My self care today looks very different than it did a year ago, before my son was born. Free time was much more accessible then and making time for myself was a lot less complicated. I don’t think I fully appreciated how much simpler it was for me to take a relaxing bath, read a book for pleasure, attend a yoga class or write in my journal. I also greatly took for granted the more basic things like eating when I was hungry, using the washroom when the urge struck and getting a 7-8 hour stretch of sleep each night.
The sudden shift from having time to myself to having all my time devoted to a helpless newborn felt surprisingly okay at first. I was so enthralled with this little being, I didn’t care about my needs. I didn’t feel the full impact of my baby’s complete dependence on me until our visitors started to dwindle off, my husband returned to work and I realized I was on my own, in unfamiliar territory.
With a revolving door of family and friends in the first few weeks, I had opportunities to rest, heal and steal some moments for myself. I also ate like a queen with all the prepared meals and yummy food that people dropped off. I remember thinking “well, this isn’t that hard. What have my parent friends been yammering on about anyways?” This level of naivety deserves a good swift kick in the bottom, I know.
With each milestone and developmental stage, I was thrown into a tailspin that had me fumbling and floundering to find my footing and then, just as I would find a rhythm and a little balance, everything would change. From what I’ve experienced, this is the only guarantee in parenting – You are never in control, even when you think you know – the universe, and let’s face it the babes and kids must be in on it too…well, they’ll make a fool of you, every time!
Being a mom is damn hard but it’s also the best, most wonderful thing I’ve done with my life. I live in constant contradiction of myself and yet, it works. The quote “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” may be referring to the French Revolution and a period in history but I feel as though Dickens must have had some first-hand insight into motherhood because that statement perfectly sums up my first year as a mom.
It’s tireless work. There’s little praise and no glamour. It challenges you in ways you never knew possible. Sometimes, you want to quit and run away, but you know you can’t. You just have to keep pushing onward. It’ll bring you to your knees in tears of overwhelm and exhaustion but it will also leave you bursting at the seams with giddy, goose-bump level joy.
The pendulum shifts of extreme opposing emotions and experiences is what makes self-care so damn important as a mom. It’s a battle for me to make and find time for myself. The truth is, it feels like hard work stacked on top of more hard work and some days it’s impossible to balance it all. Admittedly, this is only the case some of the time. I do make lame excuses for why I can’t attend a yoga class or have a relaxing bath. Sometimes, I could make the time, but I don’t because I convince myself that some other to-do is more important. Okay, to be fair, sometimes there are pressing, urgent to-dos that need immediate attention but often times, I’m just being lazy and probably a little apathetic about my own worth. I know I’m not alone in these feelings. I know that other moms need some encouragement and maybe even a little tough love lecture on why self care matters so much. So here it is: a list of seven compelling reasons why you need to make time for yourself. I hope it makes it mark.
- Your “best” hinges on the maintenance of your “worst”. We’ve all got demons and they’re triggered by stress, anxiety and sleep deprivation, all plentiful conditions in the world of parenting. We can’t always be our best selves. However, acknowledging this fact is what will keep us afloat and makes this parenting ride sustainable and enjoyable. When I get run down, my red hot temper takes over. I’m not pleasant to be around, ok…truth, I’m a miserable angry yeti. While my rage is usually short-lived it always triggers the dynamic duo; self-loathing and self-pity to pick up where it left off. Undoing this tailspin takes a lot of effort, more effort than if I just do the regular maintenance; meaning I get proactive about my self care. There are no grand gestures here. First rule of self care as a mom is being realistic with what you can do. For me, this involves small offerings to myself; a cup of tea and a quiet moment in the afternoon, an extra long shower or taking a short solo walk to check the mail. These little acts help ground me and bring some self-awareness to my day. My anger will probably always be a thing, but it doesn’t have to get in the way of me being the best mom I can be as long as I take moments for myself when and where I can.
- Everything sucks when you’re tired and run down. Embarrassing confession: I had a complete emotional breakdown the other day because I couldn’t find a parking spot at the farmer’s market. My incapacity to handle the smallest obstacles is a tell-tale sign that I’m burnt out and I need some chill time. Everything feels catastrophic when I’m in this state. Self-care offers a shift in perspective and it can sometimes emulate the pushing of a metaphoric reset button. Taking a few moments to yourself in the midst of crisis and chaos is probably the best thing you can do. It allows you the chance to think, regroup and refocus. Things will inevitably suck less when you return to the wreckage, or at the very least you’ll be a bit calmer state. Quite simply, when I make time for myself, everything in my life functions better and I have less emotional meltdowns in parking lots.
- Motherhood is not a sprint, it is the longest damn marathon of your life. If you speed off right out of the gate, you will figure out quite quickly that this pace is not sustainable. You need replenishment or you will collapse. It’s not about winning any race, it’s about enjoying the journey and you will undoubtedly miss out on some pretty spectacular moments if you’re constantly in survival mode and running on fumes. It’s okay to rest and take a breather. You’ll be thankful you did.
- You can’t turn back time. I mean sure, Cher proposed what she would do if she could but it’s all hypothetical. Maybe it’s the pragmatist in me but I don’t see the point in dwelling on what you could or should have done in the past when you can do something in this moment. Also, who would any of us be without our mistakes, experiences and traumas? What meaning would remain in life if you were able to erase, control and manipulate time? I don’t want to go all existential here. However, all that zen talk of living in the present, yeah that’s legit. We get one crack at this life. This is it. Regrets are inevitable but so is death. There are no time machines and no fountains of youth. It’s not always easy to hold this outlook and appreciate what’s right in front of you. I need constant prompts and reminders. However, I know that when I’m holding this perspective, I am better at making time for myself, which in turn keeps me grounded. I’m a better mom, partner, daughter, sister and friend when I prioritize my needs. I still make mistakes and find myself wallowing like any flawed individual about them but when I am present, I am better equipped to process my failings and screw ups and then leave them in the past.
- Feeling good and healthy is not a right of passage. In our youth, we don’t really have to put much effort into our health and wellness. Our bodies are flexible, malleable and resilient. Adulthood is a different story. Feeling good and being healthy takes effort. Parenthood brings with it the weight of major responsibilities that elicit serious stress and anxieties in our lives. This can manifest some really nasty stuff, especially when we ignore the impacts and the necessity to process and heal. My muscles seize up when I’m not managing my stress. Everything compounds in my body; causing headaches, digestive problems and physical pain, not to mention emotional and mental turmoil. Finding healthy outlets for my anger and ways to manage my stress and anxieties is so necessary, but I have to be diligent about making the time and space. It’s not about perfection but find what feels good for you. Allow time for it and seek support in helping to make it happen as much as you can.
- It’s hard to teach an old dog, new tricks. There’s no question that it’s better to establish good habits of self-care now, no matter what age you’re at. We are not as malleable as we get older. We fall into patterns, good and bad and they become difficult to break. In my experience, I’ve had the most success changing habits when I think in small, singular daily acts. Maybe it’s setting an intention to get up 20 minutes earlier than the rest of your household, three mornings a week to have some alone time. It may seem too minor to be impactful, but trust me, any act of self-care is significant and the more you do it, the more habitual it becomes.
- You want to teach a pup the right tricks. We all want to set a good example for your children. Teach them to be introspective and self-aware. Model good stress management and coping skills. If you’re like me, you might really punish yourself when you screw up on this because you know how important it is. None of us want our children to see us anger, hurt or struggling but inevitably, they will and part of this modelling is addressing it head on. It’s having open dialogues as a family about stress and how it impacts everyone. Undoubtedly, the reality is if I’m treating myself like a doormat than others will do. It’s so hard to do but I wholeheartedly believe that my son needs to see me taking care of myself. Not only does he then learn that self-care is important for him but it establishes an expectation in our household that Mommy will take time for herself. The more this is done, the more it becomes engrained in your everyday lives.