When I became a parent, I knew some things would change. My once hyperactive social life had to shift, at least slightly. I have a bit less privacy nowadays. I listen to more Disney soundtracks than I once did. That kind of thing.
One of the more jarring realizations, though, was that if I have a bad day, it’s not just about me anymore. My bad moods and cranky days now affect other people. I used to be able to have a bad day at work, and plan to hunker down in my apartment, by myself, for the entirety of that evening. I could say, ok, today was bad. Tonight you don’t have to interact with other humans. Now, that doesn’t work for me. Now, I have to be more intentional about self-care. Self-care used to be mostly about me. Now it’s about them, too.
Here are some tips I have found to be helpful, for any of you who may join me in the struggle with self-care:
For me, time seems to be less of a luxury and more something I am trying to catch up on. As such, I have to be very intentional about finding time for self-care. Sometimes this means taking a walk on my lunch break at work. Sometimes it’s taking my kid to her after-school activities and walking around Target until it’s time to pick her up. Sometimes I find that listening to an audio book in the car while I sit in traffic can help me relax a bit. Don’t have the time for self-care? I would posit that you’ve got to find some, even if it’s sparse at first. While your kid is napping. While commuting to and from your job. After bedtime. Before they wake up. Traveling alone? Your 2 hour flight just became a 2 hour vacation. Work with what you’ve got. Find time. Fill it with things that fill you.
Know what you need.
Sometimes I struggle with filling the time I find with the wrong things. Sometimes I want to relax by watching TV, but I watch a show that makes me anxious (I’m looking at you, Law & Order: SVU). Or I listen to relaxing music in the car and it’s boring and I know what I really need is to be singing show tunes. French fries might sound like self care, but will they make you feel better? Don’t do the things that seem like they’d be relaxing for a Pinterest perfect SuperMom. Do the things that bring you, specifically you, joy. Do the things that make you happy. Just because the blogosphere says taking a bath may relax you after a long day, doesn’t mean you won’t sit there fretting while the water gets cold or slowly drains because your tub stopper doesn’t work very well. Know yourself. Know what will and will not satisfy your needs. Do the things that will.
Ask for help.
Call a friend. Call your mom. Call your significant other. Tell them you are struggling. Ask them for help. I want to be able to do it all myself and I want everyone to know I can, too. Work til 5 then go to the grocery store then pick up a birthday present for our niece then come home and give the kid a bath before bed? SURE! I’m good! Some days, yes. Other days, I need help. It doesn’t make us less strong or less wonderful or less super to need help sometimes. Ask for it.
Plan it out.
Like a long awaited date with a good friend, these things will take some planning. Be intentional. Schedule yourself some time. See if your husband will watch the kids while you go walk around the outlet mall for a couple of hours, or see a girly movie with a friend. Take a book to soccer practice and decide you’ll go the grocery store tomorrow – dinner can be creative…. or it can be a Happy Meal. Prepare your breakfast the night before so in the morning you aren’t rushed. Make an actual, physical list of things you can do to take care of yourself – the things that genuinely renew you and make you feel prepared to take on another day – and have it handy for when the task seems impossible.
Learn to apologize.
Some days, I won’t catch the bad mood in time. I won’t take care of myself. I won’t find the time, know what I need, ask for help, or plan ahead. I will snap at my husband or start crying when I mess up the cookies for school tomorrow or use a mad voice with my daughter. You will have these days. Here is my advice to you: stop. Take a deep breath. Say you’re sorry; accept their forgiveness. Determine not what you should have done already, but what is the next right thing to do. Do that thing.
I am not a super hero. I am a human person with a lot of emotions who wants to do a good job being a mom, first and foremost. And sometimes that means knowing when I need to carve out a little time for myself; knowing when self-care means not only caring for me, but that I’ll be able to take care of my family, too.
I heard someone once say that parenting is just like they tell you in the airplane safety talk – you have to put your own oxygen mask on first so you can do the same for them. If you can’t breathe, you won’t be much good to anyone. Putting your kids first sometimes means taking good care of the person who takes care of them. Breathe.