Author: Carrie Myers
Several years ago, while I was teaching a wellness-related class to a group of women, the conversation rolled into motherhood and self-care. I asked how many took the time to do things like exercise, spend time with girlfriends, participate in an enjoyable hobby, take a little time to breathe, pray, or meditate…
A few hands went up. The other women said things like:
My kids come first.
I don’t have the time for things like that.
When my kids are grown maybe, but right now, their activities come first.
Essentially, as the conversation continued, someone said what the non-hand-raisers were thinking:
It’s selfish to take the time for things like that when you have kids. When you become a mom, you make sacrifices.
I picked up the mom-shaming vibe seeping into the room. And here’s the thing. The moms who were in favor of “mommy martyrdom” also stated how exhausted, irritable, short-tempered, and cranky they were—and they looked it.
So, I said something like, “Let me ask you. How does it make you a better mom when you’re so irritable, no one can ask you a question without you biting their head off…when you’re so exhausted, all you think about is sleep…when you’re basically just in capital B mode all…the…time…when your relationships are suffering as a result of your mood… How does this make you a better mom than a mom who takes a few minutes or even an hour out of her day to take care of herself so that she shows up to her family in a better mindset?”
How Are Sacrifices to Your Health Helping Your Kids?
For whatever reason, we moms tend to think that a good mom sacrifices everything for her kids.
But how is sacrificing your health—including your mental health—helping your kids? How is sacrificing your relationships, including your relationship with your significant other, helping your kids?
Remember the oxygen mask on the plane? Would it help your kids to get their masks on, only to find out you’ve run out of oxygen and can no longer be there for them?
Momma, you must get your own oxygen mask on first so that you can help your kids get theirs on. Better yet, teach them how to put theirs on, and in the process, you’ll also teach them independence.
Roots…and wings. That’s what we’re here for. We provide the roots, the grounding that our kids need so that when they are ready to fly from the nest, they’ve got the wings to do so.
And by incorporating self-care into your day, you’re also role-modeling healthy behaviors.
Also, who said self-care had to be done alone? You can make some activities a family affair, too.
So, between you taking better care of yourself—body, mind, and spirit—you show up in a better mindset for your family. And by role modeling and including your family in some self-care activities, what some see as being selfish becomes family-care.
P.S. If Mother Guilt tries to rear her ugly head, tell her to get lost (I actually designed a final project in grad school called, “Screw Mother Guilt!” Enough said…)
5 Practical Ways to Add Self-Care to Your Day
Here are a few practical ways you can sneak some self-care–and ultimately, family-care–into your day.
Start and End Your Day with Some Quiet Time
I’m a big believer that the way you start your day will determine the way the rest of it goes. And the way you end it will determine how well you sleep. And how well you sleep will affect your day. See the cycle?
Taking a little quiet time—even if it’s just five minutes—to help get centered, breathe, pray, meditate, or practice affirmations will help quiet your mind and set you up for success.
I find that this exercise helps me sleep better, too. Thinking about the good things that happened that day—which can be verrrry difficult to do some days—helps put me into a relaxed state of mind.
On the days you feel like you just cannot think of anything good, think about the helpful lessons that are coming from the stressful things that happened that day.
Remember—life is happening for you, not to you!
One of the most simple, evidence-based things you can do to reduce stress is to practice deep breathing.
In a previous blog post, I explained what the vagus nerve does for us—slowing us down, including our heart rate and blood pressure. Our gut even works better, improving our digestion when the vagus nerve is stimulated.
One thing that stimulates it? Deep breathing.
Try this: Sit or stand tall (you can also do this lying down on your back). Place one hand on your belly and the other over your heart. Take a deep breath in, feeling your belly expand. Hold that breath for about a count of three to five, then very slowly exhale through either your nose or mouth (kind of like you’re blowing out a candle, but much slower). As you exhale, pull your belly button in toward your spine. Pause for about a count of three. Repeat.
Schedule It In
Whether you have one child or 10, working with a planner or calendar is a must. It makes life so much easier to get things out of your head and onto paper.
Even you free-spirited moms will benefit from using a planner (I know because I am one!).
I really like Amy Knapp’s Family Organizer—which is a planner—and Sandra Boynton’s My Family Calendar—which is a wall calendar. With the calendar, everyone can see what’s going on, who needs to be where, and when.
So, schedule self-care times into your life. As boring and calculated as that might sound, it might be the only way you will do it. And if everyone else knows that it is scheduled, they also know what to expect.
Figure Out What Self-Care Means to You
It’s difficult to get more of something if you aren’t sure what that something even is. Sometimes we moms get so wrapped up in our kids’ activities and in momming, that we don’t even know what we like or need anymore.
Dinner out with your significant other or with girlfriends? Haha!
Five minutes in the bathroom without kids practically beating the door down and
screaming, “Mooooommmy!”? Ha. Ha. Ha.
But what exactly does self-care mean to you? Know that this will change depending on what season of life you’re in.
When you’re in full-on mommy-mode, changing diapers, breastfeeding, warming bottles, potty training…you probably won’t have as much time as a mom whose kids are graduated and out of school (Hallelujah!).
And while you know your life best, be careful about allowing “busy-ness” to rule your day. In other words, be careful about using time as an excuse to not take good care of yourself.
So, what does self-care mean to you? What would fill you up right now?
Pick up that book you’ve been wanting to read. So what if it takes you a year to do so?
Start that new class you’ve been eyeing.
Reach out to a friend you’ve lost touch with.
What would fill you up right now? If you don’t fill your bucket up, it will eventually become empty. Trust me. I know.
Ask for Help
I can hear some of you now. You don’t dare ask for help. Or you feel you have no one to help you. Or you feel your job is your job and no one else’s job to do.
I’m calling B.S.
Your kids are your kids, and while they are primarily your responsibility, it doesn’t mean the whole entire span of responsibility for them is just on you.
Stop with the mommy-martyr mentality!
Ask your significant other, your mother-in-law, a neighbor, a friend, or a responsible teenager to watch the kids once a week for an hour so you can go for a walk (or take a nap) alone. Or whatever you want to do.
Barter with friends. Alternate weeks watching each other’s kids for a predetermined amount of time.
And reframe this whole I-can’t-ask-for-help farse. There is someone out there just waiting for you to ask them to help you. Maybe they’ve even offered to help you in the past, but you declined.
What if you declining their help is taking away a blessing from them?
And as I’m writing this, this thought keeps nagging me. Make sure you’re also taking time for couple’s-care.
So many couples put the kids first when really, your relationship needs to also be a priority. It’s how a strong family unit is built. When was the last time the two of you had quality time together?
What would fill your bucket right now? Schedule it and ask for help if you need it. Start and end your day with a little quiet time. And through it all, remember to just…breathe…