Thursday 22 May 2014

Do mothers need to Ban Selfish?

Sheryl Sandberg's Ban Bossy campaign has sent a strong message to young girls. It illustrates how powerful words can be in labelling ourselves and shaping our thoughts and feelings. Personally, I'd like to ban the overuse of a word that both holds back mothers from enjoying their work-family lives and can get in the way of a successful return to work. Mothers, let's Ban Selfish!

How often before having children did we label doing something positive just for ourselves - playing a sport, learning a language, reading a book - as 'selfish'? Never, that I can remember. In fact, we usually felt quite pleased with ourselves that we weren't just slumping in front of the TV but were staying healthy or continuing learning new skills outside of work.

But I've noticed that a strange transformation comes over many women when children arrive. Suddenly doing something for ourselves starts to make us feel bad, rather than good ... it becomes 'selfish'.

In the last few months, I've heard mothers describe all of these as 'selfish':
* Going for a run on a Saturday morning / a yoga class on a Thursday evening
* Signing up for a Monday evening cookery class
* Re-reading Jane Austen on a Sunday morning
* Going to an evening work event to make new contacts
* Catching up on reading work journals for an hour on a Saturday 

Taken further, some women describe their desire to return to paid work as 'selfish', usually if they don't financially need to work but are feeling unfulfilled at home. It can be seen as a personal failing: "Why can't I just be happy looking after my kids?" 

By using the term 'selfish', we're telling ourselves that we are lacking consideration for others and prioritising our interests above everyone else's*.  In fact the opposite is true. We see these choices as selfish because we're putting our needs at the bottom of the pile. Driven by caring for others, we can end up becoming martyrs to our family.  

It's time to remember that balancing your needs alongside the needs of your family is not selfish. It's a healthy and positive attitude that is likely to improve your family life as you will be happier and more energised. Who wants a bored, frustrated and 'selfless' mother?

Are you ready to Ban Selfish? 

Further reading
Am I being a martyr?

*Selfish definition: "Lacking consideration for other people; chiefly concerned with one's own personal profit or pleasure"

Posted by Julianne


  1. I feel your pain. I think the problem is that time as a mother is so limited that you don't have the same 'free' time that you once had, therefore something else is generally sacrificed. Yesterday I felt guilty spending time doing art because it meant that I had to leave my cleaning and washing till another day. Previously on a day off I would have the option of doing art or staying in bed all day... not much to feel guilty about! You end up having to be pretty determined to do the things that are important to you and give you life. It does you and your whole family good in the end though. x

  2. I agree Lisa that we have to make far more deliberate trade-offs as mothers. We need to watch that it's not always ourselves and the things that are important to us that are being 'sacrificed'. It's great to hear you did choose to leave the cleaning to spend time on your art & I'm sure you had more energy for your family afterwards - nothing at all to feel guilty about! Julianne


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