What's a ‘selfish mum summer'? And why is it important you have one, from a psychotherapist

It isn’t as bad as it might sound, says psychotherapist Anna Mathur - here’s why

woman on boat so happy
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As a psychotherapist, I regularly speak to and work with burnt-out mothers, which leads me to my question: Could you do with being a little more selfish?

Anna Mathur is a resident expert for GoodToKnow and has written some exceptional pieces around mum rage and the common grandparent fails that parents struggle with, she is a parent psychotherapist who is passionate about women finding their way through and figuring out what matrescence is all about as best they can. And here she talks about how we could all do with being a little bit selfish-er.

If ‘selfish mum’ sits at one end of a line, and ‘martyr’ sits firmly at the other, where would you put yourself on that line? If you were to sit down the selfish end, perhaps you’ve outsourced every single moment of child-rearing and care to someone else, overlooking their needs in pursuit of meeting yours. Or maybe you sit at the martyr end, where every breath you take, every ounce of energy and resource you expend, is on or for your child. You exist to facilitate their every need while overlooking yours, and your own dreams are put firmly aside because your life goal and purpose is to ensure your child is as happy as possible.

The direct description of 'selfish' is to lack consideration for other people and be concerned only with your own pleasure. But, let’s face it, there’s little to none of this happening for the overwhelming majority of mothers. The very nature of mothering means that your attention is on your child or children. So, the chances are, if you’re feeling ‘selfish’, it probably means you’ve simply edged a little closer toward the healthy midpoint between martyr and selfish.

Of course, I’m not encouraging you to whiz down the other end of that scale and start shunning the needs and emotions of your children, instead, I’d love you to think about how it might look to be a bit more selfish-er.

How to reframe 'selfish mum'

It’s not ‘you first’ it’s ‘you too’. I've been a psychotherapist for over a decade now and I vividly remember one client saying how she felt overwhelmingly selfish for going on a walk without her kids. Of course, there was nothing selfish about going on a lovely walk and getting a breath of fresh air, but the more you’re struggling to value and recognise the importance of meeting your own needs, then the harder it will feel to take steps to value yourself and lean into the truth that you are equally deserving of having your needs met as your child is.

Being a selfish mum is not ignoring your child’s needs. But more, it’s acknowledging that you have needs too

Being a selfish mum is not only planning things for yourself. It’s making sure that you are making space for things that bring you joy too.

Being a selfish mum is not never interacting with your children. It’s knowing that you have limited resources, so spending focussed moments with them and then allowing them to play independently while you have time to yourself too.

Being a selfish mum is not spending all your spare finances on yourself. It’s buying some second-hand items so that you have a little budget to get yourself something you need too.

Being a selfish mum is not burdening friends and family with your problems and needs. It’s recognising that healthy relationships are often two way, and as humans, we need to lean on others sometimes, as well as offer support.

Five ways to enjoy a 'selfish mum summer'

  1. Let your children make memories without you
  2. Remember, it’s your summer too
  3. Divide and conquer - accept offers of help
  4. Hold a pause when things get fractious
  5. Let your children see you rest

1. Let your children make memories without you

Let your children make memories without you. Think back to your own childhood. How many of your summer memories involve your parent actively playing with you? Mine don’t – they involve making mud pies in the woodland at the back of my garden, playing with my brother building dens, making crafts and covering the living room carpet with superglue.

In our fast-paced lifestyle, I often question whether we place so much pressure on ourselves to ‘MAKE MEMORIES’ with our children because we battle with lingering guilt that we’re too distracted, on our phones too much, or struggling with our work/home priorities. If you child is happily playing or occupied, there’s no need to leap in.

"It’s not ‘you first’ it’s ‘you too’."

Anna Mathur

Take that moment to rest, slow down or get something done guilt-free. I often have to discourage myself from feeling guilty for not ‘playing’ with my kids when they’re already having fun and making memories together! If they’re happy, leave them. They may well be making nice memories. You don’t need to be in all of them.

Kate. Mum to Lila aged 4: ‘I am working 3.5 days a week over the summer holidays so my daughter is going to kids club for 4 days. I am keeping half day for myself rather than picking her up early. I feel so guilty, but I did it last year, and it gave me time to work out and get some house stuff done. It gave me a bit of extra balance and I loved it. I’d pick her up and she’d be full of smiles and chatter. So I’m doing it again this year!’.

2. Remember, it’s your summer too

In the summer, I buy nice snacks for lunches, lollies for the freezer and ensure we’re stocked up on the things the kids need. However, this summer, I added some of my favourite ice creams to the online shop too, and subscribed to my favourite magazine. Whilst I’ll be juggling work and kids, I want to remember, it’s MY summer too! What can you do to claim some of summer as your own? Pull in some childcare favours so you can have a kid free time in the sunshine? Add some nice things to the shopping basket so you can feel cheered at work?

Toya. Mum to Freddie and Ivan ages 9 and 2: "Last summer my mum gave me their old sun lounger. I refused saying ‘I’m clearly not going to be able to use that am I?’ but she insisted. One day, Ivan was down for his nap, I caught sight of the lounger, grabbed a book, and lay in the sunshine. It was glorious. For most of the following days I spent half an hour on that lounger with a book. I looked forward to this time so much. I’m eyeing up the lounger already, as thankfully Ivan still naps consistently."

3. Divide and conquer - accept offers of help

Accept those offers of help be it a drop off, or an invitation to ‘come over and let’s do the kid’s tea in the garden’. There can be strength in numbers and having another mum around who get it. I’ve had some really therapeutic conversations with a friend, snatched between dishing up 6 small portions of beige. There’s nothing like someone else stepping in to wipe your kids nose, or seeing your child play happily with a friend whilst you sit, talk and observe. Sure, the chaos is more…chaotic, but you’re doing it together (just don’t forget to accept any offer of help with the clear-up!)

Farah. Mum to Tito aged 7: ‘I used to feel like I had to properly ‘host’ playdates. I’d plan the meal, vacuum, make sure my friend got to sit down whilst I rushed to her kids and mine. It was exhausting. Recently I met a new mum at the school gates who invited us round. She made zero effort! She shoved some pasta in a pan and let me make teas whilst she folded some washing! It was so low-effort, it made me thing ‘If I did things like this, I would do more’. So, I’m going to make less effort too. I often wonder why I don’t feel like I have a ‘village’, but I think it’s because I exhaust myself ‘trying’. My time with her felt like we were part of each other’s community’

4. Hold a pause when things get fractious

When things get fractious, take a breath before lurching off the sofa or laptop, or slamming your tea down on the worktop to dash to them. In my household, I have learnt that sometimes my kids can iron out their own disputes, or sometimes a second longer of looking means they find that toy on the shelf. It’s a good skill to be encouraged to attempt to use our own resources first before we seek help. So adopting a pause gives your child a chance to try out their problem solving, seeking or argument resolution skills! Sure, most of the time you end up heading to sort it out, but you never know, you might be able to polish off that sandwich instead!

Seema. Mum to Aria, Navin and Tarun, ages 10, 6 and 5: ‘My kids are always scrapping, especially the young ones. I would be constantly stopping what I was doing in order to help them resolve their issues. These days I just wait a short while, and they often sort it out between them. I think it teaches them good skills to find out how people respond when they act a certain way. I even heard my 5 year old apologise to his sister the other day!’

5. Let your children see you rest

I have had to learn to value rest, to listen to my body instead of plough on regardless of my energy levels being on the floor. Parenting often requires us to keep calm and carry on, but there’s a cost to doing this. We get burnt out, frazzled and reactive when we’re depleted. I want my children to learn to listen to and respect their bodies, to rest when they’re tired and take it easy when they’re stressed. If you want your children to learn this too, as I’m sure you do, the most powerful way to teach them is to model the behaviour. Let them see you rest. Let them hear you say ‘I will do that in a minute, I’m just resting’. Rest openly, nourish yourself loudly!

Lead. Mum to Sam, age 12: ‘I never, ever saw my mum sit down. But when pregnant with Sam, I got diagnosed with Lupus which can make me feel really tired and unwell. After working in a fast-paced corporate environment, being told to slow down and rest (especially with a new baby) felt impossible. However, I’ve learnt that if I don’t listen to my body, I get a horrible flare which causes pain and quite literally forces me to rest. My attitude to rest has changed. I welcome it, I plan it, I respect it. I want to make sure that Sam knows how important it is to have down-time and slow-time in his life’.

How might you pledge to be selfish-er this summer? Moving further down to the middle of the selfish-martyr scale will find you with more energy to engage in and enjoy the good things that this summer holds, as it’s hard to have fun when you’re frazzled. But, the most amazing side-effect of being selfish-er, is that you teach your children that need-meeting doesn’t stop in adulthood and that mums deserve to slow and seek joy too. It may well be that you’re breaking generational narratives simply by swinging by the sofa, what an incredible thing to be doing! And don’t forget, being selfish-er isn’t demanding ‘me first’, it’s welcoming the ‘me too’.

If you liked this then check out Anna's other great, and insightful articles. The most recent on the fear you'll 'mess your kids up' will make you feel seen, and why most mums never feel good enough will make you realise it's not just you. Plus, her heart-aching piece on regretting motherhood shares five brilliant ways to respond to that feeling.

Anna Mathur MBACP Accred
Mother, Pyschotherapist and author

Anna Mathur is a mum of three, psychotherapist and bestselling author. She's passionate about taking therapy out of the therapy room and sharing her own personal and professional experiences to support mums through motherhood. Psychoeducation is a big passion of Anna’s as she believes that knowing yourself and understanding your thoughts and feelings is a huge part of enabling change.