Everyone else, before yourself? The challenge of self-care as a mother

The Struggle Is

I get the struggle. As a new mom to a very bright and busy 9 month old, all my time and energy is given to him and not always by choice but by necessity. On any given day, the minimum requirement is to keep him alive and some days I feel like I barely meet this goal, especially when he’s overtired, cranky and falling into things like a drunk sailor.

It’s funny that I can now reflect back on his days as a newborn and I thought that was hard! Now he’s climbing on the furniture and I’m learning that what I thought was baby-proofing is laughable. I remember saying to myself “oh he won’t bother with that” or “how could he hurt himself there”. His awake hours require my full, undivided attention.

Before I became a mother, I had time to consider myself, my needs and desires. I had autonomy and 8 hours of sleep each night. Although it didn’t seem it at the time, self-care was far more accessible to me. Fast-forward to now, self-care feels like an impossibility and yet, it is equally important, if not, more so.

One day recently, I looked down at my feet and was aghast at the length of my toe-nails. I mean how long had it been since I cut them? I thought about where the nail clippers were in our house and made a mental note to trim my toenails next time I was in that vicinity. I held this goal for that moment and then it was gone, nearly two weeks passed. I glanced down at my feet, which had now reached a whole new level of unkept. This just goes to show how easily we forget ourselves, as mothers, we get swept up in the day-to-day of caring for our children and families and even the simplest tasks don’t get done.

So here lies a dilemma, how do we take time for ourselves amidst the many demands of motherhood?

Obviously, I do not have the answers. The truth of it is, it’s hard for all of us and we all struggle in varying ways. Sometimes it’s the emotional hurdles that make self-care difficult. I know when I feel overwhelmed with the 24-7 demands of motherhood, in addition to my infinite to-do list, I don’t even want to consider myself in the equation. Why bother? I get dismissive and complacent about my own care because it doesn’t feel accessible with everything else going on.

Personally, I’ve found solace in my relationship with other women, especially those that are mothers as well. Sure, there can be a lot of judgement and criticism among parents but in my experience, it’s all about finding and connecting with your people; the ones who love, support and respect you. I am fortunate enough to have some amazing friends. They understand and empathize with me when I say “I just want to run away!”. They know I don’t really mean this. They know that I’m tired and overwhelmed. They know that what I need to hear most is “yeah, it’s friggin’ hard but you’re doing an awesome job”.

Sure, hearing this doesn’t solve my issues and magically provide me with more time or energy, but it is grounding and reassuring. Also, it reminds me that we can’t do it alone. We have to rally our supports when we’re getting run down. We have to seek out solace. For me, that varies depending on what’s going on. It may involve stealing time while my husband plays with our son, to have a bath, do some yoga or just make myself a snack and a cup of tea. Sometimes it’s reaching out to a friend to go for a walk with our kids and letting go of the fact that it might mess up nap time.

So, yeah, it’s hard to make time for yourself as a mom but I am here to reassure you and myself in the process, that it is 100% worth the effort.

I know amidst the chaos of motherhood, your needs often come last. I write this as I am sitting with a sleeping baby cradled in my arms and a bursting bladder.

The miraculous thing is that we learn to function like this; in some cases, even thrive for a long time. However, in my experience, both firsthand and observational, we all have our breaking point. Mine resembles short bursts of anger followed by several explosive crying fits. It’s ugly.

I know when this happens that I need to take some time to relax and unload some of my stress in a less destructive way; like going for a walk, doing some “rage” writing (more about this later!) or squeezing in a quick yoga practice. I know this and yet, sometimes I continue pushing myself.

When I ignore these signs of self-care deprivation, things just get messier and the means with which I can pull myself out becomes more difficult. My rational brain has been taken hostage by physical and emotional exhaustion and a runaway imagination. Some of you must know this place, the place where you start telling yourself ludicrous stories about why something has happened or predicting future events based on past failures or mistakes. I can weave the most elaborate webs of false realities when I’m stressed and run down. I deserve an Oscar for my performance during these periods. I don’t recognize myself.

This is all to say, self-care is so crucial!! You cannot, and will not be your best self if you ignore and neglect your needs. And furthermore, it is never too late for some self-care. Even when you feel like you’re passed the point of no return, I’ve been there and trust me, a little “me” time can go a long way. You may have to rally like hell to make it happen, but it will be worth it, I promise.


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