My Kids Can’t Always Come First

It doesn’t matter if I haven’t had any caffeine yet, or if my eyes are still half-closed, my daughter starts making demands the very moment I wake up. In fact, it is not unusual for one of my kids to sneak into my bedroom, waking me with a request of some sort in the wee, dark hours of the morning. They need to go to the bathroom. They want someone to put on Netflix for them. They can’t figure out how to get these two lego pieces apart. They would like oatmeal, no, waffles, and they would like them ready five minutes ago despite the fact that it is 6:30 in the freaking morning.

Sometimes it feels like I can barely keep my head above water with all their constant needs and requests. I do not have enough fingers and toes to count the amount of times I am asked for snacks throughout the day. Hell, I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the amount of times I’m asked for snacks before 10:00 a.m. And it’s not just that I’m asked for snacks, but that I’m asked to list off every snack we have in the house every single time. There have been desperate times when I’ve considered taping all the snacks in the house onto the walls so they are readily available and visible. Then maybe I could go five minutes without someone needing food from me. But probably not, they’d simply find something else to ask for.

No matter how much I give, there never seems to be enough of me to go around.

I realized one morning, as I got up for a third glass of juice for someone else, that I hadn’t eaten a single bite of my cold breakfast, even though everyone else had been sitting with their meals for nearly twenty minutes. I realized that most days that week, I hadn’t even gotten to the point of making myself breakfast. I simply waited for lunch, when I’d eat their leftovers or ate a string cheese mid-morning before fainting. I constantly put my kids above my own needs, and it’s killing me.

I’ve learned time and again how easy it is to fall into a pattern of martyrdom when it comes to motherhood. Putting your kids first, above all else including your basic needs, is idolized in our society. Being at their beck and call makes you a good mom, even when it makes you feel like less of a person. I have always wanted so badly to be a good mom that I often forget that in reality, that needs to include taking care of myself so I don’t crash and burn.

The truth is, my kids can’t always come first. When they need to find a particular toy right this second, and I need to sit down and eat my first meal all day, my needs should trump theirs. When I am writing an urgent email and they want the computer to watch cat videos, my task has to take priority. When I need to shower for the first time in days and they need yet another snack, I ought to take the damn shower. I need to come first sometimes.

Being prone to martyrdom is not setting a good example for my kids. I don’t want them to think of me as a doormat that they can thoughtlessly use to fulfill their requests. Nor do I want them to someday look back at their childhood and think that constantly putting yourself last is the only way to be a good parent. I want to model a life that balances their needs and my needs in a thoughtful way. I want them to recognize me as a person, with needs and feelings that matter just as much as theirs. I want them to be able to recognize that humanity in everyone.

And if that means eating a hot meal, and telling them to wait until I’m finished to ask for anything else, I think that’s a deal I ought to take.