Before I had my son the phrase ‘self-care’ wouldn’t have meant that much to me, mostly because pre-baby I was just so incredibly spoilt; I would think nothing of going out for a hot cup of tea and slice of cake with a friend, a yoga class 3-4 times a week, perhaps I’d come home from work and be too lazy to cook. Midweek date to a restaurant? Why not? Cinema? You bet. Yep, utterly spoilt.
I look back on these times (and childless people) with a mixture of nostalgia and sheer jealousy; in fact on particularly dark, sleep deprived days I am utterly scathing of all those people enjoying uninterrupted sleep and personal freedom. Occasionally my husband and I turn to look at each other, when we have finally collapsed on the sofa, and ask “what did we do with our time before”? Often this is followed by a massive 20 minutes of TV before my eyes involuntarily close and I fall asleep holding my cup of tea. My husband wakes me so I can go up to bed, I brace myself for the imminent frequent night wakings and then do it all again tomorrow.
Aside from his apparent disdain for sleeping in blocks longer than one hour my toddler is, so I am told, pretty self sufficient – he is not a whinger and on the whole is fairly confident to explore without my constant reassurance. He does however move impressively quickly and is into everything (the more dangerous the better) and so I have to confess that between working four days a week, keeping on top of the chores and being a mum I have found it hard to find space for this so-called ‘self care’. I am currently writing to you using my phone, on a hot commuter train to work and feeling so blessed to be able to do so without small sticky fingers grabbing at my legs and that high-pitched whine (which means my mini human needs possession of my phone as a matter of earth shattering urgency) ringing in my ears. So this is my self-care for today…and the best bit? It’s guiltless.
And yet, why should having sometime to myself become a source of guilt?
The pressure to have the perfect home, cook nutritiously balanced meals every day from scratch, squeeze a full time job into part-time hours, read with my child, play with him, protect him, give him clean clothes, new shoes, new clothes, am I doing it right? Researching child behaviour strategies – too permissive? Too authoritative? Am I doing it right? Is it enough? Am I enough? Can I really justify time for myself when there is always so much more to be done, to challenge, to improve? Doesn’t my child deserve the best? Can I be better? Keep striving, keep learning, keep squeezing more and more out of the day until it’s enough? This folks is the internal battle I often find myself in whilst trying to justify enjoying a cup of tea and a sodding biscuit.
But no more. Logic and experience show me that I am at my worst when I am touched-out, stressed-out and strung-out, that it is these times when I snap and become the mother I swore I wouldn’t be; unsympathetic, angry, self-pitying. Where is the ‘earth mother’ I was sure I would be? I’ll be honest I’ve got a strong suspicion she’s fucked off to yoga without me and will stay there until I go and collect her. Because honestly I know that self-care is vital for my mental health but sometimes the sacrifices that becoming a mother demands, can make me feel that I have no right to put myself first. Ever. So instead of trying to wrestle with the guilt monster in my head I have started to simply remind myself that when I care for myself I care for my child. I’ll say that again:
When I care for myself I care for my child.
So, fellow parents, I hope you will join me by practicing your own self-care whether it’s running, gaming, shopping, meditating, reading, knitting, kickboxing or eating a whole packet of chocolate hobnobs undisturbed – just do it. Guilt-free. Have a free pass from me, and then give yourself a load more. If you have a partner ask them to take their turn, if you’re a single parent I literally have no idea how you do it, you absolute hero, but you really need a break too – please ask your family or a friend to help so you can have some time for yourself. In fact don’t just ask, demand it. Because you deserve it and so do your kids. When you care for yourself you care for your kids.
33 year old first-time mum muddling her way through one nappy change at a time. Lover of yoga, music, walking, roast dinners, cosy nights in and chocolate