THE BLOG
08/12/2014 01:03 pm ET Updated Oct 12, 2014

Should You Put Yourself Before Your Kids?

Yagi Studio via Getty Images

Standing in line for ice cream, there she was... a childhood friend I hadn't seen in years. In a crowd of disheveled parents, she was a ruby encircled by stones. Polished to perfection, her manicured nails complimented her toned skin. Soft curls bounced elegantly off her shoulders. She wore the latest fashions, complete with wedged sandals that added three inches to her height. In the words of Charlotte, she was RADIANT!

And there I was... the polar opposite of all things glowing and refined. I was lackluster, sporting stained yoga pants and a tank top that barely matched. My hair was unkempt. A glob of baby drool rested on my arm. I quickly wiped it off as she turned and recognized me.

We shared a friendly hug and quickly exchanged life stories. She was a partner at a Manhattan law firm, married with three children -- an 18-month-old boy and two girls, 3 and 5 years old.

"You look amazing! What's your secret?" I asked, desperate to know how she pulled off the appearance of a runway model while caring for three young children.

"Oh, that's easy," she replied. "You need to put yourself before your kids. Too many women lose their identities when they have children. They focus every waking second on the kids' needs and neglect their own. It shouldn't be that way. My career and self-care come first."

As she spoke, her youngest daughter tugged desperately on her pant leg. The little girl was shooed away with a quick flick of her mother's wrist. Her sister was busy dodging cars, weaving in between moving vehicles and those already parked. A quick honk and an angry, "Grab your kid, lady!" resulted in my "acquaintance" smugly waving off the driver. She never called out to her daughter or looked overly concerned for her safety.

Both girls were barefoot, running around an area littered with all sorts of debris. The baby slept in a stroller nearby, wearing little more than a diaper. It was a cool evening, and I couldn't help but notice him shiver.

When it was my turn to order, our conversation ended without an exchange of phone numbers or either of us suggesting we stay in touch. I've never been one to judge other parents, but in this particular instance my face must have been an open book.

The words "put yourself before your kids" echoed in my head like a tolling bell.

Is placing your children on the back burner trending? Is it now the "in" thing to do? If so, I'm disgusted.

I've always put my kids first, whether it's forgoing new clothes to pay for youth sports fees, prioritizing their doctor and dentist appointments over my own, or missing leisurely adult activities to make sure they enjoy their childhoods. If my kids are happy, I'm happy.

I don't need a fancy hairdo that takes three hours to style.

I don't need groomed nails or buff arms.

And I certainly don't need trendy duds that accentuate my curves.

All I need is to see them smile; to know that I'm doing everything I can to bring joy to their lives and help them blossom into well-rounded adults. Any parent who constantly places their needs and wants before those of their children should be ashamed. Thankfully, I will never have to live with that guilt.

This doesn't mean we should neglect our personal needs. As parents, it's important that we make time for ourselves so that we can better care for our children.

BUT...

There's a difference between self-care and being completely selfish.

There's a difference between having me-time and being a mostly absent parent.

There's a difference between free-range parenting and a child being neglected.

Knowing when and where to draw that line is what matters most.

Where do you draw the line?