As mothers, we often take on too much and leave ourselves at the very bottom of our priority list. The pull of mum-guilt is very strong: if you’re lucky enough to find the time to relax in a bubble bath now and then, you may still be hearing a little nagging voice asking you “so, why aren’t you busy making a sensory play tub? your kids are in front of the TV right now? the horror!”
But you’re not just doing yourself a disservice by living in a constant state of frazzled; your kids will pick up on the fact you’re stressed and unhappy.
Our culture tends to idolize the martyr mum who devotes herself solely to her family at the expense of herself. Exhaustion is worn as a sign of pride. But by putting on your own mask first, and taking the time to practice self-care, you will be able to come back to parenting with a sense of joy, not a sense of “OMG I’m covered in spaghetti stains, I haven’t brushed my hair in weeks and I can’t remember what the outside of my house looks like”.
So here’s some handy tips for how to practice self-care as a busy mother, so you can get some of that groove back and be able to fully enjoy one of the most amazing experiences of your life: watching your little ones blossom and grow.
Tips for how to practice self-care as a busy mother
We need a certain amount of compartmentalization in our lives; it’s important not to let the “us” subsume the “me”, and to have spaces in your life where you are not just mum. You are still a person, and if you forget that, then you won’t be happy, and that’s not good for you or the kids.
Some mothers go back to work or study because they miss the adult interaction; some mothers are much happier as SAMHs. The best thing is to do what feels right by both you and your kids. You may even find that the option that suits you and your family best is actually the opposite of what you expected before having kids!
Whether you’re working at home or you’re a SAMH (or even combining the two as a WAHM!), you still need to ensure you have me-time. Don’t be 24-hour on-the-go productive or you will burn out, and that’s a messy experience: your kids don’t disappear just because you’ve worked/parented yourself into collapse. You need the occasional bubble bath, you need nights out with the girls.
2. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude and mindfulness
So much of happiness is about outlook, not circumstances. To quote my favourite poem, “babies don’t keep” and as any empty-nester can tell you, the time between cuddling them in your arms and dancing at their wedding flashes by in a blink of the eye. Instead of worrying about your to-do list or the growing pile of laundry, enjoy being in the moment as you’re running around playing chasies with your cutie-pie.
We only ever live in the present moment, but people tend to spend a large chunk of that time in their heads, fretting about the past or worrying about the future. Bring yourself into the now with mindfulness exercises (it can be as simple as going to the park, lying down with bubs and enjoying the smell and texture of the grass!), and keep a journal of three things you were grateful for today, every day. You’ll find that it soon becomes a habit and that you’re naturally noticing the joys in life that you may have been too busy or exhausted to recognise before.
3. Do the things you love, and don’t be afraid to ask for help
Are you way behind on your favourite shows? Haven’t treated yourself to a nice meal for as long as you can remember? You still need time to practice your hobbies, and to do those things that make you who you are.
If you’ve got family or friends living in the area, they will often be more than happy to bring over a few cooked meals to save you on preparation time, or to watch your little one for the night while you and hubby go out on a date-night, or you have a few espresso martinis with the girls (not too many; don’t forget – there’s still a baby waiting for you in the morning, and the last thing you want is a hangover!)
4. Stand up for yourself
Me-time is a right, not a privilege. On average, women work much longer hours than men, because as well as our parenting responsibilities (and often working ones as well), we also end up stuck with the housework, etc. Tell your partner that you need some me-time to relax and rejuvenate, and that you’re feeling overwhelmed. If you feel like you’re putting in much longer hours than he is, and that you’re not getting the breaks you need, then discuss it.
Additionally, it’s important that both of you remember to make a conscious effort to nurture your relationship at this critical time: two parents who love and support each other, and who are closely bonded with each other, will make a great environment for your child to grow up in. Don’t let that important connection wither: be proactive in giving your relationship the time it needs.
Being exhausted and grumpy is normal for both parents, but it is important to remember that you have the right to be treated with love, respect and dignity. If he’s yelling at you from the comfort of his video game controller, won’t lift a finger to help, resents being asked, turns everything around so it’s always your fault, and contributes more criticism of your parenting than actual help, then he is probably an emotionally abusive, irresponsible misogynist. Domestic abuse is a national epidemic, an estimated 1 in 4 women suffering from an abusive relationship at some point. Remember, you don’t have to be hit to be hurt – abuse is a crime of coercive control and disrespect. If you feel like this, phone 1800 RESPECT to speak to a counsellor.
How do you practice self-care and get the me-time that you need? How have you got through the rough patches as a parent? Feel free to comment below!