” and its Superman mythos). So that’s a way to get a bit of both worlds, though I’m sure many would argue that watching TV isn’t “quality time with your kids.” (I justify this to myself by remembering that we talk about the things we’re seeing, the places people are exploring, the plot twists and what they think is going to happen.)

I put me first in those moments, because if I don’t, I can’t really be there for my family at other times. Being a mom is emotionally demanding. Without that time to reset my brain, I function at a deficit. I can’t be the best version of me. And I try not to feel guilty about that (sometimes I even succeed at avoiding the guilt).

There’s also a downside to this selfishness as well, besides the guilt avoidance. If I’m not in a place to contribute to the fun, I bow out. My husband takes the kids to the park, and I stay home to work, or clean, or decompress. But that’s an experience I don’t get to have with my kids. It’s 100% my choice to decline those outings (this isn’t me whining), but that doesn’t mean it stings less when I see those pics afterward and know I missed out. There’s a tradeoff to this selfishness.

So what is this teaching my kids in the end? I think it’s showing them how to be independent. That parents don’t exist for their amusement or to keep them entertained. That self-sacrifice isn’t the keystone for being a mom. That quality time with your family isn’t something to take for granted. And that mommy’s a much happier person when she gets to watch “Game of Thrones” in peace.

Natalie Kurz

Natalie is a writer and editor who published her first piece in 10th grade (in a national literary magazine, but her mother says it still counts). In her spare time, she’s a parent to two kids (10 and 6) who provide her with daily fodder for her writing. And an added excuse to drink wine and eat chocolate.