When to stop putting your children first. A guilt-free guide

Reading: The Selfish Mom

Personal Growth

The Selfish Mom

For 19 years she put her son first. At 61 she decided it was time for herself

By Debra Boulanger

“You’re supposed to put me first,” said my son — just home from his first year in college, his eyes welling up with tears. “You’re always so selfish. You can’t just decide this on your own. I have a say in this, too.”

We were in the basement and I was helping him gather materials for a project — building a game table for the backyard.

“We will have to clean out this basement before you head back to school,” I said.

“Why?” Jared asked.

“Because our lease is up and I want to move back to Manhattan. Steve and I are moving in together, and I need to be in the city for my business.”

Mom’s Are Not Supposed to Have “Needs”!

“What about me? What am I supposed to do?”

“We’ll have a big two-bedroom and your stuff will be there. You’ll always have a place to stay.”

“I can’t live with you and Steve — that would be just, well…weird!”

Then he hit me with it: “You’re so selfish. You’re my mother. You’re supposed to put me first.”

I’m a selfish mom!

It was a shot in the gut. Then I started thinking he was right. I am a selfish mom.

I was taught that I’m supposed to sacrifice for my children. That’s what was modeled for me.

My mother left her job when she started having babies. She was president of Band Parents, helped us with our homework, and was the local “Welcome Wagon” representative for new neighbors.

It was my dad who put his career first. Every few years we moved to a new state as he was climbing the corporate ladder. I never got a say in those decisions. I just had to somehow find the confidence to adjust to a new school and make new friends — not easy for a super shy and very insecure girl.

My mother had her last child at 40, and I had my one and only late in life. I’m now 61 and he’s 19.

But We Are Meant to Sacrifice!

Along the way, I have made sacrifices. I “nested” with my ex-husband for three years after our divorceto create a stable home for our son, who was then in middle school. The last thing I wanted to do was rock the boat for a 12-year-old.

When he was 15, I sold the house and moved into an adorable rental in the village of our little resort town. Jared didn’t drive yet, and although he wasn’t happy about moving (all of two miles), being able to walk to town and be in close proximity to friends was a big bonus.

I quit my corporate job and started coaching women on how to reinvent themselvesin midlife, drawing clients through my writing and speaking and online training programs. Working from home enabled me to be the class parent in 11th and 12th grades — a time that can be really tough for kids, with standardized tests and college applications.

I kept Jared close and knew all of his friends. We were a team.

When it came time for Jared to leave for college, I missed him but didn’t feel the emptiness that so many other mothers talk about with the “empty nest”syndrome. I had no worries about “what do I do now?” I had a business to grow. That was my new baby.

Without interruptions from teenagers walking in and out of the house on a workday, I spread out my work and started focusing on me and what I wanted to be when I grew up.

And at least once or twice a month I piled into the car, dog in tow (shaking and panting for the entire three-hour drive), and headed into New York City to speak, network, and drum up new business.

When Does a Mom Ever Get Her Turn?

I found the love of my life at 59, and he happens to live in Manhattan. A convenient home base for me when doing business there. Although his studio apartment does get a bit crowded with two adults and two dogs, one desk and one bed.

We had both simplified our lives after our divorces. His son is now out of grad school and on his own, and mine mostly so. Or so I thought.

They have a nice vibe between them, my man and my boy. Jared readily accepted Steve the summer he lived with us to write his book. Steve helped Jared build a boat for his senior project over the winter. Steve created the perfect distance — friend and supporter when needed but in no way trying to step in as a father.

During the school year, Jared and I had a weekly FaceTime call. Sometimes I’d have to chase him down, other times I’d get a text, “can you talk?” I dropped everything when he asked.

When it came time to pack up his dorm room, we were FaceTiming about what to pack and what to store. I’m a mom to the core, and helping support this young man develop into the man he wants to be is my priority, my responsibility, and my biggest joy.

But it’s not my only joy. I matter too. My happiness and ability to provide for myself for the next decade are paramount. Truthfully, I didn’t think it even mattered so much where we lived, with many of his friends taking summer internships and traveling abroad. Beyond this first summer at home, I thought he too could live anywhere.

Mom’s Are Like Old Furniture: There, But Ignored

Last spring break I barely saw Jared. After two days at home, he said, “I’m bored here. I’m heading back to the city where I can at least see my friends and have something to do.”

I thought, “moving back to Manhattan will be easy.”

But Selfish Mom was wrong.

At 61 this is about me, too. It’s hard to live apart from my new partner. Time holds no guarantees, and I’d rather wake up in the arms of the man I love than next to my furry friend. I also want to provide for my life ahead, travel, and do things I enjoy while this body is still strong and stable and the mind still works as it should.

I plan to live a long and happy life. Am I really meant to put my life on hold for three more years so my son has a place to crash in the summer? I’ll be on the verge of 65!

Am I a selfish mom? No. I am a very giving mother who also has needs of her own to tend to, while continuing to do the dance with this boy/man whom I adore — allowing us both to grow and blossom as we should — with love and mutual respect.

The conversation isn’t over, and I probably should have been more sensitive with my words and timing. Jared and I will get through this next transition together — just like we got through the divorce and downsizing and the transition to college.

We have been through a lot together, this boy and I. We are partners to the end. But it’s no longer about me sacrificing my needs for his. It’s about mutual love and respect and doing our best to ensure we each have what we need to move forward.

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