Self-Care and the Solo Mama

April 26, 2017

A little less than a year ago, my husband did a somewhat unusual thing for a man over 30. He joined the Air Force.

At the time, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that we had a newborn baby and a 3 year old. We had no idea when he was going to leave, but we did know that he had a year of training ahead of him, at least. I was genuinely panicked that he might be sent off to Officer Training within weeks of our son’s birth (he wasn’t). I was also terrified of how I was going to manage as a solo parent of 2 little humans while he was training – some trainings would require him to be away from us for at least 9 weeks or longer. I was certain that my self-care would tank and if you’ve ever read my blogs before you know how essential I believe self-care to be for everyone, so I was already nervous, cranky, and sad.

7 months into military life, I’m not veteran military mama, but I have done 2 long stints of solo parenting and I’ve learned a thing or two about self-care as a solo parent.

I’m going to let you in on a secret:

I am way better at self-care when my husband isn’t around.

You’d think the opposite would be true. With my husband around to share life adventures and parenting with, the common assumption would naturally be that I would have more time and more opportunities for self-care.

The reality is that when he is around, my self-care tends to drop off a bit.

Now before you start thinking that we have a very traditional family with “traditional male/female role,” we don’t. My husband does almost twice the housework that I do when he’s around, which is a rude awakening to me every time he’s away.

It’s not that he doesn’t value self-care. It’s not that he doesn’t want me to take care of myself. It’s that when he’s around, we spend more time working on “relationship care” than self-care.

When my husband is home, we try to spend more time together. We even go to the grocery store together, just to be with each other. Cheesy, I know. We’re in love. Super duper in love. What can I say?

The point is that when he is home, we share time. Not only are we trying to make time to spend together, but we are also trying to share quality time with our kids.

This makes it extra hard to make time for me.

And yet it’s super important to make time for me within all of these other important demands on my time. When I don’t make time for self-care in the midst of the chaos of family life, I start to forget what actions and habits fill me with delight. I forget to value my own time. I forget what it feels like to take care of myself, which makes me feel neglected and lost, even when surrounded and supported by my amazing family.

I recently wrote about the necessity of self-care as an act of personal empowerment. It’s nice when other people do wonderful things for you that make you feel good, but it’s even ore satisfying when you choose to do wonderful things for yourself.

The surprising silver lining of solo parenting is that I have more control over my time. There’s that extra housework I mentioned, but honestly, some of that falls by the wayside in favor of painting with watercolors, reading for pleasure, and going to bed early.

Each time I’ve solo parented, I’ve been able to add in new routines and habits that I’ve wanted to integrate into my daily rhythms for years. I’ve rediscovered my creativity through watercolor panting and I’ve finally found the best time for a meditation practice. I’m also doing a restorative yoga pose every single night before I go to bed which has improved my ability to fall asleep faster and sleep more deeply – at least when I’m not being woken up several times a night by an unhappy and uncomfortable teething baby.

I’ve added in more deeply satisfying self-care habits in the past 6 weeks than I have in the past 6 months. I feel more in charge of my life than ever before. I don’t feel dragged around by my busy schedule or the challenges of motherhood; I feel more grounded and balanced than ever before, including before I became a mom.

Now lest you think my solo parenting life is easy peasy, there are plenty of things that don’t happen when my husband is away, self-care and otherwise. When hubs is here, I go to a yoga class at least once a week because he encourages me to go and makes it possible by staying home with our kiddos. I can’t go get a massage easily or go for a run because both would require a babysitter. I don’t get any solo time when my husband is away and that takes a toll in a different way. It’s something I need to work on next time he’s on a TDY (temporary duty assignment), but I have a really strong foundation of simple self-care that supports me and keeps me sane.

Also, our toilets don’t get cleaned and I don’t vacuum when my husband is gone. Don’t tell him.

Here are my suggestions for making sure you can create simple self-care practices without having to solo parent:

~Have an honest conversation with your partner about your need for self-care. Be clear about what you want to do and when. Ask for support. This might mean managing early rising kids if you’re trying to do some early morning yoga or making sure the kids don’t bug you when you’ve closed the door to the bedroom to read a chapter of a new book. Or to nap.

Also important is to talk about self-care for your partner. Make sure he or she is getting the time they need. If your kids are old enough, have a conversation about self-care with them. Modeling self-care is important, but also explaining your WHY (as in, why mom needs some solo time) is an essential part of their education. My daughter knows that mommy moves in the morning and it’s sacred time. If she needs me, of course I stop to help her. But once she has her breakfast, she is free to do whatever she wants until I’m done. She’s 4.

~Make the time you choose sacred. Don’t bail on yourself. Be committed and consistent. If you show up every once in awhile, it’s a lot easier to convince yourself the habit or the time isn’t important. Show yourself it’s important by making sure you do the same practice at the same time every day or every week, depending on what the habit is.

~Be willing to say No. Or Yes. Depends. The key is learning to say no when you’d usually say yes to something that might physically drain you or prevent you from taking care of yourself. Also, this is about saying NO to one thing so you can actually say YES to you. Pick your moments here. See the suggestion above.

~Be flexible. Adjust your life if need be to make room for self-care. For me, this was learning to go to bed earlier so I could wake up earlier so I can meditate and move in the morning. It took some time and some doing and some conversations with my partner (see the first suggestion), but now it’s an established foundational habit. The flexibility helps too, when things don’t go as planned – like my kids waking up during my meditation or movement. Or BEFORE I even begin, which happens about 60% of the time. Instead of throwing in the towel, I usually take a pause, get them what they need, then go back to my mat.

~Expect growing pains. This will not be a smooth ride, but it will be worth it. You might have to play around with timing or the self-care practices that really make you feel good. Some might not be daily habits; some might be weekly or only monthly. Some might not work as well in the morning for you as they do for others. If at first you don’t succeed, check back in and try again. Do not give up. Self-care is worth it, every single time.

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