I remember sitting in birth class before having Kennedy and the instructor asked each of us how we would care for ourselves after delivery. Many mentioned weekly yoga classes or date nights. Some even said they’d hire a babysitter once a week so they could have some solo time. One mom said it would be as simple as a shower alone every day. I can remember the ideas of the other moms-to-be, but I have no recollection of what I proposed for my own self-care. Whatever it was, I never followed through with. It would take well over a year after giving birth before I truly began to understand the value of self-care in motherhood. And oh how valuable it is!
When I had Kennedy I knew I would do anything for my child. My love for her is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I don’t want to miss a single thing. And that first year, I literally did not miss a moment. At some point there was one solo trip to Walgreens, but even then I asked my husband to send me photos during my 10 minute excursion. Otherwise, I was on all the time. Sure, Kennedy was high needs so attempting to do anything alone was often more stressful than helpful, but I never even attempted other ways to take care of myself. Looking back I see how tired and overwhelmed I was, and I wish I had used my creative brain to try and carve out a little R&R for me in any way I could!
Motherhood is a 24/7 job with unlimited demands. Tiny humans need a lot from us. From food, to hugs, to being the preferred bottom wiper- moms truly are non-stop superheros! Even when our kids are safe and well cared for by others, our mom minds never just turn off. We are moms 100% of the time. This makes it all the harder to take the time take care of ourselves, but it also makes it all the more important. Even though us mamas possess many superpowers, we simply cannot be everything to everyone else 24 hours a day if we don’t step back for a moment and make sure we are also well cared for.
So many sayings tell us how important it is to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others. The safety demonstration on airplanes advise that if we are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, to secure our own masks first and then assist the other person. How many inspirational posters out there tell us that you can’t pour from an empty cup so we must take care of ourselves first. All this is so true, but why is it so hard in motherhood? How do we balance nourishing our children while also nourishing ourselves?
Just like our kids, every mom has different needs. It doesn’t really matter what self care looks like for each person, what matters is that it is done guilt free. For me, that was the biggest hurdle. The mom guilt. Some days, when I felt at a breaking point, I would chastise myself and say that I must be a failure because I need some time for me. Did I not love Kennedy enough because I needed an hour to myself? Or was I a horrible mom because I couldn’t do it all day all the time? What if she needed me while I was away? What if she felt hurt because I needed a little breather? I was already calculating Kennedy’s future therapy bills simply because I needed a moment to reconnect with me.
I experienced the damage not taking care of yourself can do firsthand. A year without self-care and I was riddled with anxiety, my marriage held minimal priority, and even my poor dogs didn’t get the pets they deserved. Yes, I gave my everything to my child, and I did a darn good job, but beyond that there was nothing left. Friendships? Marriage? Hobbies? Even my health was showing the signs of stress. As I said, I would do anything for Kennedy, it just took me far too long to understand that in order to give her the best of me, I had to take care of me!
It took more than a few therapy sessions and some begging from my husband to convince me that I deserved the time to nurture myself. I couldn’t turn off being a mom, but I could nourish myself as a person within motherhood. I had to explore this new self and find out what I needed. What did self-care look like in motherhood?
I used to think of self-care as weekends at the spa, filled with massages and room service. Don’t get me wrong, that still sounds wonderful, but it’s not really something I can do on a regular basis to sustain me. I’ve discovered that self-care in motherhood is not in those grand gestures, but in the daily moments I take for myself so that my cup never gets too low that I struggle to be present and patient with my daughter (and husband, and animals, and strangers in traffic). I find that it’s taking time each morning before the busy day starts to focus on me. Some days it’s an early morning run through the neighborhood or a cup of hot coffee in silence before everyone wakes up. Some days it’s thinking of a quiet project Kennedy can do so that I can spend a minute checking my email or texting a mom friend to laugh about the most recent man cold or nap struggle in our houses. It’s going to a coffee shop while Kennedy is at preschool to write instead of heading home to clean and fold laundry. I love to throw in the occasional massage or pedicure, but it’s really about building in self-care every day. And feeling no guilt about it!
My job is to teach Kennedy about life and how to care for herself. I can only do that for her by doing it for myself too. After all, our kids mimic and look up to us. I want her to know that it is just as important to put herself first as it is to give to others. That she deserves to feel fulfilled and take breaks when she needs to. On days she asks me why I’m heading out for a run, I tell her that in order for me to be the best mama to her, I have to take care of me too. Then I give her the biggest hug, tell her I love her more than anything, and I take that short time to connect with myself before I return and give her my all. I can tell when I’m slacking on self care- it’s so much harder to be patient with a 3 year old when your cup is almost empty! If I don’t take care of me, I cannot give Kennedy the best of me. I’ll miss out on more if I’m irritable and distracted than I will if I just take those moments to care for myself each day. Yes, we are caretakers, and that means that we have to take care of ourselves too. Not only do our kids deserve that, but we deserve it too!
So, sweet mama, what have you done today to take care of you?