Becoming a mom changed me in ways I could never imagine. I think back to pre-baby me and shake my head at how selfish I was. I thought I put other people first pre-baby, but post-baby me would laugh in the face of pre-baby me. I didn’t know what putting others first meant until sucking the snot out of my child’s nose. I definitely didn’t know what it meant until stepping in a fire ant hill outside her day care thinking to myself, burning foot and all, thank goodness it was me and not her.
Once you have a baby, your mama instinct puts your child first, it’s innate and necessary. It helps us catch our kid before they fall off the highest structure on the playground. However, this need to put our children first can cause us to put our own needs so far behind our childrens’ that it negatively effects our mental health.
I used to feel guilty when other moms bragged about not having a date night since their one-year-old baby was born, or not leaving their baby’s side since they were born. I would feel guilty for continuing with my passions while other moms said their greatest passion became their kids. I felt guilty until I realized that fulfilling my own needs allowed me to better fulfill my child’s needs. While I knew this was of great importance for me because I suffered from mental health issues in the past, some parents don’t realize that ignoring their needs in favor of their child’s can lead to mental health issues in the future. It can also affect our children.
Especially as infants, our children rely on us to regulate their emotions. They pick up on sadness, anxiety, anger, and stress. This is not to say that showing emotions to your children is bad, it is actually very healthy and helps us raise emotionally in-tune children. However, emotions can get the best of us and when negative emotions get the best of us too often, it can negatively effect our kids.
I don’t think there is a mother out there who has never felt overwhelmed by motherhood (if there is I would love to meet her, I have a million questions), this is why we must care for ourselves to better care for our kids.
Before you roll your eyes and close this article because you ain’t got time to hear another person pushing yoga on you or convincing you to ditch the kid and go for a ladies night, know there are different ways to practice self care and we each have to learn what is best for us and not shame others.
We are all different. Motherhood can cause us to lose ourselves deeply to our kids but it’s important to find the you you’ve always known somewhere in there. In finding what’s best to take care of yourself, it’s important to explore who you are as a mother and what you need as a person. It has taken me a year and a half but I’ve found my balance in working part-time, exercising a few times a week, and spending extra special time with my daughter.
It’s hard to get past the mom guilt, especially to exercise, because I’m constantly thinking about my daughter. I know doing what I love and what I need allows me to be fully present when I’m with her. It allows me to give her all the energy I have and more.
Some of us need more time with our kids to get that energy, some of us desire more time apart from their kids to get that energy. Some of us have varying circumstances that determine our time apart and with our kids. Whatever the situation, exploring your inner self to learn what you need in order to be kind to yourself and give your all as a parent is of great importance.
When to Step Away
I was home with my daughter almost all the time until she was six months old. My husband got home most nights after she’d already gone to bed and never had two days in a row off. During one of his days off, I began getting upset about everything, literally everything. The man could do no right and neither could the innocent 6-month-old baby who had obviously done nothing wrong except had a particularly awful blow out.
After a few hours of enduring my sharp tongue he said “why don’t you go to a movie or something?” I was about to snap back, but what he said began to sink in. I looked up movie times, caught the soonest decent movie playing closest to our house (in case he changed his mind), got a large bucket of popcorn and sat by myself in the silent theatre watching Jennifer Lawrence dazzle on the screen with no one interrupting me.
Of course we can’t always go to a movie, but I realized if I’d recognized I was having a hard day and let my husband know I needed some alone time, even a cup of coffee by myself, I could have reduced my stress before someone had to insist I leave the house for two hours.
I never realized how precious my alone time was before it was gone. I now have a tiny person accompanying me to the bathroom and saying “bye bye” every time I flush the toilet. My husband seems to take long, luxurious, solo stints in the bathroom (Seriously, what is he doing in there for an hour?!). No matter how much you love to be around your kids, we all need some time to ourselves. We should feel guilt-free about taking that time and letting our partners know we need that time. Letting go of the guilt takes practice, I’m still not there, but know I’m better for taking the time.
Self Care While Caring for Kids
We all have days where we can’t escape the grasp of sticky fingers and snotty noses. We all have days where we can’t help but lose our patience. On those days we have two options (three if you count wine): lose our patience or somehow compose ourselves and continue momming. It’s hard to compose ourselves and keep momming, the days can be tough and endless, offering challenges we never could have dreamed and frustrations we never knew existed. On those days we have to show ourselves love.
For you, this might mean watching The Real Housewives during nap time instead of cleaning, or taking a nap yourself. You could listen to a podcast you love rather than putting on baby music in the car. Do an activity that caters more to you than it does to your child-forgo the children’s museum for a walk around the lake. Let your kids watch a 30-minute show while you read a book or paint your nails. Attend an exercise class that provides childcare or that you can bring your child along to. Download a meditation app on your phone and try a short meditation that helps you breathe and release tension. If you need time to decompress while with your kids, those 30 minutes to an hour will not be something that affects them down the line, however your negative emotions from not taking that time might.
Reconnect With Pre-Baby You
I consider becoming a mom the best thing that has ever happened to me. The challenges remain, but I would not change this life for anything. While I love the woman my daughter has helped me to become, it is important for me to remember the girl I was before. I keep that part of me alive by spending quality time with my husband. We date like there’s no baby at home (except that we leave at 8 so she’s definitely asleep and are home by 11 so we can sleep).
I still see live music and spend time with girlfriends. Even if they don’t have kids, the good ones stick around. Sometimes I buy brake and bake double chocolate cookies, and when I’m positive my husband is occupied in a different area of the house, I bake some and watch a really trashy television show. Doing little things that lift you out of a rut and help you remember your real name isn’t “mommy” can make the biggest difference and renew your spirit more than you know.
The biggest thing we can do for ourselves as moms is to accept who we are as moms. No matter what amount of self care you practice, you will still lose it and that’s okay. You can read every parenting book out there and still do something wrong. At some point you will lose your temper, even when you try to be a compassionate parent. Some nights you’ll muster up just enough energy to make macaroni and cheese. You will need a break. You will feel bad for needing a break. You might feel bad for feeling bad that you need a break.
When you feel that pang of guilt or the hard punch of defeat, tell yourself it’s okay. Seriously, say it out loud. It’s okay, I did my best, there’s always tomorrow. Tell yourself you’re allowed to screw up and that it’s okay to feel bad that you screwed up. Give yourself a hug, seriously, do it, you need it and deserve it.
Before our babies are born we take classes and prepare for every possible disaster. We ensure every diaper is in place, every clothing item cleaned, every cabinet locked, and dangerous item out of reach. We worry how to take care of this little person relying on us. It’s easy to forget to care for the person who takes care of that little person. It’s easy to lose ourselves in the mother we have become. Even on the hardest days, especially on the hardest days, you need to take care of you. Without you, where would your littles be?