Spoiler alert: it feels really scary to put yourself first.
But it feels worse to do the alternative.
I know this from personal experience.
When I have put myself last – in other words when I’ve been in what I think of as “typical parent mode,” denying myself sleep or food or exercise because of all the stuff my children and family need – I’ve suffered.
So have they. One of my sons told me yesterday that he felt personally responsible for my being depressed when he was young. (I was depressed because I had developed a tendon disorder that meant, for part of his childhood, I could walk no more than a few steps; and for another part of his childhood I had 5% use of my hands. My depression had absolutely nothing to do with my boys.)
We had a wonderful conversation about it, and he understands now that he was not the cause. But I wish I could have spared him those feelings in the first place.
More recently I put myself last in both a personal and professional sense.
In attempting to serve more people, while still keeping all the balls up in the air having to do with children and family, I landed in the hospital.
And I suffered.
So did they. I’m hard-pressed to think of something that could contribute to the anxiety and fears of 2020 more than having their mom in the hospital!
While you may not have ended up in the hospital this year, I bet you have suffered too.
Have you denied yourself sleep or food or exercise because of your family’s needs, or because of the demands of your career?
Have you been putting yourself last?
Then you also know how hard and awful it feels to do this.
So, let’s consider the opposite.
I’d like to share with you about how it has felt to put myself first.
As I said up at the top, it’s been truly scary. But I knew that the alternative was far worse.
Recently I have put myself first by:
1. Asking for help in the cooking, cleaning, and running of our household.
2. Leaving the kitchen or other areas of the house not cleaned… This has been one of the hardest things, odd as that may sound. Looking at dishes in the sink, a countertop that really needs to be washed, laundry that has not been folded, and not doing anything about them. Even if they are not my mess!
But I do think of it as putting myself first. I revert to 1., asking for help with the cleanup. Rather than just doing it myself.
It’s been scary for sure. But it also means that I’m not in charge of other peoples’ messes anymore. And that they are learning that.
3. Doing everything possible to get good sleep.
Because of interrupted sleep, this can mean going back to bed at a time when I’m usually up and functioning.
It means starting my bedtime routine at an early hour, sometimes as early as 8 PM. (“Going to bed early is like sleeping in for grown-ups,” says the wonderful author Lara Vanderkam. She’s right.)
It means restructuring and reducing my working hours, and it means overcoming that feeling of being a lazybones.
I tell myself, “This isn’t being lazy. This is putting myself first.”
4. Paying attention to my body’s physical needs.
As parents we deny ourselves all sorts of physical needs, sometimes even the simple one of getting to the bathroom to pee before it becomes really urgent.
We can let ourselves get to the point of feeling hangry, before we feed ourselves.
Often when we feel that way we don’t make the best choices nutritionally.
So paying attention to my body’s physical needs means giving myself permission to eat before feeling hangry. Giving myself permission to get to the danged bathroom already. (Speaking of that, be right back : )
5. Forgiving myself when I fall down on the job of putting myself first.
This is perhaps the most important one to remember.
I’m simply not always able to get good sleep, to resist the temptation to clean somebody else’s dishes (and thus hurt myself physically), or to do something myself rather than asking for help. Even when I know I will suffer for later.
Can you imagine yourself doing any of these?
Can you imagine the fear we must overcome to really, truly do one of them?
Just imagine, for example, asking for help.
“Hey, can you please fold this laundry?”
If it feels scary, well, that’s part of the deal.
But no one except you can put yourself first.
No one but you can forgive yourself when you don’t.
No one will know that you need help.
Unless you ask.
Unless you share what you need.
The truth is we heap so much expectation upon ourselves. To do it all.
So it’s on us to help them understand our needs.
It’s on us to communicate to them our feelings of “we’re a family, we are all responsible for doing our part to keep each other feeling happy and supported.”
Here’s another reason it can be scary
it can be scary to put ourselves first because we can feel as if we’re letting everyone down.
I think that was the scariest part of putting myself first.
The idea that I would be letting so many people down.
When I decided to close the Ninja Parenting Community, I was so scared of members’ anger.
But it never materialized.
Instead what I heard was “thank you for being a role model.”
“It’s so good to see you taking care of yourself. Such a great example.”
“I 100% respect your decision and support you completely.”
I am so grateful to all those folks who helped me feel supported in putting myself first.
That leads me to the last, possibly best thing about it:
When you put yourself first, you get the support you need.
You DO feel supported.
Most of all you do feel good. Physically, emotionally, mentally.
You feel as if you are being cared for by others, just as you are caring for them.
It’s wonderfully symbiotic. A virtuous cycle.
I hope you can overcome what fears you might have about putting yourself first, and give it a try.
And if you do try it, I hope you share with me three things:
– What you started with. What did you do, or ask for, first?
– What happened?
– What did you learn from the experience?
PS If you want to go deeper into discovering the joys of putting yourself first, get my free weekly newsletter delivered directly into your inbox!
I send letters just like this, and best of all subscribers often write back.
Subscribe to my FREE weekly newsletters by clicking the link below:
Do it for yourself. Put yourself first.
You are worthy.
And whether you are a podcast listener, newsletter subscriber, Playbook subscriber or coaching client, I am grateful for you <3