As a feminist parent, I really resent my kids always being put first. It’s not healthy for me, and do you know what? That means it’s also not healthy for them.
In order to be the best parent I can be, I need to meet my own needs first, before I can meet theirs. And this often means pretending they don’t exist. Don’t get me wrong; I absolutely adore my children. But they’re also not my only interest. In fact, a lot of the time, I don’t want to talk about them, I don’t want to think about them, and I definitely don’t want to look at pictures of them. This rule also applies to other people’s kids.
I die inside a little every time I’m out socializing with a friend and they try to tell me a cute story about their child, or worse, whip out the phone so we can look at a few photos — or even (shudder!) a video. I just don’t care. I really really don’t. I’ve become good at feigning interest though, because I’ve realized that being honest is a quick way to lose friends.
The thing is, kids just aren’t that interesting. They’re all fairly predictable with their funny/cute/gross behavior, they all look sweet covered in mud, and they all get their words mixed up in endearing ways. Yes, my kids are the most important thing in my life, but most importantly, I’m important too. And so are my parent friends, and I want my adult conversations to reflect this.
I want to talk about books, or politics, or sex, or even stupid memes. I want to talk about anything other than our kids, because when I’m away from my kids, I need a proper break from them — physically as well as mentally. Why? For me, of course. But also so that I can recharge and be a better mom. Honestly, though, I also want to talk about other things because I am a well-rounded individual with my own interests and opinions, and I need to nurture these interests and opinions to make sure they don’t disperse along with my breasts.
Women fall into a trap where they’re led to believe that self-sacrifice and doing “everything” for their kids is the mark of a truly devoted parent.
When I had my first child, it took me a while to realize that I, myself, was disappearing. As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I became lost in the “all that matters is a healthy baby” rhetoric, which pervades most pregnancies and births and which overshadows any emotional complexities or health risks the birthing parent might be experiencing. Then, once the baby was born, my sense of self was further eroded in the face of an onslaught of diapers, sleep cycles, feeding, and playgroups. I had to work hard to bring myself back.
There’s a reason why second-wave feminists railed so strongly against motherhood. It’s a thankless task at times, and it sucks you dry. Parents, particularly women, fall into a trap where they’re led to believe that self-sacrifice and doing “everything” for their kids is the mark of a truly devoted parent. But in reality, the example this sets for both my male and female-sexed children is not one that I support. For me, putting myself first is all a part of being a feminist parent, and it’s a great way to teach my kids about respect and self-worth so that they can see me as my own person with my own needs — not as someone who merely exists to meet theirs. In other words, I want them to expect more of me by sometimes expecting less.
In practical terms, this might look like dragging my kid to the track so I can do my morning run, because my mental health needs me to move. It might look like me occasionally canceling their weekend volleyball practice so that I can sleep in instead. Or it might even look like buying the chili-chocolate biscuits every other shop, knowing full well that the kids find them way too spicy.
I don’t want my life to revolve around my children, and once said children hit puberty, they won’t want it to either. So it’s my hope that by putting myself first I am teaching my children the value of independence, and that in the long run I’m making them more resilient. But most importantly, I believe that it is absolutely vital that I model a strong sense of self-worth — so that I can raise children who have a strong sense of self-worth, too.
I’ll always be there for my kids, but I am more than just their parent. I am my own person, with my own interests — and sometimes, my kids’ needs will lose out to mine. And while they might cry and rage at the unjustness, I try and remind myself that in those moments, I am being the best parent I can possibly be.