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I Tried the Whole “Putting Myself First” Thing for 30 Days, But Turns Out It’s Not for Me

put myself first
Image Source: Heather Neal

Thirty days ago I decided to do something crazy. Maybe not crazy in the daredevil jumping off cliffs kind of way, but crazy for my everyday motherhood life.

I decided to put myself first.

You’ve heard the advice a thousand times as a mom: don’t forget to take care of yourself. But let’s be real: sometimes that seems impossible. Two kids and four-and-a-half years into this whole motherhood thing and I still haven’t figured out exactly how to do that.

So for 30 days — just one small month among the grand scheme of things — I put myself first.

And for me, that meant working out. I missed the endorphin rush I get with a truly hard sweat session. I missed the mental relief and the physical strength I had when I was working out regularly — something I was passionate about long before I became a mom.

In four-and-a-half years, I hadn’t figured out how to get that part of me back.

I knew all the reasons why I should and 100 percent believed that it was OK if I took that time for myself, but I never did anything to make it a reality. I knew in my head that all the things “they” say are true: if I took care of myself I could be a better mom, be more present for my kids, have more energy for them, and so on. But knowing and doing are two different things.

This month, I did the doing part.

I promised myself I would go all in: I wouldn’t let my normal reasons or excuses get in the way. I’d commit to it the way I commit myself to my kids; this time the focus would just be me. I told my husband, expecting a little backlash, but he merely said go for it. I truly had been the only one standing in my way.

So for one month, I put making it to the gym a priority over nap times and kid schedules.

Well I made the 30 days and I about cried when it was over. It was only a month, but I felt stronger. Better. More me. Imagine if it could always be like that.
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I scheduled trips to the science center and library around gym times instead of the other way around. There were a couple days I couldn’t make it because I couldn’t quite cross that line to wake a soundly sleeping baby (a rare thing around these parts), but for the most part, I stuck to it. If you have the kind of babies that are adaptable and go with the flow and sleep well, you may not understand what a hurdle I leapt over to sacrifice a nap at the precise minute it was needed, but how much could go wrong in one little month of not-so-perfect schedules? I told myself over and over, it’s only 30 days. If it makes things a disaster, it’ll be over soon.

Well I made the 30 days and I about cried when it was over. It was only a month, but I felt stronger. Better. More me. Imagine if it could always be like that. And it could always be like — I could decide to keep it up and always put this part of myself first.

But I’m not going to.

See, I learned all the things you would expect me to: I did have more energy for my kids. The world did not collapse if bedtime was 20 minutes too late or dinner wasn’t ready and on the table at exactly 6 PM. My older son got excited about working out and getting “big and strong.” He enthusiastically mimicked what he saw me doing — push-ups, sprints, downward dogs, and burpees.

They’re little and they have needs that are more important than my own — needs that can’t be met by anyone else but me. It’s truly the one thing that only I can do for them and it’s such a privilege.
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But what I really learned is that there’s a reason I put my kids first.

They’re little and they have needs that are more important than my own — needs that can’t be met by anyone else but me. It’s truly the one thing that only I can do for them and it’s such a privilege. They won’t be little for long and the day will come when they need me less and less and then not at all.

My oldest is already pushing me out of his bed at story time; I don’t need to rush it. The baby may be OK if his nap is pushed back because I was at the gym, but he does better if he can be in his crib at home when he needs to be. He does better when we don’t push bedtime back. And I like having dinner on the table at precisely 6 PM when we can all sit down as a family and keep a little bit of the evening chaos at bay.

Am I proud that I was able to make it all work? Yes. But for now, while my littles are truly little, I want to put them first.

And from here, while I will put their needs and routines first, I realized it doesn’t have to be such a big deal to still fit in a little time for me. Since my experimental month ended, I’ve been putting workouts a little higher on the priority list. They happen whenever they can — in the living room, on the playground, or with the baby in my arms. It may not be exactly the same, but it’s a step up from nothing.

I love being an example for my kids and I love finding that middle ground of motherhood, where you put yourself somewhere in between all the other millions of needs that surround you.

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