Why Saying ‘Stop Being Selfish’ Is Actually Causing More Damage

How many times have you heard someone say 'stop being selfish'? Since when did 'being selfish' become such a bad thing? This idea is causing so much damage and we need to stop telling women to 'stop being selfish'.

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“I can’t believe how selfish that woman is being, she is putting herself first instead of her husband and kids. She needs to stop being selfish and be a better wife and mother.”

It was the Facebook comment that made me stop and stare, fingers hovering over the keyboard wondering if I should jump in like a ninja and go all keyboard warrior on this commenter for even suggesting that the woman in question wasn’t allowed to be happy. That she had to martyr herself as a mother and wife. That self-care was the epitome of selfishness.

When did it become a ‘thing’ that women had to give up everything they are, and everything they want/need/desire in order to be a good wife or a good mother? This blows my mind. That a woman could feel so oppressed that she had to ‘suck it up’ when she wasn’t feeling happy and that she had to ‘just deal with it’ when she wasn’t feeling fulfilled.

This 1950’s idea that women are there purely as homemakers is one that seems to creep up every now and then. But unlike the 1950’s, women these days are getting mixed messages.

We are told that we should be better homemakers and stay at home mothers. But we should also contribute to the household income.

We are told that it’s our job to keep the kids clean, fed, entertained and organised. But that we should have a job outside the home too.

We are told that if we have a job outside the home, we are being selfish for focusing on our own career and that we should be at home with our kids.

If we are at home with our kids, we are told we shouldn’t be giving up on the career we worked so hard for.

We are told that we should put our kids in childcare so they gain more social skills. But if we put our kids in child care we are selfish for wanting alone time.

We are told that we should be helping our kids learn and teaching them how to identify numbers and read. But if we teach our kids it has to be in a specific way and has to be done by the curriculum rules otherwise it will make it hard when they go to school.

We are told we should be feeding our kids healthy food. But it has to be GMO-free, organic, ethically sourced, gluten free, sugar free, wheat free, nut free…

Then we are told we aren’t feeding our kids enough variety of foods.

And to top it all off, we are told to relax. That if we stress, our kids stress. BUT, self care is selfish. And you need to stop being selfish.

How does all of this work? Being a woman is this world is tough. It feels like you cannot win. That there is no ‘winning’. It’s just simply getting through each day.

And to do that, you need self care. It’s biological.

If anyone wants to tell me self care is selfish, come at me. For real. Because I will refute you on every level. (Actually, no I won’t, I’ll delete your comments and go and make myself a coffee and relax because I don’t have enough time or energy for negativity).

The first time I realised that self care was a biological need was when my son was in NICU, and I’m sure many NICU mamas can attest to this.

I had in my mind for so long that to be a good mum, I had to be there for my son. No matter what. I had to give up everything, sleep, food, whatever it took to be there for my son. It’s what my mum always said she did for us as kids and it’s what I knew to be ‘being a good mum’. I thought taking time for myself would be selfish. I was going to be by his side first thing of a morning, stay there all day and be there until the late hours at night if that was what it took to be with him.

And so I did.

By day 10 I had one of the NICU nurses telling me that I had to stop doing what I was doing. I was appalled. Afterall, I was being a good mum! While other mothers weren’t coming in to see their babies until after lunch, I had already been there for hours! While other parents would leave at lunch and come back hours later, I was still there! I wasn’t being selfish at all!

But I was doing more damage than good. Because I was so exhausted my milk supply had dropped. I was no longer getting as much milk as I was previously. I wasn’t eating properly, I wasn’t resting properly and it was affecting my ability to supply for my child.

It was this nurse that explained to me that in order to do the best for my son, I had to look after myself.

This was the single biggest motherhood lesson I have ever learned. And it doesn’t just apply to being a mother. It applies to everything in life.

In order to be the best person you can be, in order to be there for others and to give to others, you have to take care of yourself first. Afterall, if you don’t, you won’t have anything to give.

So every time I hear someone say ‘stop being selfish’ it makes me cringe. Because I know what that feels like. I know what it’s like to have people judge you for taking time to yourself. I had people criticise me for every moment I wasn’t in that NICU, but it was the best thing for my son and I.

Telling women to ‘stop being selfish’ causes more damage than you can imagine. You are making her feel guilty for putting herself first, for taking care of herself. Which is the single best thing she can do. If we were taught from an early age that self care is far more important than ‘selflessness’ then we would be a much happier generation.

How many times have you heard someone say 'stop being selfish'? Since when did 'being selfish' become such a bad thing? This idea is causing so much damage and we need to stop telling women to 'stop being selfish'.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent post and I’d even add that if you take care of yourself, you should NOT feel guilty about it. That’s an emotion that we mothers carry with us constantly. We do and do again and do some more for our families and including our own aging parents and through it all, carry a burden of guilt for not having done enough….and it only adds to our emotional exhaustion.

    I sure admire that you were able to ‘take a deep breathe and walk away’ instead of going all keyboard warrior on that commenter. That’s the first step in finding your serenity in the face of aggravation. Great Post!

  2. Yes, yes, yes!!! I’m a firm believer in self care – doesn’t mean I’m always good at it, but I know I need it to be a good mom, wife, daughter, friend, employee, and whatever dale my day requires. It’s NOT selfish to make sure you have enough energy to take care of others, it’s simply necessity.

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