Motherhood: Self-Care isn’t Selfish
My alarm goes off for 6 AM and I roll over and turn the alarm off in hopes it won’t wake up Hayes. I rub my eyes and slip on my workout clothes. The floor is cold and I need some water. Mike has already left for the gym and so there is a cup of coffee waiting for me warm and inviting on the kitchen counter. I drink my water on the way down the stairs, grab a handful of dates, and as my water bottle fills back up I sip my coffee. The house is silent other than the sound of Hayes’s sound machine upstairs. The dogs didn’t even come down with me. I wander down to the basement pumping myself up with some slow but energizing music. Today it happened to be a Taylor Swift song of all things. I flip to the workout I know I need to do and I still feel sore from two days ago. I know I have about 45 minutes before the potential of a sleepy toddler pulls me away from this time for myself. I don’t like waking up but I love caring for myself knowing this is my day with Hayes all day and I have learned that to be my best self for him I have to be my best for myself as well. A lesson hard learned over these years of motherhood. So I dive into my first set of burpies with the motivation that this is me being my best for me and ultimately for him and for Mike.
In those first few months (say 6-8 months honestly) motherhood is demanding in ways no one can ever really explain to us as pregnant or hopeful mothers. In those months after having a baby we feel like some sort of robot intended simply for feeding, comfort, and clean up all at the same time many times all while trying to heal our bodies and work through all the wildest hormones. It is the way I believe nature intends for us to pull our previously self-centered selves out, humble them, and then replace us with a new more graceful and gentle self that cares a lot less about poop and vomit than we did months prior. During that time we either accept the realignment of priorities or we fight it and it feels extra hard. We spend that time mourning our old selves and rediscovering our new selves. That transition is hard, but within it mothers easily lose sight of themselves. I know because I did. The lack of caring for myself wore on me, created anxiety and an instability in myself emotional and creatively. I didn’t really know what was happening till I talked more openly with friends and Mike, that was when realized I needed to rethink how I saw myself, my priorities, and caring for myself. My hierarchy of who needed me involved myself at the bottom, which was ultimately leaving me worn out every day. In that it meant that I would give all day to a little one, cook dinner, clean, and then at the end of the day get to my work and things I loved and sometimes a shower. I would get resentful of Mike and I would get frustrated thinking that everything in the world was against me and everything was just impossible. Been there?! I don’t know many moms who haven’t.
So, I have slowly learned over this last 2 years how to selflessly place myself first in order to be the best for everything else on my list that day. These things involve everything from self-care to shifts in perspective as well as meditative practices around staying present. I am not perfect at this and my workouts haven’t rewarded me defined abs or a firm butt, but I have learned that small things go a very long way over time. Though I still have some mom pudge those hours I have put into working out help me feel more confident and strong and happy with my body. I see how little steps make not just a physical difference but a self-perception difference, which ultimately affects everything else around me. Throughout this journey, I found that taking big steps usually resulted in failures. Instead, I found that tiny steps worked best and finding success in that. The failure feels less like failure and instead I can say, “Hey tomorrow I can begin again.” which is what motherhood is all about. As I found my footing in this perspective shift I found it easier to make bigger commitments and set larger goals with a healthy perspective on reality.
As women we many times believe that placing ourselves first means we are being selfish. The world has taught us this reality subconsciously. We say sorry when we aren’t in the wrong or even in the way. We unknowingly place ourselves as last on our list under friends, family, children, and especially work for many of us. I have done it for years before being a mom. The thing is putting ourselves first is not at all selfish if we have a strong and pure intention behind why we are doing it. It took me a lot of deep work to realize that. Placing myself first is realizing that when I humbly and gently care for myself and work with what I have available to myself I can be a joyful, caring, and soft lover to all those that need us. I find I have patience I may not otherwise and I can find happiness in places I may not have the mental capacity to otherwise. Self-care is a thing we think 20 somethings with no kids have the time for and it isn’t true because I didn’t do it well at that stage in my life either. Now as a mother it is even harder to find…that is true, but it is more important than ever before as now our actions effect a small soul that we are teaching about the world. So caring for ourselves helps teach them how to do the same. Even if you no longer can fathom going to spin class three times a week and dedicating 2-3 hours to yourself in a given day or even getting a drink with a friend because who can feed the baby, I promise we can still find ways to care for ourselves and we HAVE to do it even if that time for ourselves looks like seconds and minutes right now.
To begin, carving time and shifting perspectives and expectations are the keys. Being flexible and not feeling failure is the other. When we can better find a balance in our life to make room for ourselves at the top of our hierarchy pyramid we have more to offer those in our lives. It is simple math, but one that has been long looked down on. Self-care and placing ourselves first isn’t selfish it is self-preservation especially for those of us such as myself who are introverted and need time for myself. Understanding that was the first step in flipping my pyramid of care for those in my life. Hayes and Mike are my number one under me and it doesn’t mean that when I need something it necessarily comes above them. What it means is that I first choose one or two things that week that will fill me or I can feel prioritize my needs. I then also choose one to two small things a day for myself. Then occasionally I plan a trip or weekend away every 6 months or so. That is what it looks like to care for yourself first. It doesn’t mean I necessarily feed myself before Hayes or don’t stick to bathtime cause I want to finish something. Many times the few small things I do for myself allow me to be more aware of Hayes’s needs than if I didn’t do them. Funny how something so small can shift our awareness and perspective, isn’t it?
So, in honor of Mother’s Day fast approaching this next month I wanted to talk about this concept of self-care and self-preservation, which is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves as mothers and partners, this is the greatest thing you can encourage in your wife. Without Mike challenging me I never would have seen how I needed to shift those or to feel permission to do it.
It has been such a journey for me and it still is. I knew before I ever even think twice about another child at all, I needed to get this right in my life because I didn’t understand it going into motherhood and now it has made all the difference in the world. It has been a difficult road to find success in the small steps and to let go of other things in the process. Prioritizing ourselves isn’t easy. At least it wasn’t for me and it affected a lot of things in my life till I learned how to better see my needs as priorities and to understand that this allowed me to better be my best for other people and for my work that fills me.
Seeing your needs is the first step. Understanding your needs is the second. The biggest thing though is doing it where you see that the small things aren’t necessarily only about you but about how they affect others around you when you do them. Of course, you can go too far in this and the line between self-preservation and selfishness is quite fine as I have also learned. Mike has always been good about helping me walk that line and I do the same with him. You will fail and you will figure it out all over again. That is part of life and how we slowly refine ourselves and become our best selves.
That said, I also wanted to share the tiers of things I choose from that I feel are great self-care for myself in hopes that they help inspire you making this shift if you are struggling at all. None of these are groundbreaking things, but I think it gives us a start about how to decide to make time for ourselves each day, Month, and year.
Wake up Early:
I try to wake up at least 2-3 times a week before Hayes to do something for myself whether it be to enjoy coffee and write (like I am now), workout, get ahead of the rush of the day, etc. Anything that makes me feel in control of the day is important for me to do during this time. This took till Hayes got consistent with sleep to feel able to do. He also is a late sleeper (7:30 or 8 AM) so this isn’t always possible for everyone. I sleep in a few days a week to recourperate and sometimes that is the best self-care I can do as well, thus why I only do it 2-3 times a week.
I have no real ability to meditation. I need to be active to remain focused. It is who I am, but sometimes as I am waiting for the smoothie to blend or the food to cook on the stove or while I sit with Hayes on the floor I will breathe deeply, fill my lungs and hold it as long as I can. I release and repeat a few times. I also will count my breaths in and out at times as well. Simply connecting with my breath makes me present and aware of myself in that moment. It is amazing how just a few seconds can change you every day.
Whether you do it while they are awake, schedule a class, do it while they nap or after they go to bed. Whether it is 10 minutes or an hour, spending the time focusing on yourself for those minutes and being aware of your body is just as important as getting your blood pumping. It isn’t about getting a six pack and sometimes just stretching, doing yoga, or doing 10 burpies is better than nothing that day. As mothers, our physical exersion can be high at times carrying young children, chasing them, etc so many times it is about getting the time to focus on us more than anything. I use Kayla Itsines BBG workout on the Sweat app and then occasionally go to a yoga class or other class that interests me when I feel I need that time for myself. I love Kayla because it takes about 30-40 minutes three days a week and then the other days I stretch while I am with Hayes or we spend a lot of time outside and I have to carry him up a hill so I make it part of my workout. I am most focused on staying strong and healthy while recuperating from a diastasis after Hayes and setting myself up for success with another pregnancy at some point in my life.
I love having time every day to sit and write, create, cook, anything without being tugged at. Just to get time to do something in silence and quiet is powerful self-care for me. Not having this is very hard on me so I make sure it happen every day no matter what. I don’t have to accomplish anything necessarily just have the time for myself to hear my own thoughts. I like things in their place and need time to not feel needed. It is part of who I am and when I am not conscious of that I will become a stressed and anxious version of myself. Making this time for myself is extra important every day.
Turning 30 I realized how important it is to care for my skin and self before bed. I make sure to get time to wash my skin, brush my teeth, and I slip my phone out of sight and read a book while I have tea. I need this quiet and separate time in order to remain sane as a mother. I also need time away from my devices and so on so I can ensure my sleep is sound and no one else is infiltrating my thoughts other than Mike or things that existed in my day. I sleep far more soundly and heavily this way.
I try to find time once a week (most likely on the weekends or at night) to head to grocery shop, wander a favorite antique store, or anything like that to do alone. There is a serious luxury to it and to ask for it once a week isn’t asking a ton I feel like. It may only be an hour but it is a precious hour in my week.
Coffee Dates and Social Engagements:
I try once a week to get together with at least one friend. Some weeks it is more if I am lucky, but I figure once a week is doing great! Since I spend the most time doing care while Mike is busy with work that is more regular than mine, I have to do these things in exchange for time I have care for Hayes. I find that I need time to meet with friends without distractions in order to offer them the best part of myself and the most attention that they deserve by giving up their time to meet with me. Sometimes I can figure out times to meet up with other mom friends and our little ones can play while we talk and that works out wonderfully, but many of my friends still don’t have kids and I want to make sure they get all of me when I am with them. It is important to me.
Mike and I set aside at least 2 nights a month to go out for a date. The other Friday or Saturday nights we spend time together hanging at home or one of us might go out with a friend, but we know that at least 2 days a month we get time together just being us going out with friends or dating again like before being parents. Sometimes we get lucky and get more, but that dedicated time together is life giving for both of us and our relationship. Sometimes the next morning can be a little rough if we have too much fun, but that is what afternoon naps are for 😉
Yes, I go for a monthly massage and I no longer feel bad about it. I don’t go to a fancy spa, but I head to a therapist at a chiropractic office and Mike and I both do this at seperate times in a month. It is a small price to pay for the benefits we feel from it. The quiet. The rest. The relaxing of tension spots. We feel this has been such a health benefit this year for us between working alot and moving and more. I think if you can fit in a massage even once every couple months you are doing great. I find I need it as my body gets sore from carrying Hayes places or to ease my muscles from workouts. It is just time a dedicated time in my month to focus on my body and to hear what is happening in my muscles.
I don’t do this every month but I get my hair cared for about 4 times a year with my stylist and though most of the time My hair is in a bun, I still love the time I get to be pampered and my hair washed by someone else. It is such an awesome thing. I don’t do much else than an occasional pedicure but it is such a great few hours I get to look forward to every season.
Learn something new:
I always set aside time every year a few times a year to learn something new. Whether it is a class online for work or a new workout class or a class at the local college is offering to the community. It is so good to get out and do something with other peers, meet new people, and of course learn a new skill. Currently tackling Alice Waters Master Class and enjoying it so much!
Like I said, every 6 months I try to do something whether it is nearby or far away that allows me to feel free to be me whether a girls trip with some friends in a new city or just an overnight with a few girlfriends locally. Anything does wonders for me and as an introvert is really about all I need. Next up I am heading to SF for work, which will officially be the furthest I have ever been from Hayes and Mike since having him. These things are so good for us as mothers though. It strengthens us and gives us true clarity.
I would love to hear the things you guys do to care for yourself and how you view self-care as a mother. For me it is necessary. Recognizing that a huge part of me needs time and space for myself has been hard to accept without feeling guilt but since doing so I feel I have found a pace and comfort in motherhood I wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. My patience is heightened and my ability to be present is even better. I still work and I get things done, but the acceptance that placing myself first is not a selfish thing but one that is about self-preserving myself in order to be my best for others has changed everything for me as both a mom, creative, wife, and friend.