A Self-Care Guide for Self-Care Skeptics
Moms don't have a lot of time to pamper ourselves. Or sleep. Or go to the bathroom alone. Here's a guide to taking care of yourself that doesn't require booking off hours and hours for a spa day.
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Let's face it. If you use the words “self-care” in a conversation with me, especially if you have the audacity to imply I need to practice it, you are going to get solidly laughed at.
I am a mom, currently knuckled under in the utilitarian phase of toddler and teenager parenting. Yes, simultaneously. I measure my work tasks not in minutes but in nap times. I literally have dreams about vacuuming. My deepest wish in the world is to be able to freeze time so I could clean my house and catch up on my work without sacrificing sleep or neglecting my children.
The idea of pampering myself is actually so far down on my to do list I think it might have gotten chewed off by one of my misbehaving dogs. I wouldn't have noticed if it had.
Luxury...You Mean Like Showering Alone?
One of my long-distance friends suggested that, when she came to visit me, come stay in a hotel with her for a few days so we can have quality time. Like, without my kids.
I think I almost died of oxygen deprivation from laughing so hard before I realized she wasn't kidding.
We moms don't really think in terms of self care. Luxury is a visit to the bathroom by yourself, a chance to clip all 10 fingernails in one sitting, or an extra-long nap time so you can finish that last billable task for the day.
So, when I talk about self-care skeptics, I mean me.
Mom. Noun. The person who inherits everyone else’s tasks and stress.
We all know that you're stressed. You’re a mom. That's what we do.
We all have a million responsibilities to deal with. The kids need to be picked up from school, the bills need to be paid, our boss is being unreasonable and demanding we handle an enormous project, and we need to remember to visit our parents. Also the laundry needs folding, the house needs cleaning, the tax organizer isn't going to fill itself out, we need to print out something for herpes work tomorrow…….and I'm just going to stop here because I already hear you organizing your own to-do list in your head.
It can be pretty easy to imagine yourself losing your mind from time to time.
But one of the major things that separate adults from kids is the fact that adults are expected to hold it together, and have people relying on them.
I often lament to my husband that our kids are given breaks, and recess, and all these little mechanisms to keep them from getting too stressed, When every adults I know it would kill for the life of a child. Then, once we actually need these stress relieving mechanisms, they are nowhere to be found.
Where's my nap time? Oh yeah, adults don’t get them.
But, as the aforementioned adults we apparently are, we are expected to hold this all together. And we do it. We actually do it surprisingly well. As mom's, we have learned to hold up everyone else's burdens for so long that most moms I know feel guilty for taking time for themselves.
And by “time”, I don't mean an afternoon trip to the spa or a weekend vacation to Cancun, I mean things like going to the bathroom without bringing the clean a toddler or getting all the way dressed before going downstairs to make breakfast.
Is Self-Care Actually Necessary?
The thing with self-care is that it's like insurance. By the time you realize you need it, it's too late to get it.
I figured this one out the hard way. I've always been an exceedingly patient person. When we were dating and first married, nothing my husband could muster up really pushed my stress levels to the breaking point. Then I had kids.
I am at least conversationally fluent in four languages, and still do not have sufficient words to describe the level of 24/7 care that human offspring require. It is truly not something I believe any human can ever be prepared for. You just have to live it.
Every other job in the world gives you breaks. Every other job in the world gives you a paycheck. There are very few jobs in which it is acceptable for your boss to wake you up every night at 3 a.m. demanding a meal. Coincidentally, there are no other jobs in the world where it is literally impossible to quit.
Welcome to parenting.
This is where the self-care comes in. You are not performing self care to be a hippie. You are not performing self care because your hair, nails, or whatever needs an extra amount of primping.
Moms must perform self care for one very simple reason. If we get pushed past the edge, we are absolutely useless to our families.
We moms live to do our jobs and to do them well. We love taking care of our kids, making our husbands feel cherished, and still somehow being a functioning member of society, a good employee, a volunteer at church, or whatever else we're trying to shove into the schedule.
If I hit my mental breaking point and go from “patient mom” to “woman currently sobbing into a half empty box of Krispy Kreme on the floor of her closet”, I am no longer able to provide the standard of care I wish to provide for my family.
Remember the parallel to insurance. By the time you realize you need self care, you are often too far gone for what you have time to do to be effective. You need to consider self care as an investment in your ability to continue functioning with a human. It's like putting gas in your car.
By abstaining from self-care, you are basically refusing to put gas in your car until it is already stopped and on the side of the road. It will take more time and effort to get gas when your car has already run out and then it will to notice when you are at a quarter of a tank and find a gas station in a leisurely manner.
So, instead of going crazy consider these techniques for mom-friendly self-care.
Technique #1: Don’t Go Too Easy on Yourself
Since my primary audience is those of you who have list of your lists, planners upon planners, I'm guessing that you have way too much on your to-do list to contemplate the more flowery forms of self-care.
So we’ll give you the easiest one (for your personality type) first.
You hear a lot about how stressed everyone is, and the solution, according to plenty of people, is that we all need to do less, and find more opportunities to space out on the sofa or stay in bed all weekend looking at funny videos on the Internet.
Going too hard on yourself is certainly an issue to look out for, but going too easy on yourself can be just as lethal.
Doing “nothing” is very unlikely to actually keep you sane, or help you to feel fulfilled in life. People naturally crave a sense of accomplishment and forward momentum. So, to maintain your sanity, one of the best things you can do is to focus on becoming disciplined, and to then do everything you can to avoid wasting your time.
Instead of spending five hours bingeing on Netflix (like you have time), find a hobby, or start a project that feels genuinely meaningful to you, and then dedicate most of the time to working on that.
For me, this means setting aside daily times when I can actually get my work done. My biggest luxury in the world is sitting down at an adult height table, with no children in the room, and getting to do an entire task without stopping. It's Nirvana (or Nerdvana, more likely).
For you overachievers out there, start thinking of self-care not as the act of getting a pedicure, but the act of doing something that fulfills your soul. If this is work, that's okay. Is this is getting in a good run, that's okay too. Self-care gets a rap for being all flowery and day-drinking-y. It’s really about filling up some of your emotional meters, even if that means more work.
Technique #2: Don’t Go Too Hard On Yourself
Okay, so sitting around and doing nothing is unlikely to be great for you (duh).
On the other side of the coin, you really shouldn’t go too hard on yourself, either. Trying to work around the clock, failing to get adequate sleep, and trying to live a Spartan luxury-free lifestyle is a fast track to madness and depression. (Trust me, I’ve tried.)
By all means, you should watch a Netflix show from time to time if it makes you happy, and you should enjoy some comfort and luxury in other areas of your life as well. Just like it won’t destroy your entire budget if every once in a while you make a financial splurge trip to Carpet One flooring store to buy that fuzzy rug you’ve been Googling for months to replace the nasty one currently living in your family room, it won’t ruin your entire productivity levels to play the occasional game of freecell on your iPhone before bed.
The key here is balance. Earn your comfort and luxury, and appreciate it. Don’t over-stress and become jaded (or a screaming, mommy rage-monster), but you don’t have to luxuriate to the point where you list “cuticle care” as one of your hobbies.
Technique #3: Make Sure All Your Choices are Intentional (and Remind Yourself They Are)
This one is another hard-fought lesson. When I first started this momming thing, it felt like everything was being put upon me.
My kids needed me to do this, my husband needed me to do that, I had to do this for my boss, this for my dogs, my parents needed the occasional phone call to make sure I was still breathing... it all sounds exhausting.
As I've matured into my role as “mom”, I've begun to look at things as my choices.
I'm not sewing a costume for the Revolutionary War day at school because my daughter is forcing me, I'm doing it because I love watching her school productions and knowing that she has the exact equipment she needs to feel confident. I'm not folding hubby’s laundry everyday because it was in my vows that he never had to fold laundry again (even though it was), I'm doing it because I love seeing his face when he comes home from a day and the clothing he wore to the gym that morning is already washed and put away.
It’s kind of a form of integrity to approach life as if everything was your choice. Because, when you get down to it, it kind of is. If you regularly act in ways that make you dislike yourself, you’re far more likely to lose your mind at the first sign of irritation or trouble.
However, if you remember that what you're doing is stressful, but it is your choice to do it, you'll be a much happier person.
Technique #4: It’s Okay to Cater to Your Personality
This might be my inner OCD showing through, but I truly believe a little bit of organizations saves a lot of stress.
My biggest form of self-care is not doing things in a way which will stress me out.
I am incapable of doing large out outings on the spur of the moment or without planning. In fact, I am borderline allergic to most forms of spontaneity.
My most commonly practiced form of self-care is by maintaining my boundaries with my family and making sure the way we organize things jives with my personality. I Practice self-care by asking that my kids wash their plates off before they put them in the dishwasher so I don't have to redo it. I practice self-care by asking that laundry goes down the street, not on the floor. And I practice self-care by making sure my desk is clean at night, even if I have to postpone bedtime by five minutes to get it that way.
Self-care doesn't have to be getting a massage. It can be steering your life away from your pet peeves and into I'm more comfortable lifestyle.
Technique #5: Preplan Your Days (and Know They’re Only 24 Hours)
I saved this one for last because I actually have a present for you, but I'll get to that the second.
My biggest problem on a day-to-day basis is that I plan enough tasks for about a week to get done in each 24 hour period.
I haven't had the audacity to get stressed and uppity that I didn't get enough done, even though I really didn't have a shot at it in the first place.
This is why I started my only daily self-care practice: my morning meeting with myself.
Each morning I take 5 to 10 minutes to sit down with my to-do list for that day and decide what is feasible. I look at what open windows of time I have in my schedule, and then I match up my highest priority tasks with the windows of time in which I am actually able to work on them.
If I look at my day and I only will feasibly have one hour of work time, I don't let myself push for hours of work on to my to do list, as this will only lead to disappointment.
Which brings me back to your present. I created a morning battle plan for myself. This is a plan I fill out every morning all fresh. I do have a running plantar / to-do list, but this guy is most effective when you fill it out the morning of. Then, you have a piece of paper to carry around all day with only the most important stuff on it.
I truly cannot oversell how much of a lifestyle this improvement it has been for me since I started using this.
I may not take hours off to go to the spa, or take weekend trips with my girlfriend's, but each morning I set a realistic plan for my day, and then I get to go to bed feeling good about myself when I actually accomplish it.
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About the Author
Founder | Contributor
Liz is a wife, mom, blogger, coder (and unabashed digital nerd), PhD student (and huge psychology geek), workout masochist, and occasional human being. She founded The Stay Sane Mom after marrying into the role of stepmom to a preteen girl (and Instagram addict) and shortly thereafter having her first bio kid (now a toddlernado supreme). Her goal is to provide tools and support to help other capable, sleep-deprived, soul-hungry moms master their domains so they have the time and energy to be more than just 'mom'.
My Motto: All I can control is how hard I work.
My Motto: All I can control is how hard I work.
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