When my first child was born, I felt the responsibility to tend to her every need, be her best friend and playmate, jump at her every request, take her to weekly story time at the library, join playgroups so she could have friends. I decided that, come hell or high water, I was going to be the best mom this little girl could ever have.
I limited movies to one per day and made sure those she did watch were educational. I vowed to never let the TV babysit my child. Meal times would be exploratory sessions where she could expand her palate, trying new foods and getting used to fresh vegetables. Ramen noodles? Never. Mac & Cheese? Rarely. Baby food? All homemade.
I busted my butt and worked myself into the ground. Three years and one more pregnancy later there was absolutely nothing left of me. My energy was gone entirely. My zeal and enthusiasm for life were drained. My palms were worn and weak.
I had been so concerned with teaching and exposing her to the wonders of the world that I lost sight of the real lesson she was being taught.
That lesson? She was the most important person in the world.
It's a nice thought at first glance. But, there's a major difference between teaching my daughter that she's loved and teaching her that she's more important than everyone and everything else.
I believe I was doing both of us a disservice—her because I had been unknowingly limiting her perspective and compassion for others and me because I had completely given myself up for her.
There have been so many times when I have wanted to do something or go somewhere but not wanted to drag my kids along. I felt bad for them having to be there and bad for me doing something for myself. It seemed selfish to me. But, the irony is that by not doing "selfish" things, I was promoting selfishness in my daughter.
I'm learning that it's good for my daughter to playing quietly by herself while I write or play piano. She's seeing me nurture myself. Hopefully, she'll remember to do the same when she's a mom. It's good for her to tag along when I go visit a friend. She's learning the importance of friendship. It's good for her to run errands with me. She's learning life isn't all play. It's good for her to come with me to set up for a church activity. She's learning responsibility. It's good for her to stay home with dad while I go to dance class. She's learning that moms have lives, too. It's good for her to wait for lunch while I change the baby's diaper and lay him down for a nap. She's learning patience and that another can have more pressing needs.
In all of these activities, she is not the focus. As my step-dad would say, "it builds character." That's what I actually want for my children. I want them to care for themselves and others. I want them to be thankful for everything they have. I want them to see the impact their choices have on others. What better way to teach this to my children than by living it?
Things are changing around this house. You mark my words. I'm nurturing my children by tending to myself and others. After all, when I am happy, they will be happy.