In MOTHERHOOD, SELF-CARE

“Are you taking care of yourself, though?”

I asked myself this question as I eased myself out of my daughter’s bed last night.

It was 9:45pm and I’d almost fallen asleep putting my 2 big kids to sleep. They both still need me or my husband to help them fall asleep, so most nights one of us stays in bed with them after reading books.

I was exhausted.

And all I wanted to do was climb into my own bed to get a little bit of sleep before my youngest woke up around midnight to nurse.

Instead, all I could think of was the messy kitchen, the work I didn’t finish, the toys scattered on the living room floor.

This is the struggle every day and every night.

The balance between taking care of my kids, taking care of my house, taking care of my relationship, taking care of my business, and taking care of my health.

And it’s hard.

It’s not that I expected this motherhood thing to be all unicorns and sparkles and rainbows and smooth sailing.

In fact, there are quite a few unicorns in my life because I am the mom of a 7 year old, unicorn-obsessed child.

It’s more that we’re constantly bombarded with various ideologies about the best way to parent our kids.

Or the best ways to take care of ourselves.

And often those ideologies are at odds.

For example:

Screen time is evil. Your kids need lots of time outside.

Also, take time for yourself during the day when your kids are all up in your grill and won’t even leave you alone long enough to pee by yourself.

Sleep training your kids is the only way to get your kids to sleep through the night.

Also, don’t make your kids feel neglected. Give them your undivided attention. You can’t even scroll through instagram while you nurse your baby.

Having a job is important and satisfying.

But not if it takes your attention away from your children.

Children are precious. Appreciate every moment because they grow up so fast

This, by the way, includes loving every tantrum, every shoe thrown at your head, every diaper explosion, every time your kid wakes up in the middle of the night, every time they puke into your hands, and every time your child tells you they hate you.

Often motherhood feels like the odds are stacked against us.

Nothing we do is right.

Every choice we make is questionable.

No matter what, we’re going to permanently screw up our kids.

I’ve been teaching about self-care for a long time. Ever since giving birth to Milly, my first child, and losing myself entirely in that first year of motherhood, I’ve been devoted to helping other moms recognize that their value goes beyond their ability to mother.

I’m not perfect, though.

I still struggle with this balance.

“Are you taking care of yourself,” is a question I ask myself almost daily now.

As the election looms closer and I feel guilt over whether or not I could have done more in the midst of remote schooling one kid, struggling to keep my business afloat, and trying to give my attention between the other 2 kids.

What does taking good care of myself mean to me? 

Does it mean holding myself accountable to certain values or certain actions?

Taking good care of myself requires that I listen to my body and do what she asks me to, instead of doing what I think I am supposed to.

What does taking good care of myself feel like?

Does taking good care of myself look like getting into arguments on the internet with people I don’t even like about values we don’t share?

Asking this question has given me a lot to think about in the past few weeks.

Really, this is the question of the year.

Are you taking care of yourself?

With kids underfoot all the time and no personal space to speak of.

Are you taking care of yourself?

With the threat of a contagious virus, conspiracy theories running rampant, and an election that has been hanging over our heads for nearly 4 years now.

Are you taking care of yourself?

With a lack of normal schedule and consistent routines.

Are you taking care of yourself?

With uncertainty and fear as headline news every single day.

I think it’s really easy to focus more on caring for others than caring for ourselves. It feels more productive to cuddle my kids to sleep or clean my kitchen than it does to go to bed early.

Truthfully we’ve been programmed to feel this way.

And reprogramming is hard because of that constant ideological ping pong match.

Here’s what I’ve been trying to do lately:

Creating clear boundaries.

Truthfully, I am historically terrible with boundaries. I have a habit of ignoring every boundary I’ve created, even if it’s in service of my mental health. Knowing that, when I find myself crossing a boundary or close to crossing a boundary, I ask myself, “is that what taking care of yourself looks like?” Or, “how will choosing this path actually support you?”

While this doesn’t work every time but it does help.

Offering myself compassion.

I’m not great at this one either. Self- compassion is something I have always struggled with as a chronic perfectionist with a tendency towards self-destructive behavior.

I’m trying to put things in perspective. My other tendency is to compare myself to every other mother. Especially ones who seem to be living the life I want to live. The ones who have success and happiness and confidence written all over their instagram accounts.

I remind myself, “you only see what they allow you to see. Be kind to yourself. Life is hard. Motherhood is hard. Every mom handles motherhood differently. Allow yourself to honor your choices, learn from your mistakes, and receive compassion when you screw up.”

Do what makes you feel good.

This one I am reasonably good at but sometimes it comes at the expense of work or my kids needs and then I feel guilt.

Guilt is the worst. It’s not usually a true feeling so much as a filter you look at yourself through.

Lately I’ve been reminding myself that going to bed earlier makes me feel good. Going to bed with a sink full of dishes no longer makes me feel bad. Moving my body everyday makes me feel good. Working on my business after dinner feels like shit.

There are things I can’t control. I can’t control when Nettie falls asleep, which sometimes means the big kids go to sleep later, which means I go to sleep later. But I can choose whether or not to stay up late cleaning or scrolling through facebook.

Last night, I debated going straight to bed instead of cleaning the kitchen. I asked what would be in the interest of taking care of myself.

My body wanted sleep. So I listened to my body.

I did clean up the kitchen first, but I gave myself a time limit. Instead of feeling bad for not finishing everything, I felt proud for making a better choice for my health.

I got in bed and kept my phone off. I read until my eyes were tired. None of this kept Nettie from waking me up 5 minutes after I fell asleep, but I can’t control everything.

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