Imagine yourself waking up on a weekday morning. If you are a mom of little ones, your kids are probably already up and demanding your attention or making a huge mess in the other room that you’re dreading cleaning up. Your “to do” list has burst into flames because of the tasks being added to it every second. Brushing your teeth is only done in the 30-second window you have between changing diapers, starting the washer (again), kissing a boo boo, tying tiny shoelaces, packing lunches, and feeding the dog. Rushing out the door, you are running at least 15 minutes late and trying your best to navigate morning traffic to work/daycare/doctor appointment/etc. while listening to “Let It Go” on repeat (wait… is that just in your head?).
The whole day is a nonstop rollercoaster ride and coffee is the only thing keeping you sane. Bouncing from one activity/meeting/project/appointment to another, you feel yourself running on empty. By the time evening rolls around, you are exhausted, short-tempered, and ready to pass out so you can scrape together enough energy to do it all over again tomorrow.
Does any of this feel familiar? If so, take a breath.
Seriously. Right now.
Take a deep breath.
You’re going to be ok.
As moms, we all get caught up at one point in this tedious cycle of life. Being caregivers is written in our genetic code and most of us take that role so seriously that we give and give and give until we have nothing left to give ourselves. A lot of us suck at self-care because we don’t prioritize ourselves over everyone else we need to care for. Sometimes we feel selfish or like we are ignoring someone else’s wants and needs even when we take an extra few moments to refocus and breathe.
I’m here to tell you that self-care is absolutely not selfish.
If you want to be the best version of yourself, you need healthy self-care practices. An occasional massage, facial, yoga class, or just kid-free shopping time is essential for you to regain yourself and not just be someone else’s mom/wife/co-worker/you name it. You need time to just be you with no obligations to anyone else other than yourself.
So how do you cultivate healthy self-care practices? First of all, shift your priorities to line up with your values. For example, if you value time with your partner but you haven’t been on a date in months, set up a time for a babysitter to come watch the kids while you two reconnect. If you value quiet time for recharging and reflection, give yourself that time and don’t ignore your needs. Consider what values you have and align your life in a way that will uphold these values. Yes, this may take sacrificing other things that have gotten in the way, but ask yourself if those things are values. When you live your life according to your values, you make the time and prioritize what’s really important.
Secondly, strive to be “good enough” and forgive yourself for screwing up. It’s part of being human. You are going to make mistakes. Perfection is impossible and being “good enough” will save you so much more time and energy. Realize that you do not have to be everyone’s everything. Let your kids struggle a bit to find out the solutions to their problems. Have the whole family help in a nightly cleanup of toys rather than do it all yourself. Delegate responsibilities around the house so the burden doesn’t land on you alone. And when you screw up, name it. Try not to feel guilty or beat yourself up, but take a breath, acknowledge your mistake, and do better next time.
Third, be honest with yourself and your mate about your needs. Don’t keep going until you are on empty. This will inevitably lead to burnout, harsh words, fights, and even sickness. Check in with yourself and where your current levels of patience are. How does your body feel? Are you feeling stressed? Do you need to rest or slow down? Being mindful about how your mind, body, and emotions are functioning will give you valuable insight into where you need more tending. This check-in can be as quick as a 30-second body scan or as long as a 30-minute meditation and relaxation period. Clue your partner into how you’re doing as well so you can keep lines of communication open between you and they understand what you need. You might be surprised how well your partner supports you when you voice your needs.
Lastly, love yourself. Recognizing that taking care of your needs is self-preserving rather than self-serving gives you the space to love yourself more fully. You won’t be able to truly love yourself without practicing self-care and vice versa. You also won’t be able to take care of others as joyfully or as well as you’d like until you are taken care of first. Self-care is an act of love. They work together and can’t exist alone. When you begin to give yourself priority over things that you don’t really value, you are practicing self-care. When you say “no” and put boundaries in place that allow you to spend your time the way you want rather than catering to someone else’s time, you are loving yourself.
If you follow the guidelines laid out above, you’ll be able to nurture a healthier, happier life for yourself and those around you. You may have the random frantic days occasionally, but they don’t have to define your everyday life. Self-care doesn’t have to be hard, but it does take time. Giving yourself that time will be the best gift you ever give to yourself and the ones you love.
Christie Sears Thompson is a mom, wife, mental health therapist, and recovering perfectionist. She enjoys helping new and young families find balance and harmony in their lives and relationships at Trade Winds Therapy & Relationship Coaching in Wheat Ridge, CO. She’s written more about self care on her blog.