When you’re wearing your heavy cardigan to (hopefully) contain your stink, and regularly find yourself lying on the floor, declaring “Mommy time-out,” it may be time to re-evaluate your living situation and priorities.
This is the story of a busy, overwhelmed mother.
Hi, I’m Kristi, mother of two children, P, resident threenager, and E, my only-happy-when-held, 1-year-old. By day I am a full-time school psychologist- by night, I am a frazzled child wrangler, meal cooker, and shower neglecter.
While I have a very supportive, loving husband, he happens to work significantly more hours than I do, therefore, I handle a great deal of the childcare and household responsibilities.
Over the past few months, my family and I have experienced a great deal of change, some of the most notable including a move, and me accepting a new school psychologist position. Change, even when welcome, can be painful, and it certainly has been for my family and me.
In recent weeks, I’ve let the stress of these changes consume me. I haven’t taken care of myself the way I should (hence, the stink-holding cardigan). My meals have consisted of whatever I can shove into my mouth while tending to my children. I haven’t slept more than a five hour stretch at a time. I’ve reached for a Sam Adams Oktoberfest before 5:00 p.m. on more than one occasion (and I have strong opinions about drinking before 5). And my work-outs have consisted of carrying my thrashing, wiggly 3-year-old to the “thinking window” (our alternative to time-out).
I am self-aware enough to know the way I was operating wasn’t sustainable, or healthy. I began to think about myself as my own child (if that makes sense?). Would I allow my own children to get minimal sleep, skip meals, and shower infrequently enough to need a heavy cardigan? No, I wouldn’t. Which then begged the question: why am I not taking care of myself?
Because I’m tired.
Because I’m too busy taking care of my children.
Because I don’t want to be perceived as selfish or lazy for taking time for myself (where does that pressure come from, anyway? Myself, society, a mixture of the two? That’s a post for another day..)
Because, because, because..
Yes, I was/am tired. Yes, I have a responsibility to care for my children. But, dammit, I am a person with needs, too! I was running on empty and knew I had to make some serious changes to my life and schedule. So, for one week, I decided to “mother” myself. I spent last week attending to my needs like I would my children’s, and here’s what happened.
I went to the doctor for a routine physical. It had been a while since I’d had one, and I wanted to ensure that everything was in good, working order. I was given the “all-clear” by my doctor, got the flu shot, and asked for a referral to see a psychiatrist. I’m a firm believer in asking for help when you need it, and since I’ve always struggled with anxiety and attention, I felt it best to get the referral.
I ate proper meals. Breakfast and dinner were tricky, as I take care of the kids during those times, but in preparing breakfast and dinner foods on the weekend (which took effort and commitment, friends), I was able to eat relatively well in the mornings and evenings. I am fortunate to be able to come home from work for lunch, so I enjoyed a leisurely, scream-free lunch every day last week.
I didn’t drink alcohol. I find nothing wrong with a tasty adult beverage; however, I didn’t want my knee-jerk reaction to stress to be reaching for a drink. When I found myself stressed last week, I made a cup of tea, or drank a glass of whole milk (which I find absolutely delicious).
I got physical. My Planet Fitness membership finally saw some use last week- hooray! I went twice over the course of the weekend, and after work on two additional days. I felt awful going to the gym instead of picking my children up right away; it didn’t help that I have to drive right by it on the way. However, I enjoy going to the gym; it diffuses my stress, and gives me energy (which I desperately needed). I don’t know that I will ever not feel guilty going to the gym, but I know I need to keep trying.
I showered regularly. While every day is pushing it for me, I stuck to every other day. I have a thick, long, mess of hair that doesn’t air dry well, and takes a long time to fix. After my children went to bed, the last thing I wanted to do was shower and blow-dry my hair, but I did it, and you know what? I felt like a new woman. A tired one, but still new.
I asked myself what I needed. When I sensed myself getting overwhelmed, or stressed (for me, the tell-tale sign is tension in my shoulders), I asked myself what I needed in that moment. Sometimes I needed a break, other times, it was food. A lot of the time, it was sleep. While I wasn’t always able to give myself the thing(s), I needed, acknowledging those needs made me feel a heck of a lot better.
I asked for help. While my husband works serious hours, he is a great help when he is home. I asked him multiple times last week for a short break (usually five minutes or less), or to take care of something around the house. The weekend before my “mother myself” challenge began, my own mother took my oldest child for the weekend, so my husband and I could decompress a little. Each of our support systems look different, but I have found that people usually want to help, and will if asked to do so.
I planned something fun for myself. Just like we give our children things to look forward to, I scheduled something fun for me: a night out of town with two good friends from graduate school. We ate delicious Afghan food, took a walking tour of Baltimore (okay, we couldn’t find the restaurant, and the tour was impromptu, who’s askin?’), and went bowling. I had a phenomenal time, and when I came home, my children couldn’t have been happier to see me. It was good to get away. It was good to be missed. It was good to hug my babies again.
I explored healthy ways to cope with my stress. I purchased an adult coloring book AND IT WAS AWESOME. Over the course of the week, I dedicated about 45 minutes to my coloring venture; it was enjoyable, and steered my mind away from my children and work for a glorious window of time.
I re-evaluated my priorities. The dinners I prepare usually consist of a protein, a starch, and a veggie (e.g. crock-pot chicken with baked zucchini and whole-wheat garlic noodles). You know what usually happens when I prepare aforementioned meals? My son throws it on the floor, and my daughter turns her nose up at it (but eventually eats it after a several-hour stand-off). I was killing myself trying to put a home-cooked meal on the table (imagine holding a crying one-year-old while attempting to slice a zucchini with one hand). I wanted to provide healthy, wholesome foods to my children, but at what expense (read: my sanity). So, I did what every parent swears they won’t do before they have children: I bought frozen chicken nuggets and French fries. Sometimes, you need to recognize when things aren’t working, and adjust accordingly. We will have chicken nugget night once a week for the foreseeable future, and it will be no big thang.
I encouraged myself. Mothers encourage their children to do their best. When our littles are down, we pick them up. This week, I did the same for myself. I regularly struggle with feeling out of control, so to combat that, I put this cool little sign by my door as a reminder.
I will not lie: Mothering myself this past week was hard work. Essentially, I gained a third child. It took time, effort, and planning. I slept a little less than I normally do, but, I was happier overall. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the responsibility of meeting little people’s needs. It is easy to get caught up in the stress of “adulting”; however, I think it’s important to consistently consider our own needs and desires. After all, mothers are people, too! An exhausted, unwashed, self-sacrificing mother can only carry on for so long.
It’s unlikely I’ll be able to care for myself the way I did this past week all the time, but this experiment has taught me to be more mindful of my needs. I believe doing so will make me a more calm and capable mother, wife, friend, etc. How do you care for yourselves, given the demands of raising children, managing a household, and working?