Thursday, February 23

selfishness is a virtue

my favorite kind of selfish moment

As far as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a mother. But a few years ago there was a time in which I seriously doubted whether I possessed the necessary qualifications. During a period of high-stress (moving to a different country, buying our first, cute but deeply messed-up home) I considered the mounting evidence. Exhibit 1: I am an only child. Exhibit 2: some of the happiest days of my life occurred during the year and a half while I lived alone in a little poet's cottage tucked under tall firs. Exhibit 3: my deep need for lots and lots of quiet alone time. Exhibit 4: the degree to which I lost my shit when deprived, during said time of duress, of this quiet alone time. There was lots of anguished soul-searching, and the conclusion I tearfully reached was that I might just not be cut out to be a mother. I thought I was just too selfish for the job.

After years of yoga practice and teaching, and a year into this motherhood gig, I have come to view selfishness not as a handicap, but as a true gift, and as one of the main things that keep me going. I know this may sound a little controversial--our image of the mother these days is often one of selflessness--but hear me out here. To clarify, what I mean here by selfishness is thinking of myself first. The thought for this post came to me after I wrote an ode to the morning nap last week. I wrote about how I devote my son's first nap of the day not to chores like cleaning or cooking, but to meditation and reading and writing. One could argue that I could use that time much more productively. I could cook baby food, I could dust, I could scrub the bathtub, or do any number of things that never get done around here. I choose not to, and that choice isn't made out of laziness (okay, maybe a little) but with careful consideration. Here's why:

1. No one cares about it but me.
As the mama, I set the standards for what "clean", "orderly", "livable" means in this house. If I stopped vacuuming altogether, my husband might notice after a few months. My son would only be too glad to snack on dust bunnies. I am not saying that this would be desirable. But to be honest, I am the only one who really cares how clean and tidy the house is, so if I choose to spend my time on meditation and writing instead of cleaning, no one is getting hurt. No one is even noticing. The only standards that are not being lived up to are my own, therefore, the choice is entirely mine to make.

2. No one else can do this work but me.
Someone else can always do the dishes, vacuum the floor, fold the laundry. I am very, very lucky to have a husband skilled in the domestic arts, and willing to use those skills, as well as a mother who spends weeks and months at a time with us. Even taking care of my son is a task that can be shared. No one else can sit on the cushion for me. No one else can spread the mess of my mind and heart onto a blank page in order to make sense of it. No one else can refill the well--the well out of which I love and care for my family and my home. If that well runs dry, everyone is negatively impacted. Which leads me to my next point.

3. If I don't do this, everyone suffers.
As a mama, I have a responsibility to my family to take care of myself. One of my favorites of the many Southern sayings I have learned since moving to Texas is "if mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." I believe this to be deeply true, and I think you know this too. To make the time and effort to care for myself first may seem selfish a first glance, but ultimately my whole family benefits from this happiness. We have unfortunately been able to confirm this over the fall months when I wasn't sleeping and felt like I was losing my mind. Everyone else suffered. Likewise, now that I am sleeping and feeling better, everyone else is happier too. The flip side of that nugget of Southern wisdom is that a happy mama makes for a happy home. 

Selfishness usually means to only think of oneself, to be inconsiderate of others. I would like to see the meaning expand to include this idea of thinking of oneself first in order to then meet the needs of others. Maybe what we need is a whole new word. What might that word be?


  1. My husband and I actually had a conversation about "selfish" just a day or so ago. Well put.


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