The past winter has been anything but typical in my household. Living in the Northeast, we’ve had massive amounts of snow, which equals lots of snow days and missed school. Add to the mix, colds and viruses rotating through all four children, not at the same time mind you, more like a domino effect of ongoing sick days. Our once predictable routine is on hiatus.
Last week, after dropping off my daughters at school, I began to feel the tension from the morning routine melt from my shoulders as I drove to work. It dawned on me then, aside from work; I have not been away from my children in a long time. I don’t count work, sleeping, or showers alone time. While I enjoy and want to be with my children, I also need time alone to recharge and take care of myself.
In my normal routine, the golden hours of scarcity without children or work add up to around nine or so hours a week. I guard those hours fiercely to write, take care of myself and to do the things that have to get done for my family. When I take time to care for myself, I feel less tense, irritable and have more energy to care for my family. The drive to work was a reminder I have not been making the time to take care of myself with the change in routine.
Parents, especially mothers, need time for self-care. There is confusion for many moms about what is self-care. Self-care is taking time to nurture yourself through activities which replenish energy and help manage stress. It is different than self-pampering; getting manicures, pedicures, taking baths or having a massage are nice activities, but it is not self-care. Self-care is taking care of your physical, emotional, spiritual and thinking parts of yourself.
Self-care is neither optional nor selfish, it is necessary, especially for mothers.
A common trait I see in myself and many moms is putting ourselves last on the list. Sometimes, we don’t have a choice, between taking care of our families, volunteering and work, there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done, including taking care of ourselves. One day of not taking care of yourself may be ok, but what happens when not taking care of yourself becomes the pattern, a perpetual habit of putting yourself last.
Too often, lack of self-care leads to unmanaged stress; a cascading impact making us vulnerable to physical illness, anxiety and depression, and an inability to manage the demands of caring for children, and not to overlook, limited happiness.
Ask yourself this: When was the last time you did something just for yourself; an activity which replenished your energy and helped to manage the demands of taking care of your family by resetting your perspective? If you can’t recall or its been longer than a week, you may want to start by making a plan to care of yourself.
Just like our children need routine care and sleep, so do we. Self-care starts with caring for our physical needs; getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and exercise. Self-care is caring for our emotional and social needs; managing and caring for our emotions and staying connected to the important people in your life which often can often become overlooked caring for children. Self-care is spending time in activities you enjoy. Not every person needs the same amount of time or similar activities to feel replenished and restored, so it is important to find out what you need and schedule time to make self-care activities happen. Meditation, yoga, journaling, and making time for hobbies or activities you enjoy is a start. If you are missing a friend, schedule time to call or plan time together. If you have not been to your physician in years, schedule your annual exam at a lunch break. If you have been meaning to start exercising again, plan a time to go for a walk. The key with increasing self-care is to be creative and resourceful as you can.
After my epiphany driving to work, I made a plan to increase self-care for the week. I exercised two days, went to bed at 8:45 pm instead of 10:30 pm to get more sleep, spent time making an amazing cauliflower leek and cashew soup so I could have go-to lunches, and meditated for ten minutes, five out of the past seven days. And what a difference those self-care activities made on my overall well-being. I felt less tense, more replenished and overall had a better week.
Time is a scarce resource for most parents, start small, even fifteen minutes of self-care can be restorative. Self-care is not selfish, its self-preservation. If we do not take care of ourselves, it can be challenging to take care of our children and the other roles in our life.