5 Ways That ‘Selfish Parenting’ Can Benefit Your Family

The new Mighty Mommy has expert tips on how to adjust your “kid first” mentality so that you can focus on your needs—and become a better parent in the process.

Cheryl Butler
6-minute read
Episode #181

5 Ways That ‘Selfish Parenting’ Can Benefit Your Family

Whether you’re already a parent or excitedly expecting your first baby, one of the most common themes that tie us Western parents together is the belief that we have to put our kid’s needs ahead of our own..

An example that always comes to mind is the oxygen mask. For anyone who has flown, you are familiar with the oxygen mask instructions that flight attendants review before the aircraft takes off. They are adamant in reminding parents that in case of an emergency, they must put on the mask on themselves first and then place it on their children.

The year before I became a mom my husband and I were traveling on vacation and our plane hit some rough turbulence. It was so intense that we lost cabin pressure and those plastic masks plummeted from the ceiling. 

We were sitting amongst several families with young children and when the flight attendants made the announcement that passengers needed to begin using the oxygen, not one mom put her mask on first. Instead, they made sure that their children received the air and only then took some for themselves. Once we landed safe and sound, I wondered how I would’ve handled that situation.

Somehow, today’s parents (moms in particular) are wracked with guilt and determined to make all things relating to the child, regardless of the toll it takes on them personally, as the top priority. We have a fear that doing anything else might be considered a failure in this role.

Mighty Mommy, Cheryl Butler, and 4 of her 8 kids.

Jump forward 20 years and 8 kids later, and I have learned that the oxygen mask example is symbolic for a myriad of parenting situations where it’s crucial that mom take good care of herself first so that she can have the energy to take care of everyone else! Sadly, many American moms still struggle with this concept and therefore put their own needs last no matter what it costs them physically, emotionally, socially, and mentally.

Recently we’ve been given a whole new outlook at parenting through the eyes of other cultures. Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother stirred the parenting pot in January 2011 when she shared her child-rearing philosophy. Chua claimed that the best way to protect your children is by preparing them for the future and arming them with skills, strong work habits, and inner confidence. This meant being extremely tough on them and setting the bar so high that they have to push themselves to the limits just to reach these expectations.

The French are the latest to shake up the American parenting model with Bringing Up Bébé. Author Pamela Druckerman alleges that the French could teach indulgent, over-scheduling, helicoptering American parents a thing or two about child rearing.  In addition, Elisabeth Badinter’s The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women argues that today’s culture and insidious trend toward naturalism in raising kids (breast feeding on demand, organic foods, co-sleeping, cloth diapers) has caused a revolution, putting motherhood back in the dark ages when it was the center of women’s lives.

The French could teach indulgent, over-scheduling, helicoptering American parents a thing or two about child rearing.

Both Druckerman and Badinter believe women are overburdened and consumed with unrealistic expectations of motherhood to the extent that they must make continuous personal sacrifices or they will be considered parenting failures. Perhaps the concept of the Tiger Mom or blaze French parenting is a bit much for us Western mommies, but one thing we can definitely learn from them is that taking time for ourselves is not selfish, it’s necessary. By nurturing and caring for our own needs, and setting boundaries with our kids to create some personal space, we are able to be healthier, happier, less resentful moms.

Here are 5 tips that have worked for me in keeping my mind, body, and spirit balanced while raising 8 kids:

Tip #1: Get Up Early

One way to find more time for yourself is to start getting up earlier than everyone else in the house. This can be difficult at first, but it is a surefire way to have some quiet alone time. Make this your “me time” and spend it doing something enjoyable that will ease you into your busy day. Whether it be reading, exercising, meditating, soaking in a hot bath, or simply enjoying a mug of tea—just don't use this time for cleaning or work, devote it to solely you.

Tip #2: Pursue Your Hobbies

The last thing you want to become is a resentful parent. If you give your time away all day and night long, you will forget that person who existed before you were a mom. If you have a hobby you love, schedule it in on your calendar every week and treat it just as you would a doctor or any other appointment of importance. If you’ve gotten away from activities that make your pulse race, it’s time to pursue one, no matter if it’s learning to be a better photographer or refinishing a piece of furniture that will make your home more inviting. Join a friend for strolls through the neighborhood to keep in shape—whatever it is, make sure it is something that you will be excited to do on a regular basis.

Tip #3: Keep Your Work Skills Current

Stay-at-home moms often leave a thriving career behind when they decide to leave the work force to raise kids. Although it can be challenging when you have younger children, try to never abandon the skills you relied on during your working years. Visit the library to keep up on the latest trends in your field, take online classes, stay in touch with your former work colleagues, and perhaps even fill in on a temporary basis when at all possible. This might also be the right time to investigate a part-time career that you’ve often entertained in the back of your mind like catering, opening a home childcare center, or running some type of home-party business. If you put continued effort into stimulating your mind, it will definitely help you through the many mindless days of diaper changing and removing strained peas from your clothes.

Tip #4: Create a Mom Cave

Before you laugh at this idea, please hear me out. Whether you live in a sprawling home with tons of square footage or are stepping on one another’s toes in a tiny apartment, find at least one little corner of the house to call your own. By having some sacred space that is just yours, you will teach your kids how to respect your personal boundaries. My Mom cave is in my bedroom. I have a cozy desk along with my own bookcase loaded with special books and treasures, a comfort drawer with a few of my favorite treats, and some inspiring quotes and photos framed in the surrounding area. It is my precious nook that I can retreat to when I’m having a bad day, need some inspiration, or just want to chill, and my family has been well-trained to not disturb me when I’m in there unless the house is on fire!

Tip #5: Ask for Help

There will never be a perfect parenting regimen, but there can be a much better balance if you’re willing to make tradeoffs in certain areas of your life. A large part of the successful balance equation is when Mom finally realizes that she must tune into her own emotions as well as her physical, and mental health requirements. That way, when her tea kettle is about to boil over, she can recognize this and take the time to refuel her tank. This is never easy, especially if you don’t like to ask for help, but once you realize the extreme importance of building a reliable support group of other mom friends, family members, grandparents, and especially your spouse, you won’t be as likely to fall apart when your toddler stuffs the cat into the toilet (for the fifth time).  

I hope these tips on creating more opportunities to take care of your own mommy needs will help you relax and enjoy your family more. If you commit to making time for yourself a regular habit, such as brushing your teeth, and shake off the guilt that only serves to damage your self-esteem, you will soon find yourself more relaxed, more balanced, and ultimately, a better parent. 

If you have a question regarding anything you’ve just read, or have a suggestion for a future Mighty Mommy episode, e-mail me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com or post it on the Mighty Mommy Facebook wall. You can also follow me on Twitter @MightyMommy.       

Good luck and happy parenting!

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own mental health provider. Please consult a licensed mental health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Cheryl Butler Project Parenthood

Cheryl L. Butler was the host of the Mighty Mommy podcast for nine years from 2012 to 2021. She is the mother of eight children. Her experiences with infertility, adoption, seven pregnancies, and raising children with developmental delays have helped her become a resource on the joys and challenges of parenting. You can reach her by email.