There Will Never Be A "Good Time" To Put Yourself First

This article was first published elsewhere in September 2023. 

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How often have you as a Default Parent heard a suggestion along the lines of “put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others”?

While this may be the best strategy in a rapidly descending plane, it’s pretty hard to pull off when caring for one or more small humans whose needs are immediate and constant.

The “put yourself first” messaging rubs up against the good parent (read: good mother) ideal, that says our kids should always come first. This too isn’t always a sound strategy - the family plane goes nowhere if the pilot is too exhausted to take it to the skies.

These mixed messages keep us in a state of mental to-ing and fro-ing. They set us up to feel like it’s “us against them”, pitting parents versus kids in a battle to see whose needs get met and who is left to wither. Never is this more true than in the discussion of mental health, where sleep training is sold as the solution to acute parental (mostly maternal) mental ill health without regard to its effect on the baby’s longer term wellbeing1. We end up with ads that sell us questionable solutions (“as a busy mum I pop these headache tablets so I can soldier on to run from the office to school pick up to netball training with a smile”) and get the idea that it’s our fault for ending up depleted because we should’ve been doing more “self-care” (but only at a time that doesn’t inconvenience anyone else, of course).

In the same circle that prompted my exodus from social media, I reflected on my “wins of winter”. Despite the sea of snot that had consumed us, I realised I felt the strongest physically now, at 9 months into postpartum #2, as I had since late 2018, in the early stages of my first pregnancy. Of the many reasons for this, the primary one I landed on was consistently choosing myself.

This doesn’t mean I’ve spent the best part of the last year ignoring or actively putting my kids’ needs lower on the list than my own. It simply means that when there has been an opportunity, I have met my own needs too.

On odd occasions, choosing myself has looked like what you might imagine as “self-care”: a hair cut, meditating, a chai in the sunshine with me, myself and a magazine at my favourite café.

Usually though, it’s looked nothing like this.

Early on after my second birth, choosing myself meant things like setting up a postpartum meal train and gratefully accepting whatever came our way, horizontal parenting as much as possible, and prioritising pelvic floor physio.

For a while it looked like going to bed at 7.30pm to feel rested, before it morphed into doing a fairly intensive training course, even though the timing was rubbish and it left me feeling pretty tired, because really when I’m the next 5+ years will there be a “good time”? 

Now choosing myself often looks like parking the car on the driveway on arriving home, with the baby asleep and the big one watching cartoons on my phone inside it, while I snag 20 minutes of exercise alongside it. I give this last example because, as another friend so rightly said, “a lot of the time choosing yourself doesn’t feel fully good… you’re always weighing up one value against another”. The screen use don’t alarm me much2, but on the days I leave the car running for them to have air con or ensure the baby (who doesn’t transfer and may not nap again) gets enough sleep, the car emissions sure do. There is no perfect solution, and right now I’m choosing exercise lest I remain unmoved, irritable and endorphin-less, and Baby remains underslept and cross.

Recently, I was invited to attend the first Political Friends of Maternity Care event at Parliament House in Canberra, organised earlier this month by Maternity Consumer Network. The breakfast event put birth rights in the spotlight, with over 20% of upper and lower house MPs listening and discussing pregnancy and birth care reform over what I can only guess were very fancy egg and bacon rolls (you better believe there would’ve been gourmet relish from glass jars, not plain ol’ tomato sauce in red squeezy bottles)3.

Lordy May what I wouldn’t give to feed my baby while casually chatting to Larissa Waters about healthcare reform!

Unfortunately Canberra is a 4+ hour venture from my place. Was it worth putting myself through 8+ hours of travel with either screaming or the constant threat of it for a 90 minute morning shindig? (I know I just said the baby sleeps with the engine on but it’s not for long, and if she’s not sleeping she’s screaming at the exact pitch that makes your eardrums spasm in pain.) No, I decided, no it wasn’t.

“Maybe you could’ve left her at home?”, I hear someone ask. It’s true, that was an option. At close on 10 months old there are babies who’d be fine with other caregivers overnight, but mine isn’t one of them. The big one, yes, but not the babe. If I left her behind, I would spend my time - both in the lead up and while away - worrying and pumping milk, rather than enjoying myself. I chose myself and declined the invitation.

Choosing yourself doesn’t need to be fancy. it could be colouring your hair, or growing out the greys, or shaving it off altogether. It could be buying a new bra or burning an old one. It could be serving beans on toast for dinner, going back to work, quitting your job, taking a walk, having a solo weekend away, bringing Baby into bed with you, sending your kid(s) to formal care, taking them to the beach on a glorious day instead of school, reading a book, getting friendly with your vibrator, birthing outside the system, noticing the clouds changing, playing your own music in the morning, or going the full Clementine Ford and leaving your husband 4.

That’s your homework this week friends: to choose yourself. Wherever you can, however big or small you can, choose you. Not to make you a better mother or parent, just because you exist and are therefore as worthy of your love, time and care as anyone else is.

Go forth.

Anna x


See the extensive Evolutionary Parenting archive or Dr Greer Kirschenbaum’s The Nurture Revolution for more on sleep training and infant neuroscience.


This episode of Dr. Sophie Brock’s The Good Enough Mother podcast titled “Screentime: Research and integration” may be helpful if you’re conflicted about screen use with your young children.


They are doing another Canberra meeting specifically addressing birth trauma. If you’d like to chip in to their fundraising efforts you can make a tax deductible donation via the National Foundation for Australian Women website.


Another quote from Ford on the subject: “I’ve had so many women who, I’m proud to say, have left unsatisfying, inequitable relationships because of things that they’ve read on my page, where they’ve woken up one day and said I am not happy and this is not the life that I want.”

If you resonate with what I've got to say and want to choose yourself by hanging with others who get it, do it! As well as one on one sessions and in person circles, I have a membership that costs less than a cup of coffee a week. By becoming a member you can read my private posts or engage in mothers' circles, social calls and forum chats with others who do too, you might like to join my low-cost online membership community. Concession and single parent pricing is also available.


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