“I’m not having kids until I know I’m no longer selfish.”

That’s a real thing I said, a lot, before having children. The intention behind it was good and I see what I was going for. I needed to be ready to put someone else’s needs before my own.

But I unknowingly was setting future me up for some crushing mom guilt.

When the day came that my husband and I decided that we were mature enough to put our selfish ways behind us and have children, I made the mistake of expecting that giving up “me time” was the hard part.

In reality, the hard part would prove to be fifteen months of frustration and devastation that included three miscarriages sandwiched between ovulation sticks and daily temperature taking to chart my cycle. Through it all I had never felt more selfish in my life. All I could think about was pregnancy and loss and my own pain. Baby showers were avoided like the plague. Social media was a nightmare. I hated that I couldn’t give myself to other people and that I was always putting my overwhelming emotions first.

I had mom guilt before even giving birth.

Two years after, I attempted to hang up my selfish hat, we welcomed our son into the world. He was beautiful, and perfect, and my heart could explode from loving him. But I also really wanted to take a shower. All the time.

Having a child reminded me of how much I actually relied on my quiet time to recharge and reset. In those early days, the responsibilities of parenthood sometimes felt crushing. And again, I never felt more selfish in my life. How could I possibly be wanting time for myself? What right did I have to feel this way after pining after this very dream?

I needed a double stroller to carry my son and my mom guilt.

By the time I had gotten into a parenting groove and figured out I could shower while my son sat in the bouncy chair in the bathroom, it was time to return to work. The epicenter of mom guilt. Which was compounded by the fact that I genuinely did want to go.

Being with my baby was a wonderful gift, but I did miss regular adult conversations. I wanted to use my brain in a different way. A way that my job in higher education provided. I also was very enticed by the possibility of using the bathroom whenever I wanted.

Admitting to myself that I had a desire to work was hard, and yet again I never felt so selfish in my life. Dropping off my son in the care of someone else? How could I leave him? Was going back to work really the best choice for my family, or just the best choice for me? I cried all the way to work that first week.

My mom guilt was riding shot-gun.

Over time I learned that daycare was actually a wonderful part of my son’s development, and now my daughter is also reaping the benefits. But there are still days, few and far between, when he will say that he wants to stay home in his pajamas all day and my heart breaks. Or she will let out a little whimper when I buckle her into the car seat and it takes all my strength not to unbuckle her and head back into the house.

Is sending them to daycare so that I can work selfish? Would not sending them just so that one of my kids wouldn’t accidentally call me by the teacher’s name again be selfish? They learn so much and have wonderful friends, but am I missing out on the moments? Is my “fear of  missing out” and yo-yo brain making me a bad mom? 

The truth of the matter is as human beings, we are inherently selfish to a certain degree. While we often act for the good of the group, we also need to protect and take care of ourselves. It’s basic survival.

So I’ve gotten to a point where I am okay saying that I’m still selfish. I have relationships, goals, and interests that are separate from my children. All of these areas of my life need to be nurtured in order to be the complete person that my kids need me to be. That I need me to be.

Do I still feel mom guilt? Oh, of course. I’ll probably always think that maybe I’m not doing everything perfectly, because I’m definitely not. None of us are. We make mistakes, and worry about making mistakes, and then make more mistakes. We make the best decisions we know how to make with the information in front of us and then keep moving forward. We put our needs and wants on the table too, and as the twinge of mom guilt creeps in, we need to remind ourselves that it’s OK to be ourselves.

At the end of the day, I know I’m a good mom. A mom who would jump in front of a speeding train for her kids without blinking an eye. A mom who reads stories, and gives hugs, and sings silly songs, and who loves her children so much it physically hurts.

But I’m still selfish. And that’s OK.

Becca Carnahan

Becca Carnahan is career coach, author, and mom from Massachusetts. Her writing combines funny and relatable parenting stories with career advice to make the whole process of finding or creating a career you love a lot more fun. Sign up for her weekly working mom newsletter at withlovebecca.com.