Why I'm My Number One Priority
It happens a lot. A woman has a child and the child becomes everything that matters. Every single thought is consumed by keeping this tiny creature alive. Really... as it should. Because those first few months are terrifying. Walking down the steep stairs in our South Side house was completely transformed by a newborn. I couldn't wear socks when I was holding her and walking down the stairs. The thought of slipping when it's just me is slightly scary if I actually take a nanosecond to consider it. But add a newborn and suddenly every decision is made around whether or not I need to carry the baby up or down the stairs. Which meant everything I needed was consolidated in the padded room where we spent our days.
It's therefore natural, as time goes on, to continue that level of prioritization for our children. They need us and they cannot do many of the things they want to do without our guidance or help. So we focus on them because their needs are more urgent or tangible or audible than our own. As women and as moms we're perhaps even biologically driven by something we cannot describe to put our kids first. I still feel it deep inside my core when I hear Stella cry. It's in our DNA to make sure our kids are okay. And many of us believe that by putting them at the top of our priorities, we're doing just that.
Let's roll back a few years. It's 2014. Stella is two, going on three. Things are good, I believe. I seem to have the mom thing under control-ish. I'm back at work and getting by. CJ and I periodically go on dates. I go out with my girlfriends on occasion. I'm working out three or four days a week. All of the boxes indicating balance and happiness are being checked regularly. But something jagged and dark was stuck inside of me. I couldn't see it so I convinced myself it wasn't there. I convinced myself that balance looked like my life. You can't be happy all the time, right? And I felt happy enough.
CJ would ask me every now and then how I was doing. I'd look at him incredulously and say, "Everything is fine. How are you?" I didn't think I gave him any indication that anything was amiss, so how could he imply that I wasn't being like my old self? Besides, I was now a mom and shit changes. That's what everyone told me. So there we were. Talking and not saying a thing.
Until Thanksgiving. CJ and I were in Meadville for the festivities and this particular year, we decided to get a hotel room so we could have some quiet time away from family (and Stella). After a long day with my kin, CJ and I were back at the hotel room alone, drinking some completely unnecessary wine. And he just came out with it.
"You're different. Ever since you had Stella, you've been different."
When I say this conversation changed EVERYTHING, I mean it changed every. single. thing. While I did not agree with CJ's statement at first, I realized after much debate he was right. We both got real honest about how we had been feeling for a while. I got to tell him how hurt I was when he shut down on me during conversations about my challenges at work. He told me he felt disconnected from me. It was everything I had no idea I needed right at that moment. Thank god I have a partner like CJ who read the signs and did something about it. We would be a very different couple today if not for him.
I share this story because I don't want anyone to feel like I had it all figured out from day one. And frankly, I still have no clue whether or not I'm doing things right. But what I do know is I'm happier than I have ever been in my life. My relationship with my husband is better than it's ever been. And I'm a pretty kick-ass mom to an incredible kid.
So here's how I believe this works to the benefit of everyone.
I am my number one priority.
That does not mean I put my wants and needs before everyone else's. It means I include my wants and needs in the consideration set with those of the rest of my family. I have a partner who supports me in my goals. He takes care of Stella every two-hour stretch when I go to the yoga studio most days of the week. He gives her baths on the nights I get home late. He shares the load with dishes and groceries and cooking and laundry. Most importantly, we communicate with each other so we each know what the other wants and when there's a conflict, we can work together to find a mutually beneficial solution. I believe when we as individuals are happy and settling into ourselves, we are able to be a better partner and a better parent. Not to mention, I don't want my daughter to think by devaluing herself, she shows people her love. It's my responsibility to lead by example.
My husband is my number two priority.
You read that right. Stella isn't even priority number two. My relationship with my husband is the lifeblood of our home. If that is not well, our home is not well. How can a child thrive in a home that is unsettled? If Thanksgiving 2014 taught me anything, it's that CJ and I cannot ever have secrets from each other. Even the secrets we don't know we're carrying. That means we check in with each other. We get away, just the two of us. We remind each other as often as possible why there's nobody better in this world for either of us. He makes me a better woman and it's my duty to help him be a better man. We're like Voltron. When we come together, our little robot lions become a bigger even more powerful robot lion.
You get it.
My daughter is my number two.a priority.
Let's not get things confused. She's at the center of most household decisions. I've simply found that if I follow the above-established formula, she's a calm, happy kid because we're ALL cared for and happy. She wants for nothing. She's involved in a myriad of activities. So it's not as though putting myself and my marriage first and second have any real impact on her day-to-day, and certainly not to her detriment. She has come to accept my workout routine, which takes me out of the house a lot. And when I do yoga at home, she asks to participate. She wants to be part of the things I want to do and that means everything to me. Occasionally she will say she doesn't want me to go. And while I believe her, I know she's often just saying it to get a hug or a bit of extra attention. So I give her a big squeeze and promise her I'll give her a hug and kiss good night even if she's not awake. She's comforted and content. And she respects that Mom's obligations (even the ones she chooses) are important.
Of course I will offer the disclosure that everyone must choose a home life that works for them. Following the old formula of putting my daughter above all else was simply not working for me and was not going to be sustainable for me or my marriage. It feels good to know I'm doing my very best to be an awesome mom without collapsing on the alter of self-sacrifice. You CAN have it all. You just can't have it all at once. Look for what balance means in your life... but remember you have to be on the scale just as much as everyone else.
YOUR HOPES, GOALS AND DESIRES ARE IMPORTANT.
Don't ever forget that.