You’re perched on the starting block over an Olympic-sized pool, fingers gripping the base as the toes of your leading foot curl over the edge. Your heart pounds and your whole body crackles with an electric energy–part terror, part determination–as you stare into the water. The pressure is so intense you can barely breathe. You’re about to swim a 400m relay against strong, well-trained teams of four.
And none of your teammates showed up.
In a real competition, incomplete teams are disqualified–but doesn’t daily life as a mother of young children sometimes feel like you’re doing the work of a whole team on your own?
Mom Self Care is Selfless
You probably have a dozen reasons why you feel you can’t (or shouldn’t) take regular time to look after yourself, mama. Maybe your spouse is working late again–how can you just choose to rest? Isn’t money too tight to justify an evening out with friends? Isn’t “me time” kind of selfish when you’ve got kids always clamoring for your attention? And how can you keep everything afloat–budget, after-school activities, friendships, meals, health–if you stop working to do something so unproductive as reading a book?!
But you know what? Taking care of ourselves isn’t only good for us–it’s good for our husband, children, and friends, too. Building time for rest and recharging into your regular routines can help you to:
- find the energy to keep up with your daily commitments,
- safeguard against mommy-burnout,
- remind you what you love about yourself,
- give you the chance to miss being with your kids,
- reduce feelings of resentment about your supporting roles as wife and mom, and
- give you something to look forward to when the days are long and things are tough.
The Breath of Air
Let’s go back to the relay metaphor.
You know that to keep your team’s finish time respectable on your own–against teams of four who will have a fresh swimmer every hundred meters–you’ll have to maintain a pretty strong pace. It might be tempting at first to just dive in and swim as hard as you can, without surfacing to breathe until you absolutely have to.
That strategy might work okay at the beginning of the race, but as your muscles fatigue and your lungs run out of oxygen things will change quickly. Suddenly every fiber of your body will be crying out for air. Your muscles will be on fire. When you finally scramble to the surface, you won’t be able to swallow enough air to feel satiated. And as you flounder the timer will tick on and on, leaving you far behind the mark you’d hoped to reach.
What if, instead, you gave that up a small beat of time in a regular rhythm to catch your breath? You might lose a fraction of your speed at the beginning, but you’d see the benefits of each breath in your endurance through the rest of the race.
Life is like this, too. In the heat of the moment it can be hard to give up your momentum to do something restful. But the blocks of time you create to take care of yourself are the sustaining breaths in a long race: a small sacrifice of time for a long-term gain.
Making Time for Yourself
Because you’re a mom, self-care has to start in your head. You need to know that you need and deserve to spend some time every day just being yourself. It’s not selfish or lazy to put aside the laundry to spend some time doing something you enjoy.
If you’re new to this, start by trying to schedule just one regular, daily break, at least thirty minutes long. Here are a few ideas about where to find or make that time:
- Get up a little earlier. I’ve just recently started trying get up early enough to study my scriptures and exercise before my kids are up. I’m not naturally a “morning person” but this little jump start–where I’m responsible to no one but myself–helps me be more productive and happier throughout the day.
- Use that nap time! Time to yourself is precious when you’ve got busy little kids, so unless cleaning your kitchen soothes and recharges you, please don’t use your alone time to tidy up. Read a book, take a nap, call a friend, write in your journal, work on a project, or just sit in the back yard with the baby monitor on lowwww and enjoy the sunshine.
- Get creative with child care. Having some kid-free time is NOT selfish–in fact in my experience it can actually help you be more present during your time with the kiddos–why not figure out a weekly or twice-monthly time when you can have an hour or two to yourself? Schedule your husband to be the on-duty parent, swap childcare with a friend, hire a sitter, or get a mother’s helper (which costs less than a solo-babysitter) to watch the kids while you sneak upstairs to read a magazine in peace.
- Give yourself “office hours” at home. When you’re fully in charge of running the household, managing your home can feel like a career of it’s own. To help transition my mindset from “work” to “rest,” I decided to make at-home office hours. I give myself 1-2 hours after my kids go to bed to wrap up the most important and pressing items around the house, and then I stop. Even if the kitchen sink is full of dishes! By 8 or 9 I am in my pajamas enjoying a book or binge-watching a show with my husband. That hour or two of downtime before bed is often one of the best parts of my day.
What do you do to recharge and regroup? Do you notice a difference in the rest of your life when you are able to capture some time to do something that energizes you?
Originally posted at the Physician Family Media blog.
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