If you’re a regular podcast listener, you know that my co-host Amy and I have a favorite mantra: #FeedYourselfFirst. We started texting this to each other when we were both in the early days of new parenthood. Because we were so often struggling, in various ways, to quite literally feed ourselves and our children at the same time. It starts when you’re feeding a newborn and they require sustenance so often, you spend a lot of time feeding someone before you’re even awake yourself, let alone fed. Later, it’s the Sunday morning pancakes phenomenon, because everyone knows they taste best hot—so the cook flips them right from skillet to table and sits down last. Only if you have small kids who have yet to develop table manners (and/or an un-woke spouse), that can happen every day. Women, especially, are so conditioned to put our family’s needs first that we don’t always recognize how much we’re short-changing ourselves in this way, until we’re starving and miserable.
These days, I can mostly ensure that I get to eat at the same time as the rest of my family. (The key is to make getting dinner on the table more of a team effort so you then all sit down together—moms are not maid servants!) But I still consider feeding myself first to be a core part of my approach to parenting, because what this really means is not sacrificing my individual needs on the altar of our collective whole. Feeding myself first has looked different at different stages of parenthood; one year it was training to swim a mile across the Hudson River. Other years it’s been making more time to watch Gilmore Girl reruns. But for the past year and change, it’s back to being literal: I wake up almost two hours before the rest of my family because I’ve realized I just love them so much more this way. Yes, it is a total drag to get out of bed at 5:30am. But it gives me time to wake up slowly, rather than shot gun into other people’s (loving) demands and responsibilities. I eat my breakfast, drink coffee, read a book for half an hour or so, do a treadmill workout, and shower. Then around 7:30, I’m ready to jump into making kid breakfasts, changing diapers, finding lost library books and getting us off to start the day. (What I haven’t figured out: How to then start my work day at 9am without feeling like it’s now time for a second breakfast and a nap! Anyone?)
I want to be clear that this would not work for everybody. I have to be in bed by 9pm to make it happen—my husband calls this “reverse sleeping in”—which isn’t feasible or interesting for lots of folks. I did not do it when I had pregnancy insomnia or when my kids were not yet sleeping through the night. And I’m not endorsing this as some kind of healthy lifestyle plan (read: diet)—I exercise then because it’s convenient and gives me energy, but it’s the first thing to get cut from the routine if I need more sleep. (In case you can’t tell, sleep is everything.) But it’s been pretty game-changing. I’m reading more books and exercising more consistently than I have in several years. And I’m not hungry or caffeine-deprived when I first encounter my children for the day. All of which make me a happier person, and a better mom… but mostly, just a happier person.