No, We Don't Always Have To Put Our Kids First

The idea that parents have to give up their own desires to ensure the happiness of their children is tired — and incorrect.

My wife Sam and I recently had the luxury of watching an entire movie in one sitting. After getting our boys to bed early on a Sunday night, we tucked into “The Idea of You,” starring Anne Hathaway and Nicholas Galitzine. Our expectations were not excessive: We assumed the film would be sexy, a little dramatic and kind of cheesy. If nothing else, the leading man and leading lady are both achingly beautiful. We were not disappointed. (Note some spoilers below).

The premise begins as follows: When 40-year-old mom Solène accidentally mistakes 20-something boy-band heartthrob Hayes Campbell’s trailer for the bathroom at Coachella, sparks fly. But she’s way too old for him, right?

Over the course of a tumultuous few months, the pair fall madly and inconveniently in love. When Solène secretly joins Hayes on his European tour, the couple get handsy all over Barcelona, Rome and Paris. But it’s not long before their age difference, coupled with Hayes’ global fame, causes some friction. Solène is ridiculed by Hayes’ bandmate and his thong-clad girlfriends, while back in LA, her cheating ex and teenage daughter are ignorant of her romance. Even Solène’s dreamy little Silver Lake bungalow is no match for the harassment of the paparazzi and high school bullies, and she ultimately decides to put her daughter’s needs before her own. Solène breaks things off with Hayes.

Anne Hathaway and Ella Rubin as mother and daughter in "The Idea Of You."
Alisha Wetherill/Prime
Anne Hathaway and Ella Rubin as mother and daughter in "The Idea Of You."

As the credits rolled, Sam and I agreed: It didn’t have to be so dramatic. “If she really wanted to get her daughter through high school, she only needed to wait a couple more years,” Sam pointed out. But why did she have to wait at all? Why was heartbreak the only solution? Was Solène right to end her relationship to protect her daughter, I wondered?

This idea that we have to give up our own desires to ensure the happiness of our children is tired — and frankly, incorrect. Moms especially are held to a harsh standard of selflessness when it comes to our kids.

Samantha Tinter, a licensed clinical social worker and owner of Hudson Valley Counselling, believes that it’s essential for parents to prioritise themselves. “When we give everything we have to our children, and forget about ourselves, we become irritable, exhausted, resentful and easily overwhelmed. All in the name of dedicated parenting.” she said.

Taking time away from our kids and spending it with adult friends, getting a manicure or exercising can all be necessary elements of self-care, Tinter argues. “All of these things matter and are important in not getting swallowed up into your role as a parent until you become unrecognisable to yourself,” she added.

Hannah Samaha has experienced this push-and-pull both as a child therapist and as a mother.

“The only situation to not prioritise your own needs is when it comes to situations that are dangerous or harmful to your child,” said Samaha, a child psychologist in private practice.

“Our kids look to us for safety and security, and they’re very perceptive. If our behaviors are indicating that we don’t feel safe and secure, they’re going to perceive the world as a dangerous place,” she added.

“Moms especially are held to a harsh standard of selflessness when it comes to our kids.”

In my own home, my wife Sam and I have started reminding ourselves, “We are people, too.” Sometimes we say this aloud and let our children hear us — let them know we are flawed humans with wants and needs. I am multifaceted: I have good days and bad ones. I make mistakes. I get excited. I have interests outside of my children. I certainly don’t have all the answers. Why should I pretend otherwise?

According to Tanika Masse, a psychologist who specialises in working with children, parents prioritising their own needs is beneficial to their children.

“Taking care of yourself is essential, and it is not a luxury or option, but rather a vital means of ensuring one’s own survival and well-being,” she said.

She implores parents to give themselves some grace as a starting point. “Practice self-compassion, be kind to yourself and recognise that it’s okay to prioritise your own needs sometimes. Let go of any guilt or pressure to constantly put your children first, and remember that taking care of yourself ultimately benefits them, too.”

In the case of “The Idea of You,” Solène’s choice to end a relationship with a pop star isn’t a realistic example of the challenges of parenthood — that’s why this is a movie — but it does highlight an important issue. Even though Solène has friends, she feels emotionally isolated. Like her, there are many parents who don’t have the support of a community who can help them make “self-care” a reality. But removing guilt from the equation, like Masse suggested, is emotionally beneficial and available to everyone.

When my wife and I care for ourselves as individuals and for our relationship, we are able to be more present for our kids. We are able to bring our emotionally healthiest selves to motherhood. So instead of constantly worrying about what’s best for our kids‚ like Solène does in the film, it’s time to consider our own needs. When we’re able to do that, we can make better decisions for our kids and find balance for our families.