Posted by: Tracy Barsamian | February 21, 2015

The Selfish Mother


Tracy age 6

Selfish Six-Year-Old

From a very young age, my mother’s mantra was, “Tracy, you are so selfish”.  Because my mother chanted these words to me until she died (the week before my 30th birthday), the mantra was successfully transferred from her to me.  I swallowed her words as my own truth and so they’ve lived on, in both my head and my heart, for the past ten years.  In a sense, they’ve become my mother’s legacy and they are at the heart of my mother wound.

For most of my life, I have been focused on my mother being wrong – I’ve spent years screaming and crying that “I am not selfish!”.  But what if I am selfish?  And what if being selfish isn’t such a bad thing?  What if (dare I say!) being selfish actually makes human beings happy and healthy?  Richard Bach unabashedly(!!) says just that,

“Anybody who’s ever mattered, anybody who’s ever been happy, anybody who’s ever given any gift into the world has been a divinely selfish soul, living for his own best interest. No exceptions.”  (Illusions : The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, page 170)

“A divinely selfish soul”.  I want to swallow the words whole!!  But I need to take time to chew on them…to savor the taste of the words in my mouth…and as I digest the words, may their beauty replace the darkness of my mother’s mantra.

As I grew into a young adult, my mother would fine tune her words to “Tracy, you are too selfish to ever get married and have children”.  From her grave, my mother brings up an important point.  Her words convey the idea that in order to be a good wife and mother, one must be selfless.  My mother is not alone in this belief (that she most certainly learned from her own mother).  In fact, “there is a very strong cultural message that has powerful intergenerational momentum which states that a good woman is a self-sacrificing woman.

Many of us have grown up watching our mothers neglect themselves in order to care for their families–not just to care for their children but also to care for their parents and their husbands. Many of us have looked on as our mothers received praise for their self-neglect and we’ve seen the destruction that their inner deprivation can cause–as it manifests in family dynamics–and within our mothers in the forms of rage, depression, emptiness and bitter resentment.” (Bethany Webster, Womb of Light).

My mother most certainly neglected herself to care for her family – and not just her four children, but also to care for her own mother and brother with Down’s Syndrome, as well as her husband and his parents.  And really, why would an intelligent woman spit the words “you are so selfish!” at her six-year-old daughter, unless she, herself, were in excruciating pain?

How would my childhood have been different if my mother had committed some of the selfish acts that I engage in each week?  What if she’d  hired a neighborhood teenager to babysit me and my sisters for a few hours, twice a week so she could have gone for a walk or read a book?  What if she had demanded that my sisters and I share some of the burden of the housekeeping and cooking?  What if her membership to a weekly book club had required my father to feed, bath, and put their four children to bed once a week?  Of course, we’ll never know how this self-care would have affected my mother’s parenting…but I strongly suspect that she would have been much happier and much less resentful of her oldest (iron-strong-willed) daughter who has always known and manifested her heart’s desires.

The patriarchal tenet that mothers must be selfless hurts women and damages families.  Mothers have to care for themselves in order to effectively love and nurture their children.  It’s just like the airline stewardesses explain,

“Put your own oxygen mask on first.  Then assist others.” 

Only when a mother’s own cup is full is she able to bathe her children in the love and light they so richly deserve.

And so…although my mother’s mantra was incorrect, she was actually onto something.  If my mother had practiced self-care, she might have correctly prophesied, “Tracy, your selfishness will make you a good mother.”


  1. A beautiful article

  2. So beautifully written and insightful as usual, Tracy! I especially love this lasting line:

    “Only when a mother’s own cup is full is she able to bathe her children in the love and light they so richly deserve.”

  3. This is beautifully stated. I would like to learn more about how you started homeschooling – in particular, how you meet the requirements of the public school district.

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