Published originally on the Piper & Me blog
So many of us, as mums, put ourselves last. It’s something that so many of us do without even thinking. Often times the kids, the running of the household, and work commitments see us putting ourselves at the very bottom of the priorities list, and more often than not, we’ve done it without realising it! And today we have Jess, with some insight into why it’s so important for us Mumma’s to take a little time out for self care. Sometimes you have to make sure your own cup is full, before you can fill everyone else’s…
To the mamas who are quick to put themselves last, and what we can do about it.
Let’s not beat around the bush, this parenting gig is hard work. Whether you have one child or five. Whether you have a ‘good’ baby or the spawn of the devil. (Just kidding, they’re all good babies, right?) Whether you’re a stay at home mum, a working mum, a solo mum, an extroverted mum, an outdoorsy mum or a Wiggles mum… this job. Is. Relentless. It’s never ending. (Literally- you’re a mum now, forever!) And for many, it can become all consuming. To the point where you’ve put everyone else first for so long that you have nothing left in your cup- for you OR your family.
So why do so many of us fall in to this cycle?
The good news is; it’s not entirely our own fault. Much of the conditioning to this way of thinking happens subtly through our life. But most importantly, it can be changed. Quite easily if you can recognise it and are willing to take the step forward.
The culture of females being the caregivers, nurturers, peacekeepers and people pleasers starts early- from being handed a doll at the same age your male peer is handed a truck, to being in a 99% female Home Economics class in high school. By the time you reach adulthood your ability to take on not only the practical work but the emotional labour (mental load) for your family, and the assumption that you will, has already been ingrained.
From the earliest stages of pregnancy through to the birth of your child and beyond, you’re bombarded with (often conflicting) advice on how to be a ‘super mum’, a ‘super woman’ or even just a ‘good mum’. And unfortunately, the message is still that this woman does it all. She balances all the plates, juggles all the balls, she does everything for everyone and she does it all before thinking of herself.
Some mothers may immediately feel the pressure of this message, others might be able to juggle the balls for years before feeling the weight of it. For some it might take a life changing event to bring things into perspective.
6-12 months before my husband and I separated, I bought a subscription to the ‘Put myself last’ club. I was mentally preparing (so I thought) for what solo parenting would throw at me, if it ended up at that point. (It did.) All of my time, my energy and my focus went to my daughter. What little was left went to work/ study/ house work- the list of things I had to do before taking a breather was endless. But I was ok with that, I thought; “This is just what you have to do”.
Well-meaning people said; “Be kind to yourself. Make sure you take some time out” and I would quite literally laugh out loud, while juggling my 27 balls in the air. My daughter was my priority. She needed me to be the best parent I possibly could, and I couldn’t understand why the ‘best parent’ would take time AWAY from their child? It made no sense… until… it did.
It started with me yelling at her. Not for doing something naughty or dangerous, but because she wouldn’t put her shoes on. She cried and apologised, I cried and apologised, and I said to myself that it wouldn’t happen again. But it did. And over the next few weeks I noticed how quickly I was becoming frustrated and angry. How often I was having to bite my tongue so that I didn’t snap at her. How often I didn’t bite my tongue and did snap at her. While I had been stressed, exhausted and run down for months, my parenting had to take a hit before I realised that something needed to change.
Consistently putting other people’s needs first is not sustainable. And thank goodness for this- nor is it in anyone’s best interest!
I started reading studies on the long term effects of parental stress on children- because clearly I’m a sucker for punishment- and when that had made me feel sufficiently guilty, I started reading about the importance of self care. And let me tell you, I did not find one thing that made me feel I would be selfish for taking time to myself.
The benefits of self care are countless. Reduced stress, improved immune system, sounder sleep, stronger relationships, a more balanced outlook, increased resilience, the list goes on. (I don’t know about you, but every one of those things helps me feel like a happier, better functioning human!)
Reduced stress may be the one most beneficial to us mums though, because reducing your stress levels directly results in improved levels of tolerance and patience. (WHAT?!).
Me – stress = a better parent
If that’s not enough to convince you that self care isn’t selfish, take it from Michelle Obama, who says the most important trait to model for her daughters is “investing in themselves as much as they invest in others.”
Your kids learn from you. They copy your behaviour.
Isn’t teaching them to read just as important as teaching them self-worth and to value their mental health and happiness?
I understand too well that taking the step towards looking after yourself can be daunting. For some it requires asking friends or family for help with babysitting. For others it takes a total shift in mindset. But remember you can start as small as you need to! The buzz around #selfcare can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t need to be a weekend away with your friends, or a full day spa visit (although both of those things sound amazing to me!) Self care can be ten minutes a day- as long as you’re doing something that makes you happy and leaves you feeling more energised.
Remember what it is that you love to do. What ‘fills your cup’?
Do you like reading? Find ten minutes at the end of the day where you can put everything down and start one of the books you’ve had on the bedside table for three years.
Do you like photography? Pick up your camera, or google an iphone photography lesson and start taking snaps of things other than your children.
Do you like working out? Join a gym with a creche.
Do you like coffee? (Who doesn’t?) Get up 15 minutes before your kids in the mornings to have a cup and drink it hot.
Do you want to socialise? Buy tickets to a mums-only event. (There are so many organisations popping up that cater to mums who need some time out! You can google or insta search to find something local, or try Mums Who Wine who are national and host events all over Australia.)
Your needs deserve to be met just as much as everyone else’s.
Remember; self care isn’t selfish. Self care saves lives, revives minds, refreshes bodies and leaves you a more capable and happy parent.