How to Prioritize Your Life as a Working Mom

You can find this meme in lots of places, but how about you start here.
You can find this meme in lots of places, but how about you start here.

Kindly indulge me for a moment while I spout some profanity to blow off steam:  what an effing shitty day.

It wasn’t all that terrible though.  More like a ‘meh’ day.  But what pissed me off just now as I reviewed the day’s events was just how selfish everyone is.  That’s not hyperbole.  I mean, seriously, all of us, every single human who ever lived, you and me alike, are innately selfish.  That is just the human condition.  I know not a single selfless person in the entire world.  Because even when someone appears to be acting selflessly, the act is driven by some form of selfish desire:  you work at a soup kitchen because you want to use this as PR for your business; you over-deliver at work to get a raise; you go to church and pray for your soul to be saved because, if you swing that way, you want in on the afterlife.  Even the most seemingly giving act, while asking for nothing in return, is driven by the ego’s unrelenting demand for self-satisfaction.

I don’t even see this as a bad thing.  If we were totally selfless, and constantly giving to others without satisfying our own needs, I think society would not function.  Of course, the opposite is true too — in a purely Hobbesian world, we’d all murder each other.  So thankfully, most of us find a way to meet our basic needs and seek out out worldly pleasures while not totally dicking over every other mortal whose path we encounter along the way.  Unless you’re a sociopath, in which case, that last part does indeed describe you.

So when I identify some person or some act as “selfish,” I’m not so much designating one’s morality or lack of it, as much as I am making an observation about how the world works.  And that’s why I can comfortably state that children are the most selfish among us.  Kids cry when they don’t get what they want, because a child’s world revolves around him, as he hasn’t yet learned how to empathize and take the perspectives of others.  Little ones need us to teach them how to put other people’s needs and wants behind their own, as well as when to do so.

But the potential for abuse is far more insidious with adult selfishness.  I’m not saying I’m being abused, but even the above-described “innocent” selfishness is taxing, especially for those of us who work in a service profession.

So after a long work day filled to the brim with client demands – even the most reasonable ones, from the most emotionally intelligent people – I can find myself bubbling over with irritation at my lack of freedom to do what I want most of the time, and despair over feeling helpless to do anything about it.  And now, enter my own selfishness:  I decide it’s the time to blow off some obligations for a night and do something completely shallow and self-serving.  I can argue that shopping online is helping to stimulate the economy, but could there be anything worse than unnecessary consumerism?  I’m not a big spender of money though, in general.  Time, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter.  I could really use the time I spend looking at designer handbags to get another project at work or home squared away.  But this pastime is becoming the only way I know how to release the ball of blecch that sometimes builds up inside of me after feeling like a pack mule all day.  At least, this is how I release it without exploding.

The happy twist ending to my philosophizing here is that, while children may be the most selfish humans, I actually do delight in attending to my own children, whether to meet their basic needs or enable their most heartfelt trivial pursuits.  The selfishness of our children can be no less frustrating than that of the world of grown-ups.  But most of us parents find a way to cope with the constant giving of our love, time and energy to these little vampires.

And here’s another way that I’m selfish:  I am starting to care less about other people, because all the caring is used up on my family, and then on my career, in that order – and then there’s nothing left.  I would really like to study Kendo because I think training in martial art could instill with me some much needed focus and discipline.  Either that or I watch a hell of a lot of anime.  It doesn’t matter though – I can’t study Kendo, or learn to code, or get serious about writing again, unless I make one or more of those things a priority over some other things.  And since I’m not dropping my kids and husband as my number one priority any time soon, guess who’s not going to make the cut?

It is a remarkable consciousness shift to realize that, where you once feared that quitting a job or a career meant giving in to accepting failure, you now view that kind of about-face as something exhilarating, opportunity-creating, and highly desirable.  I realized at one point as a new parent that responsibility for very young children could mean that this whole career thing might not work out.  I never, ever, not once considered that, once my oldest hit kindergarten and the academic, social and behavioral challenges hit along with it, I might actively desire to leave behind the career, whether it was “working out” or not.  Because fuck working out.  I don’t want any aspect of my life to “work out.”  I want my life to be AMAZING.

It’s not all about me and my offspring and their dad, however.  I do like serving people … I just don’t like being a servant.  How can I be of service to others in a way that is not servile?  Right now, I have some ideas kicking around, but I’m still not sure.  I can only commit to serving my family — and maybe, for once, my own needs in the process — while I try to figure that out.

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