Loving My Child Well Means Caring for Myself, Too

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This year’s Father’s Day will be my husband’s second (his third if you include his role as a “dog dad,” which, well, we do). We’ll be celebrating the holiday in a slightly unusual way for a family with both parents actively involved in their child’s life – we’ll be celebrating without him!

He will leave us for a full week, beginning on Father’s Day, to volunteer as a counselor at the annual Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) Summer Camp, a few hours’ drive away in Fredericktown, Missouri. He’s served as a camp counselor at MDA’s Summer Camp almost every year since he was 18, which was…a while ago.

While he won’t physically be with us, and that week will be a little more hectic on the home front for yours truly, I couldn’t be prouder of his decision to selflessly serve others, and I can’t imagine a better way for him to show our daughter what kind of man and father he is.

We are in the early days as parents, with only one child who has just turned one, and we are actively cultivating our parental roles. While our daughter’s care is our priority, we are also striving to maintain thequalities and interests that made us who we were as individuals before we became parents, that made us fall in love with each other, and that will – hopefully! – inspire our daughter to lead a meaningful life.

Given that goal, I have grudgingly begun to accept that in order to be the best mom I can be, I occasionally need to be away from my baby. It’s not easy, folks. I have missed bedtime to volunteer, to attend book club meetings with my aunt and grandma, to visit with friends, and to attend work events. I have come home from a long run carefully planned during her morning nap only to find my baby awake and mired in cranky tears. Moreover, of course, I have missed milestones and snuggles while at my full-time job. All of this missing out made me wonder…am I a bad mom if I am not devoting every waking moment exclusively to my child? Am I still allowed to have my own identity?

While the pain (and guilt) of missing my little girl is real, I remind myself of the wishes I have for her as she grows. I hope that she brazenly pursues a variety of interests, seeks opportunities to serve others, develops a lifelong love of learning, takes good care of herself and her body, and ultimately grows into a confident, self-sufficient woman. I want her to believe that both women and men can play many roles, both inside and outside the home. In order to encourage her, I need to be the kind of person I hope she becomes, and – greatest challenge of all! – do so joyfully and without the added weight of “mom guilt.”  

I’m still figuring it all out, but if I can share anything with you today, let me encourage you that in order to be the best mom you can be, it is imperative that you strive to be the best person you can be, including and outside of your role as a mother. Sometimes, that may mean taking time to exercise, decompress with a good book, date your spouse, reconnect with friends, rediscover an old hobby or discover a new hobby for the first time.

Not only will you return to the demands of parenthood refreshed, you will also demonstrate for your children how to be a healthy, well-rounded adult. It all starts with you. If you care for yourself, your children will learn by your example how to care for themselves. The bottom line is: you deserve as much love, support, and gentle kindness from yourself as you offer your children.