When did it become a crime to admit that you — as a parent — put yourself first?
Sure, supermodel Gisele Bundchen’s haters are ready to pounce no matter what the gorgeous, successful, wealthy wife of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has to say.
But the backlash surrounding her most recent comments about parenting — how important it is as a mother to take care of yourself — really got our attention because the issue is a powerful one in today’s parenting.
“You know how they say on the plane you have to put the oxygen mask on first and then put it on your child?” Bundchen told “The Sunday Times” in an interview about why she believes motherhood is her most important job. “So I think it is the same, as a mum, to take care of myself.”
“You can feel a bit guilty,” she said. “But if I put my oxygen mask on first, if I’m feeling fulfilled and present and good about myself, then I’m going to be a much more patient, loving, understanding mother and wife. You have to fill your glass so that everyone can drink from it. That’s how I feel.”
Why are we so quick to pass judgment the minute a mother professes to take time for herself? Is there something wrong with that?
“Of course moms need to take care of themselves first,” said Cecily Kellogg, a mom of a 7-year-old who writes for Babble.com and hosts a blog at Uppercase Woman. “I am an individual first, and I happen to be lucky enough to have the job of also being a mom. But yes, self-care is critical.”
Kellogg said the Gisele controversy brought to mind a recent article titled “How American Parenting is Killing the American Marriage,” about how parenting has almost become a religion in the United States. That, she said, is part of the problem.
“I think motherhood in particular has been elevated by some elements of society to a religion full of zealots.”
We are too often told by society that we, as mothers, must be “the martyr” and put everyone’s needs and desires before our own, said Jennifer Bosse, a mom of two small children and founder of the blog Defining My Happy.
“We are supposed to go without for the sake of our family. It is implied that we have to give up our needs and passions to make room for others,” she said. “And unfortunately there are a lot of women who are guilted into believing that this is just the way it is.”
But what makes us better parents, said Micky Morrison, a mom of two and founder of BabyWeightTV, is taking time for ourselves. “It’s not selfish. It’s as much a gift to our children as it is to ourselves to make ourselves happy.”
“If I’m sad, depressed or not feeling good about myself, (it) reflects on my kids. My daughter can sense when I’m unhappy and then she gets sad,” said Trina Small, mom of a 4-year-old and founder of the blog The Baby Shopaholic. “Why shouldn’t a mom take time for herself?
So many women, like Rebecca Hughes Parker, a mom of three, including 9-year-old twins, and an editor and attorney, admitted learning the “hard way” that taking care of one’s self does not preclude taking care of the children and being good at a job. In fact, as Hughes Parker says, “It enhances both things.”
“When I first had my twins and was working full time, I did not make time for myself at all,” said Hughes Parker, who also has her own blog about parenting. “I did not see friends, exercise, sleep or eat enough. It led to a back injury.”
After physical therapy, yoga and realizing “more hours does not always mean better work,” Hughes found herself much more centered when she had her third child six years later.
Avital Normal Nathman, editor of the motherhood anthology “The Good Mother Myth,” said, “We can’t fully take care of others, if we’re not devoting time to ourselves, especially in a world that prescribes so many roles to women in particular — worker, mother, wife, daughter, caregiver, homemaker, etc.”
That said, Norman Nathman and other mothers across the country said that while Gisele and other women of privilege have the means, which could include a “bevy of help,” to ensure their “me time,” that is not the case for most women today.
“The average woman simply doesn’t have the same support in terms of childcare and also lacks the funds for various forms of self-care that Gisele values,” said Norman Nathman, a mom of a 7-year-old and host of the blog The Mamafesto.
“So, while the sentiment is lovely, the reality is very different for those not making a reported $128,000/day.”
Jennifer Alsip, a mom of two girls, ages 18 and 22, said she never took care of herself before her kids. As a single mom on a budget, there were plenty of times when she would forgo buying new clothes for herself, and sometimes eat less when food was scarce, so that her kids could be taken care of.
“I don’t think Gisele Bundchen has ever been put in a position of being hungry … or needing to clothe your kids for school but not having enough money to do it, so she wouldn’t know that sacrifice of putting your kids first.”
There is no question that hearing the “put yourself first” parenting advice from someone who has every resource on the planet to put herself first strikes people as out of touch, but regardless of the source, I still think it gets to a core problem of modern parenting.
The debate reminded me of the firestorm of criticism that erupted after author Ayelet Waldman, in a 2005 column for the popular “Modern Love” feature in “The New York Times,” said she loved her husband more than her children.
Can you imagine what the response would have been if Bundchen admitted loving Brady more?