I am a school counselor, and in counseling school they taught us all about the concept of self-care, aka taking care of ourselves in the midst of overwhelming, challenging, and sometimes emotionally draining stories we hear and situations involving students we work with. The idea is to find things - coping skills, physical outlets, things that boost our energy and remind us why we are important and that help us to do the best jobs we can without burning out and losing all of our focus, patience, or compassion.
It's a fantastic idea. Taking care of ourselves. Yet so many of us don't do that, do we? Especially when it comes to being moms. I know we've all heard of the idea on an airplane that we should always put on our own oxygen masks first before assisting children or others. It's life-saving really. That's important to consider when working as a busy mom, too.
If we don't manage our own health, take care of our own bodies, keep ourselves happy and emotionally charged, ready to go, we can't be the best moms we want to be for our children.
A mom's job is TOUGH.
This past week was rough for me. Just a lot going on at work, cranky kids who were over tired, me not sleeping as well, busy work week for my husband, etc. Coming and going in a zillion directions, it felt like.
I was exhausted. Spent. Over it. Tired of being "on."
Yet we can't be "over it" or done as mothers, can we? We don't get sick days, so we sure as hell don't get "personal days," like I get at my job out of the home - days to do what we need/want to keep ourselves healthy or sane. Yeah right. Who's going to give us a personal day? Who's going to take over with what we do if we were to take a day away?
It might not be easy to get a personal day away. It might take some finagling and moving things around. It might even be difficult to figure out who could take over for you, but it's imperative to your self-care as a mother, to your self-preservation as a woman, to ask for help and do whatever it is that makes you feel better.
For me, this week I had reached my limit. I went to the gym immediately after work, knowing I needed to burn off some steam. I got home after getting the kids, took a hot shower, and then proceeded to let my husband take right over with dinner, bath, bed time routine. I told him I was leaving for a few hours, just needed to get out, kissed the kids goodnight early and took off. I drove around, belted out to my music in the car, ate French fries, talked to a girl friend on the phone, shopped, and got a hair cut. It was the best two hours I've spent in a long time. Totally on ME. Sometimes we just need that.
Recognizing when you need a break.
Sometimes that's what we need: to get away, space, to take a break, some alone time focused solely on whatever it is we want. Sometimes we need to be a little selfish. I could have waited to leave another 45 minutes the other night ... after dinner with the family, cleaning up the kitchen, bath time and pajamas and reading stories. I could have done all of that and still had time to go out and get a hair cut, etc. But I chose ME instead. And that doesn't make me a bad mother AT ALL. It made me a better mother.
If I'd stayed, I would have snapped at some little thing or been impatient with the kids in the tub tossing water everywhere. I would not have been happy at the dinner table, would have been unfocused and not really listening to them talk. I would not have been my best self as a mother. I realized that.
That's the first key to self-care, realizing when you need a break.
For me, I know I need a break when a few things are going on:
I'm exhausted. Can't focus, can't pay attention, can't see straight tired.
I am angry. Frustrated. Impatient. Snapping, heart pounding, easily annoyed by small things.
Bit my tongue, held back, ignored, remained patient and in control too long... and it's about to blow.
That's when I know I need some time alone. It's OK to know these things, it's great to recognize when those things happen in your mind, body, etc. to show you it's time to take space as a mother. We encourage our kids to take a time out to cool their bodies, to let them sort out how they're feeling, so we need that sometimes, too, as moms. And that's great!
There are plenty of things moms can do to improve their self-care:
- The first thing is recognizing when you need it. Recognize the signs in your body, what's coming out of your mouth, how you're physically and emotionally feeling.
- Then build it into your daily practice. Find something you can do daily to make you feel better. For me that's watching TV at night with my husband or listening to my music on the radio on the drive home from work. Whatever works for you, find something daily and make sure it happens, at least 5 out of 7 days a week.
- Improve your overall health. Make sure you go to bed early enough, exercise a few times a week, and eat something healthy daily - and keep improving your healthy eating as you're able to. Drink water all day long, especially first thing in the morning. Talk to someone if things are bothering you so you improve your mental health. Take a multivitamin. Get outside for fresh air and Vitamin D. Practice deep breathing - this helps wonders for me when I'm frustrated or losing patience with the kids, too.
- Have some go-to coping skills, or things that make you feel much better about whatever you're feeling. These can be anything. I have a good friend who loves baking - so if she's stressed she bakes cookies or something. Another friend is a long distance runner so she'll head out for a run to clear her mind. These are things that I do for self-care:
- Exercise - it literally makes me a more patient, calmer person/mom if I've exercised that day. It's my goal on weekends to get it in first thing so that I'm a great mom all day because of it.
- Deep breathing
- Iced chais - seriously, these are treats to me, I get them 1-2 times a month, they instantly make me feel like I'm treating myself to something special
- Running errands solo - even though it's a chore, it's still easier and happier when I'm by myself sometimes
- Text a friend and tell them I'm having a rough moment. 99% of the time they respond with "yup, I hear you, listen to this ridiculous mom moment I had today..." and it helps me feel less alone
- Take a bath or hot shower
- SLEEP. Naps help me tons on weekends, but making sure I go to bed early at night weekdays is a big help too.
- Do something absent-minded like scan Facebook, Instagram, watch TV with my husband, etc.
- Eat chocolate :) Dove chocolates with little inspirational quotes are the best.
- Drink a huge bottle of water - this helps my morning go well
- Blast music- when I'm really frustrated, especially in the car, I'll turn the music up really loud and just sing.
- Remember I'm still a girl- what I mean by this is every month or so I'll make sure I have some girl time to myself to shave, do a face mask, paint my nails, etc. like I used to do since middle and high school and college with my girlfriends. It always makes me feel rejuvenated.
- Get out - alone, with my husband, with girlfriends, etc. Just go! Missing the family is a good thing.
Take care of yourselves, moms.
It's easier in the short term to only focus on your family, I get that. There is never enough time to take care of ourselves, I know. But force it. Make it happen. Somehow, someway, even little things. Do something today that helps you be a better mother in the long run, not just for today. Your kids will appreciate you for it, I promise.