Being selfless is not sustainable

Sustainable, an adjective

1: capable of being sustained

2: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged 

From the moment I wake up in the morning, I am in service to my family. In between slurps of coffee, I am facilitating the preparation of breakfast and school lunches while providing what feels like hundreds of reminders for hats, sunscreen, homework and teeth brushing. When those jobs are done, I get myself ready for work and somehow we miraculously make it into the car. 

After the work and school day is done, dinner is eaten, the dishes are washed and the children are put to bed, I have nothing left to give. I usually collapse on the couch to rest before doing it all again the next morning. I’m not complaining. It’s what has to be done. I choose to become a mother. But it doesn’t always feel sustainable.

When your children are babies, you expect to exist in survival mode. Parents often refer to this phase as being “in the trenches” because it feels like you are doing the army crawl on your stomach through the sleepless nights, the days without showering and the endless bouts of crying. 

If you are breastfeeding, your energy is literally being sucked out of you as your baby, attached to your breast, depletes every calorie in your body. There isn’t time in the day to replenish sleep or caloric reserves and you feel like if you don’t get some sleep, you will die. 

In this scenario, parenting is the opposite of sustainability. 

When I was eight months into survival mode and my daughter was still not sleeping through the night, a friend sent me a text message recommending a book. A book? Was she serious? I hadn’t read anything other than Goodnight Moon and books on how to get your baby to sleep for nearly a year. 

I felt envious thinking about my friend reading a great book. Before having kids, reading was one of the greatest pleasures of my life. I hadn’t read since my daughter was born and at that moment, I couldn’t imagine how I would ever find the time or energy to do it again.

This is precisely why parenting is so hard: We have to be selfless to care for our children. It’s not easy to go from being a person with interests, curiosities and passions to someone who can’t pee without a small audience. While this is doable for a while, it isn’t sustainable. 

You don’t just stop wanting things for yourself because you love your child. You are the resource at risk of being depleted if you don’t make it a priority to replenish yourself.

In the baby books, they tell mothers to “take time for you” and there is a whole industry out there to support that sentiment. The self-care marketers will have you believe that a manicure, a scented candle or a bubble bath will restore you back to yourself, giving you the gusto to return to being a super-mom. I tried those things but back in the baby days, what I really needed was just 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep and some time alone. 

I didn’t need a bath, I needed a life.

When I could finally leave the house without a bag overflowing with fishy crackers, diapers, wipes and all the rest of the gear, I ventured out to Michael’s to buy some Christmas baking supplies. I took a turn down the stationary and paper aisle and felt my pulse quicken. 

Being surrounded by all of the beautiful paper gave me such a thrill and delight. I could have stayed there for hours and not just because I wanted to hide from my children. I was reconnecting to my creative side and it felt wonderful. It wasn’t a feeling I got in the baking aisle, or any other place in the store. Paper was, is and always has been, a part of me and I missed her.

I remember thinking at that moment, ‘follow that feeling’. That feeling is information about what fills my bucket, of the things that light me up and will sustain me through the work of the day. Because when I am replenished, I have more to give to those that I love.

It has been 10 years since I read that message from my friend about a book she recommended. I can happily say that I now read two to three books a month and can sometimes use the bathroom with the door closed. 

As the children grow and change, so do their needs and I am continuously editing my life to make it one that I don’t need a vacation from; it’s a work in progress. And because I’m a parent, I sometimes still feel guilty when I take time for myself, but I remind myself that my children are learning how to be in the world through watching me. 

I’m the only one responsible for my happiness and I hope that by choosing thriving over merely surviving, they will choose it too. 

Sarah Seitz
Sarah is a working mother, freelance writer and inconsistent runner. She lives with her husband, two children and a Puggle on Vancouver Island. She has a love for the written word in all its forms. Learn more about Sarah here.


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