In sickness and in health: a little selfishness goes a long way

Those of us who have taken marriage vows are familiar with the promise that we’ll be there for our spouses no matter what–whether either one of us is sick or healthy.

Mothers usually don’t make such an explicit promise to our children when we become pregnant. If we did, it would be a one-way vow (at least until our kids are grown and we reach our dotage.) We are there for them 24x7x365 whether we’re sick or healthy.

This late-winter/early spring season when many parents and children are succumbing to some nasty viruses is a good time to remind ourselves– especially as mothers, on whom much of the caretaking task still rests–of the importance of an idea I try to communicate to all new parents but sometimes have trouble following myself:


I realized recently as I lay in bed, feverish and achey, that coming down with the flu dramatically illustrates the necessity of this approach. Until I recovered, I would be unable to care for anyone else.

It’s easy to see why you need to take care of yourself when you have the flu. But applying this credo to less dire situations often seems selfish. Going out with friends and leaving the kids with a sitter? Taking a half hour in the afternoon to have some tea and read a book while the kids (shudder!) watch a video? Not reading the 14th story before tucking them in to bed? These are all part of parents learning what they need to be successful parents and setting limits around their kids’ needs–not harshly, but in a loving way that serves the whole family better.

There are many parenting philosophies that help parents do this. Some approach it from an emotional perspective; some from a physical; some from both.

But it really doesn’t matter what philosophy you adopt or exactly how you go about it. The important thing is to realize that sometimes the most selfless thing you can do for your family is to be, well, a little selfish.



In the moment

Though it was not all that many years ago (in the grand scheme of things) that I was walking zombie-like through the haze of new motherhood, the challenges of those early months seem part of a far distant past. Still, I can easily conjure up how those days felt, dictated as they were by the seemingly ceaseless needs of a tiny child.

A colleague has said of babies: “It’s amazing that one little baby can so overwhelm two working professionals that they can’t even find time to take a shower.” And it’s true!

These days, I don’t have to wake several times in the night to feed my sons, or figure out how to ensure that they get at least one good nap during the day so they can sleep at night. My time is much more “my own.”

So what’s to miss about the days of being a new mom? Odd as it sounds, I miss the constant reminders that my time is not really my own.  I miss being forced to come back again and again to this moment.  The irony is that I couldn’t appreciate living in the moment when I was living in those moments. I only wanted to get more sleep and have more “control” over my life.

For all of you mothers and fathers now experiencing the intensity of the first year of your child’s life, I won’t say “enjoy it because it lasts such a short time” (though that’s true). Instead I’ll just hope that when you look back you can remember the joys and satisfactions that came wrapped up along with the sleep deprivation and worries.

And I hope you can take the advice of my grandmother, who knew nothing about Zen philosophy but was wise enough to say, “Don’t wish your life away.”

— Audrey