Rules for Fitting Self-Care into Motherhood
Thursday, August 20, 2015
That’s what motherhood is though, right? Self-sacrifice. You sacrifice your body, your sleep, your free time, your sanity. You do it willingly because the upside is worth it.
What if the sacrifice is too much? What if the lack of sleep leads to a depressed immune system? What if your lack of nourishment, sleep, and high stress combine to trigger an autoimmune disease? What if that nagging shoulder tension leads to a spasm and immobility for 3 days? Not only am I a mother who has neglected my own self care to great detriment, but at my acupuncture practice I treat a lot of mothers who neglect their own self care. In fact, most of the time when I see a mom with small children, it is because she has neglected an issue for so long that it has become a serious health concern.
It all boils down to the fact that once you have children, you put your own needs on the back burner. And this is as it needs to be — to a point. Yes, you need to be willing to keep your child safe, fed and loved at any cost. You do not need to have your health (physical, mental and emotional) suffer to such a dramatic degree just to be a good mom. Being a martyr will not help your children.
You know the saying “Happy wife, happy life?” I’d add to that “Healthy mama, healthy family.” So if you don’t think you can spare the time or the energy or the money, or if you feel guilty taking any of those resources away from your kids, it’s time to reframe. Think of taking care of yourself as one more way to put your kids first.
In order to fit self-care in reasonably and regularly after having kids, you need to adjust your idea of what constitutes self-care, and you need to get good at scheduling.
Maybe pre-kids a workout didn’t count unless it was a 2 hour run or a 90 minute Barre class. Now you look at your schedule and realize that the next time you can fit in a 90 minute Barre class is 3 weeks from Wednesday. So shift your idea of what makes a workout. First of all, what do you want to get out of it? Sanity? Sweat? Weight loss? Strength? Time away? Find your end goal, and then tailor your workout accordingly.
If all you want is a good sweat so you can maintain your weight and feel strong, then sign up for online barre classes or an online fitness program, and choose a class that fits the increment of time you have available. Have 20 minutes before nap time is over? Fit in a class, or jump some rope. When your kids are older you can make them a part of your workout — play soccer together and really give it your all, go on a jog while your LO rides his bike.
If what you need is a solid one hour of exercise 3 times/week to stay mentally healthy, then you need to build your schedule around it. Kudos to you if your kid likes to be in the jogging stroller or if you belong to a gym with childcare because this give you some flexibility. If not, check schedules with your partner, and make an agreement about days/times and put it on the family calendar. If you have the option, wake up early and workout before the rest of the house is awake (this should only be done if you are already getting enough sleep).
See your friends. I know a woman who did not leave her child to see friends or to go on a date with her husband for the first 11 months of her child’s life. She felt too guilty. It was compounded by the fact that she worked, so she felt like she was a bad mom if she then chose to spend any more time away. But at the same time, she was kind of starting to lose her mind. Don’t neglect your girlfriends. They will keep you sane.
Schedule a once monthly girls’ night, and get everyone to agree — for instance mine is the first Tuesday of every month. We have it perpetually on our calendars, our partners have it on their calendars, and because it is a routine part of our schedules, we don’t miss it. No one has to back out because they couldn’t find childcare or because something else got scheduled. We’ve been meeting like this for 6 years now (all of us have children) and rarely does anyone of the 8 of us ever have to miss a month. We all relish our time together.
Go on dates (with your partner ideally!). Parenthood is tough, but it is much harder if you don’t keep your relationship with your co-parent strong. If you are single, you still need to go on dates! Again, aiming for once monthly is fantastic. If you have reliable childcare, shoot for once a week. And adjust your idea of dating.
Before kids a date night may have started at 6 and ended at 1 am. After kids, you need to adjust your timeframes based on your kids’ comfort level with sitters and with your availability of sitters. If your kids are a nightmare to put down for bed, try to do a Sunday afternoon date, or an early dinner date. Even carving out 2 hours of alone adult time to reconnect is crucial. Being a good parent does not have to happen at the expense of your relationship.
Schedule a monthly chiropractic, acupuncture or massage appointment. Or all three! Motherhood wreaks havoc on your body — those car seats are heavy! Take an hour once a month to have someone else take care of you (this is a bare minimum recommendation). Again, scheduling it on a routine basis, i.e. the 3rd Thursday of every month at noon (lunch breaks are great for sneaking this kind of care in!) makes you much more likely to keep it going. And trust me, your body will thank you.
Reclaim an old hobby. Again, you may think you don’t have time, but realistically we’re talking about 30 minutes, 60 minutes — small chunks out of your life. It is far too easy to lose your Self in motherhood, and it can leave you feeling empty and lost. Taking time to be by yourself is so important. Do something you used to love to do before you had kids that can help you remember and maintain your identity as a person. Knit. Play the piano. Read. Write. Meditate. Locking yourself in the bathroom doesn’t count.
If you can afford it, splurge on once/ monthly housekeeping. I know this sounds indulgent, but you can find lots of great local cleaners who will make your house spotless for about $20 an hour. Depending on the size of your house and what you want them to do, you can get away with about $60/month. To have your tub, windows, and floors scrubbed, that may very well be worth it to you. Don’t feel guilty about this if you can swing it — otherwise you’ll just feel guilty about the fact that your house is a mess. And if your partner says that it is a waste of money when you think you sorely need it, ask them to put more time and sweat into the household chores. They may rethink their support.
It is time to stop eating the leftovers off of your kids’ plates. You are a grown person, and you deserve a real meal. Not only does this mean that you are likely eating in a rush, paying no attention to your food, and thus wrecking your digestion, but you are also likely to gain weight this way. If you don’t sit down or fix your own plate those calories don’t count, right? At least once each day, fix yourself something nourishing and delicious and sit down to eat it at a reasonable pace. Maybe this means you and your partner eat dinner after the kids go to bed. Maybe it means you teach your kids how to sit and enjoy a meal. Whatever it takes, for goodness sake, give yourself real good food.
This is not entirely under your control when you have young children and infants. However, if your ideals are getting in the way of your sleep to a degree that they are causing health issues, you need to rethink. For instance, if you firmly believe in co-sleeping and that has lead to you getting no more than 45 minutes of uninterrupted sleep because your 18 month-old is feeding at the all night breast buffet, you may want to rethink. Maybe he needs to move to his own bed before your immune system completely shuts down.
If your baby thinks day is night and night is day, have your partner help with at least a bit of the late night or early morning care so you can get a solid chunk of sleep. 4 hours straight will make you feel like you can climb a mountain.
Self-care is not about being selfish. It is about viewing yourself as a person in your family who deserves to be taken care of. You spend so much time taking care of everyone else, and the more time you devote to others at the expense of your own health an/or happiness, the more resentful you will be.
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