You stuff you child’s Paw Patrol backpack with half-done homework, throw together a turkey sandwich for lunch, and make sure there’s no funky odor coming from your kid’s favorite pair of jeans (that he’s worn for the third time in a row this week). During the day you check off items on your never-ending to-do list at the office or home like a Boss. Or maybe you don’t because you’re just too overwhelmed.
After a long day you might whip up dinner only to be met with your kid’s complaint that he or she hated what you made. Your child then proceeds to have a full blown meltdown on the kitchen floor over macaroni and cheese, which by the way he totally ate the night before with no problem. Your eyes widen and you wonder if an alien just took over your child’s body. You take a deep breath and realize you’re on the verge of tears.
After bath time and putting your kid to bed (hopefully only once), you crash on the couch in a heap of exhaustion and maybe watch an episode of House of Cards. Before you know it, it’s time to go to bed and repeat it all over again. But wait. While you were busy taking care of everybody else, a part of you was screaming like a tantruming 2-year-old for some love.
This scenario is all too common for modern day mothers. Before children, we only had ourselves to worry about. We had time for the gym, movie theaters, spontaneous vacations or that really trashy romance novel.
We had time for us.
Having children is incredibly rewarding, although I must admit, I didn’t exactly highlight the rewarding parts above. And it’s exhausting. Part of us can get lost along the way.
In my therapy and life coaching practice, I often hear from exhausted mothers that the reason they don’t take time to do the things that make them happy is because they don’t have time, feel guilty, or feel like they don’t deserve it. Can you relate? We put ourselves on the back burner and make sure family comes first.
While this seems like the noble and selfless thing to do, it comes with a huge price tag – we neglect ourselves.
What if I told you that by putting yourself last, you were actually reducing your effectiveness as a parent? If you’ve flown on an airplane, you know that the flight attendants stress the importance of putting on your oxygen mask first, before assisting others. Why is that? Because if you don’t, you physically won’t be able to help anyone. You first, then others.
When we don’t take care of ourselves we can end up depressed, anxious, resentful, irritable, overweight, or with general poor health. Instead of being patient and compassionate towards our kids, we may find ourselves blowing up. Afterwards, we might sit there stunned from our reaction and then the floodgates of guilt are released.We may become the type of parent we don’t want to be.
Mama, please know this: We don’t have short fuses because we’re terrible mothers. We become explosive volcanoes when our tank is running on empty – when we give too much to others and not to ourselves. You can’t keep providing what you don’t have.
It’s like that book by Shel Silverstein called “The Giving Tree”. If you’re not familiar, the story is about a little boy who makes friends with a tree who ends up loving the boy unconditionally. The boy approaches the tree throughout his life with different needs. First, the tree gives the boy some of her leaves and the boy is happy. Later the tree gives her branches, and finally her entire trunk. In the end, all that’s left of the tree is a stump for the boy to sit on. Although the tree supposedly felt happy at the end of the book, she had nothing left to give.
I imagine the tree would have been much happier if she had taken time to grow back her leaves and replenish her fruit. She could have sustained much longer and given even more to the boy.
As a mother, it’s easy to become the giving tree. Unless you want to be reduced to a stump of yourself, it’s time to start looking at what you can do to give back to you. This doesn’t mean that you neglect your kids and spouse and do whatever the hell you want to do all of the time. It means that you make sure to carve out little nuggets of time for yourself while still fulfilling your responsibilities.
What brings you moments of happiness? Do you need that daily cup of Starbucks? Do you need time to journal or meditate? Do you want to make an appointment to get your hair done? Have you been wanting to hire a personal trainer because you just can’t lose weight? Do you really want to hire a life coach in order to accomplish your goals once and for all? Maybe you just want a cleaning lady so you have more time for yourself. Find something that lights you up and brings you peace.
If you struggle with guilt about putting yourself first I encourage you to view it differently. Rather than seeing it as being selfish, might you be able to see it as indirectly taking care of your kids? Ultimately when you’re taking care of yourself, you are in fact taking care of your children.
When you replenish yourself, you refill your tank of love. When you are fulfilled, you become a kinder, happier, and more patient version of yourself. I imagine that you’d rather be that kind of mother rather than having the temper of the Incredible Hulk. I’m sure your kids would rather have that too!
By putting yourself first sometimes, you are providing you and your kids with an incredible gift. They get a happier and healthier mother and you feel fulfilled. By providing yourself with self-care you are leading by example and teaching your children that it’s important to love and care for themselves. You are teaching your kids to honor their worth by practicing self-care. And the best way to do that is by showing them how.
So go ahead and unapologetically create moments of happiness for yourself! Figure out what brings you joy and work it into your life. When you are content, everyone wins.