I have stressed over and over this month on various blog posts and my social media accounts about the importance of self-love, or loving yourself unapologetically and finding your happiness within. Of utmost importance is the fact that in exercising self-love you have to care for your well-being. While the concept seems simple enough, many parents and caregivers, especially mothers, struggle with exercising self-love and caring for themselves.
According to Dictionary.com, self-love is "the instinct by which one's actions are directed to the promotion of one's own welfare or well-being, especially an excessive regard for one's own advantage; conceit, vanity; narcissism." This moral flaw has led many to believe that by taking time for ourselves, or wanting to be apart from our children or spouse to enjoy silence or alone time, it is selfish or vain. Even with psychologist and social philosopher Erich Fromm proposing that "loving oneself is different from being arrogant, conceited, or egocentric" in 1956, we continue to struggle with the notion that we as parents or caregivers don't DESERVE some me time.
This struggle is one that challenged me throughout my prenatal stage and first few years of being Mom. I am sure I am not alone, so I thought I would walk down the course of my life and share with you:
I remember being pregnant and working tirelessly at my local community services board providing intellectual and mental health case management services. I managed a caseload of 43 clients, some of whom lived in group home communities two hours outside of my agency's locality. As a work perfectionist, I could not end a task that I started until it was completed (I have since adjusted this tune a bit). So prior to maternity leave, I made sure that all of my quarterly and annual reports were up-to-date and developed a caseload summary with upcoming appointments and points of contact for all 43 of my cases. I believed that in doing this, my colleagues would have an "easy" three months of supervising my cases in my absence.
During one of my weekly appointments, I asked my OB to pull me out of work two weeks prior to my due date because I just wanted to prepare for my pregnancy in peace. I was making a 45 minute drive daily, and to be honest I was swollen, tired, and my son was resting comfortably on my pelvic floor! My request was denied because it was not "medically necessary" although my doctor suggested that I take the time I needed if I wanted. Of course, I didn't take the time. I made some adjustments in my schedule, but I continued working.
First Year of Motherhood:
I remember not wanting to leave my son alone with anyone, even family that I trusted and loved. I thought that I could do better than anyone because I knew my son better. During the first year, my family was in tact, although we were unmarried. At just two months postpartum, my little family traveled to Massanutten to spend time with my son's paternal family at their vacation home. My son's paternal aunt and grandmother were so thoughtful to give us some "adulting" time. It was much needed for sure. My son's father (and my sweetheart at the time) booked a couple's massage and dinner for us. At dinner, I talked about our son all night and was mildly interested in other conversations. The sound of baby cries caused me to "let down" each time. We eventually cut our dinner short and retreated back to our little one.
At 6 months postpartum, I cried and felt like a bad mom because I put my child in the care of strangers when he began attending a childcare facility. I remember the struggle with working all day. On the first day, I wrote a letter to the daycare staff. I called and checked on him twice, and finally I called it a day at 3:30pm, a hour prior to the end of my scheduled work day. I grabbed my son, and remember needing to adjust my work schedule or seek an alternative to my current employer because I was "too far away from him."
During this first year, I remember coming home early and neglecting household duties, my own bath time until the late hours of night, and even my hair to the point that I just shaved it off as I thought it would be easier for me to manage. I remember my son only attending daycare when I had to work. I remember taking a job that year that was less pay and more of a headache because it was the best for my family.
Motherhood Years (2-3):
At this point, I was physically parenting alone. My son's father relocated out of the area, and was living about three hours apart from us. I remember the days that I was coming home late from work, and barely making it to pick my son up from daycare by 6pm. The days of coming home to begin household duties and mother responsibilities after a long day of work. Afterwards, I would spend time either completing homework for my counseling degree or additional casework that I was unable to finish in my 8.5 hours on the job. I was going to bed at 2-3am, and up like clockwork to do it again by 7am.
During this period, I admit, my co-parenting was NOT perfect. We had not had consistency in our schedules and shared responsibilities, and there were times when I felt GUILT (either self-inflicted or projected towards me) for wanting and needing to have a weekend OFF! I remember the feeling that I had when I would drop my son off at daycare when I would go back home and get in the bed or just go sit on my couch to watch television. I remember the feeling and longing for companionship, and even settling for a "situationship" because I longed for someone to give me some attention.
Motherhood Years (4-5):
During year 4, I was beginning to find that "me" again. I began working out more consistently, and hitting the gym faithfully. Co-parenting was balanced, with a few manageable disagreements like any other family. We celebrated our first vacation together as a family by going to Disney, and prior to my son beginning Kindergarten I took the big LEAP to do a mother-son cruise! I needed it! Even going on the cruise was a challenge because I was too busy planning what to do with my son that I did not plan WHAT TO DO FOR ME! Truthfully, my son enjoyed spending more time with his new friends than with me. Who would have thought that I would have so much time for ADULTING....but I did not plan ONE SINGLE THING! Lesson Learned for this summer's upcoming cruise!
Mid-way through year 4, I changed jobs and relocated away from close friends who provided me with some support. Gone was the help when I needed a pickup from daycare when I would run late. But, I gained more support because my Mom is closer. But then, I entered into a whole new world by becoming a full-time business owner! Talk about added stress deep into year 5 when Kindergarten began.
Motherhood Years (Present and beyond):
As a single mom, now entering my 6th year of motherhood, I still find challenges to maintain balance in motherhood and maintaining a business. I have found myself burning the candle on both ends, and there are times when I neglect my laundry or the dishes, or stay up all night because I am binge watching a television show that I may not be able to catch any other time. When this happens, I check myself and this mindset at the door. I confront unhealthy behaviors that challenge my feelings and peace as a woman and mother.
Truthfully,I have STOPPED trying to be everything to everyone before I am EVERYTHING TO MYSELF!
People have said that I am "lucky" to have momcations (what I call my time off of mommy duties when my son is with his father). I smile because no one considers me lucky when I play the role of two physical parents. Some have asked me if I feel SELFISH leaving my kid at daycare when I do not have to work. I smile again because no one asked me if my daycare provider feels guilty charging me when my son is out for a sick day or if the center is closed for a holiday. Others have remarked that they "wish" it could be as simple as I make it seem. And here is where I smile again, because WE make it more complicated than it has to be by not expressing our needs to others.
The truth is, self-care is not SELFISH. And certainly it is not COMPLICATED. As a mother, we need to be able to tell our children "No, not today because Mommy is tired" without feeling guilty. As caregivers, we need to make the best effort to be GOOD to ourselves, so that we can be good to others. When you are able to "recharge your batteries," you become a better parent. You are alert and able to give that extra time and attention where it is needed. You are not stressed out and can now handle the little brushes your children have before they become forest fires! With practicing self-care, you can better provide consistency to your needs and the needs of your family.
I encourage you make self-care a priority. Start with just 15-20 minutes a day of doing the things that YOU enjoy the most. Whether it is reading, going for a walk around the neighborhood, or having a cup of coffee at your favorite coffee shop.
If you need some support in finding balance or in rediscovering you, schedule a FREE Exploratory Call where I can help you take some an initial step towards a new beginning!