Mama’s Hierarchy of Needs

If there’s one thing that mamahood never is, it’s boring. OK, that’s a bit of a stretch when you’re reading the same bedtime book for the umpteenth time. But life as a mama certainly always turns on a dime. And we are keen at developing cat-like reflexes when it comes to quelling the fires of modern-day parenting. We all have our limits and moments of overwhelm, though. And if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy, right?

Enter Mama’s Hierarchy of Needs.

As a single mama running the ship, I’ve had to become astutely aware of when my crankiness with my kids is really just me feeling hangry. And when to show myself some love and mercy when I have flubbed up. It’s easy to put your needs last when you’ve got little (or not-so-little) ones to feed, clothe, and ensure the manners of. And when spit hits the fan, it can be really easy to let your needs go out the window. That’s the last thing you should do in challenging times, though. Insert “put on your own oxygen mask first” analogy here.

Just as Maslow declared Man’s Hierarchy of Needs, we mamas have one too. We must tend to ourselves to be our best selves. Let’s break it down, shall we?

1. Eat, Drink, Sway

Our most basic of needs as mamas are the prevention of hangriness, good hydration (H2O, wine—your choice), and physical movement (yoga, running, weights, love-making—again, your choice).

You can add sleep on top of that, too. We’ve all experienced sleep deprivation at some point during the baby and youngster years. But even now that my kids are older, I know I have a tendency to push myself to exhaustion at the end of the day and throughout the week. This is a disaster waiting to happen. When we habitually don’t get enough sleep and rest, we’re just snowballing the odds against us.

I’m not going to wag my finger telling you that you should be on some crazy diet, watching every bite you eat. My rule of thumb for fueling my body is fill up on foods that make you feel good and enjoy less-than-good-for-you foods in moderation. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, don’t overdo it on the coffee, and allow yourself the luxury of a glass of wine from time to time.

Lastly, when I’m feeling pent up with stress, I usually find that I’ve gotten off track with exercising. I’m not big on exercise regimes, but I am big on physical movement that fits with my lifestyle and brings me joy. Getting out for a bike ride, swing dancing, going to yoga, and boxing are all some of my favorite ways to release and create energy with my body. I can feel a big difference in my mindset when I’m doing it—and when I’m not.

If all of these basic needs are left unmet, then we’re going to have a hard time not turning into Hulk-mom when someone spills the milk.

2. Home Sweet Home and a Retirement Plan

Next on Mama’s Hierarchy of Needs is a nest to hunker down in. Having the fanciest house on the block is not a basic need, but living in a home that you feel good in makes a world of difference in your sense of security and well-being. There’s time to feather the nest further down the line.

Next up after food and shelter (and clothing, of course), is money. Regardless of whether you’re married or a one-parent household, you need to have a way to plan for your individual financial future (and provide for your family now, of course). Not that you can’t make plans with your partner, but you do need to have funds in your name and exercise your financial power and responsibility.

Life happens and you don’t want to be left with nothing or knowing nothing about your finances. Especially if you’re a single mom, having a nest egg and retirement plan will go a long way in providing you peace of mind. If you’re married, be involved in your budgeting and meetings with your financial planner. If you’re single, do what it takes to get on track with your finances so you have a safety net beneath you—trust me, it’s pretty darn scary when you don’t.

3. Love in the Time of Colic

When you’re regularly taking care of your body and you have your home and finances in some semblance of order, it’s only natural to want some lovin’. And I’m not talking sex here. I’m talking emotional intimacy and a sense of belonging—and not all with one person, like your partner. Your partner is certainly a part of that needed intimacy, but so are your friends and your community.  

Having people in your life that you can be real and vulnerable with when you’re up to your elbows in diapers or teen angst, is a balm that keeps you sane. We are not robots here to raise the next generation; we’re crying, breathing, love-giving mamas who need love in return.

4. Thank Yous Are a Mama’s Best Friend

Along with feeling the warm-fuzzies with those close to us, mamas also need recognition. And not just a stack of cards and breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day. Motherhood is an endless (and often thankless) job. There’s no gold star given to us every time we’ve accomplished a new milestone or even a good day with our kids.

As a single mama, I don’t have someone there to experience and witness the everyday accomplishments. Practicing gratitude and taking the time to acknowledge yourself is critical. And emulate that for your kids, so that they can both learn how to practice and express gratitude and look beyond themselves at the efforts of those around them.

5. Room to Glow

Lastly, when we’ve worked to take care of our bodies, create security, nourish intimacy, and find esteem, it’s time to give ourselves room to really fly. Giving ourselves space to live expansively allows us to create not only the family life of our dreams, but to become the fullest versions of ourselves, too. We need people in our lives who will give us that space, and to give ourselves permission to take the lid off of ourselves, too.

It’s a hard thing being a mother and a woman. There have been long times when I forgot the essence of who I was and couldn’t see past my role as a mother. When we nourish ourselves as a full person, giving space and taking responsibility for our own needs, only then can we show up fully for the most precious people in our lives: our children.


Amy Lynn is a divorced mama of four kids and dog mom to two. She’s lived in San Antonio for over 20 years and has a degree in English from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Previously a program director at a local literary arts nonprofit, she began blogging as a creative outlet when she became a stay-at-home mom. Now a digital media consultant and writer, Amy is the founder of The Dog Guide and The Dog Guide San Antonio. Favorite Restaurant: Clementine Favorite Landmark: Hays Street Bridge Favorite San Antonio Tradition: Cascarones