I was talking with another Mama friend the other day… well actually, I was complaining with another Mama friend the other day about how I’ve been feeling pretty burned-out as a mom. Just the usual, you know,”I’m tired,” “my clothes don’t fit,” “my house looks like a daycare center…” Stuff like that. Then something occurred to me: Moms suck at self-care. Actually, I’m going to take it even further and say that most people are horrible at self-care. I’ve talked about self-care before, you may recall my fond memories of the director at our Graduate Psychology Department. She was seriously hard-core about self-care. She would orchestrate these amazing “Self-Care Nights” for us at the department so that we could take a break from the intensity of studying, clients, and self-introspection. Massages, cookies and Dance Dance Revolution were often involved.
Despite our awesome “Self-Care Nights…” Let me tell you that studying clinical psychology is one of the hardest things I have ever done. During the process, I was forced to look at my own brokenness and it wasn’t pretty. There’s a reason why therapists are usually in therapy themselves. Amongst my brokenness, I discovered (in my own therapy) that I am really bad at taking care of myself. Not surprisingly, I also discovered that it’s affecting my relationships. It’s actually pretty twisted too, because it usually goes down like this: Let’s say I want to go to yoga….well that’s great but I feel guilty for taking the time to do that because I tell myself that I should clean or cook a nice dinner for Caleb (he is completely oblivious to this entire internal dialogue, I might add), so I don’t go to yoga. Then, deep down, I feel bitter for not going to yoga. So, naturally, I am angry at Caleb. Now, Caleb has no idea that he has robbed me of yoga and consequently, is quite confused. His confusion makes me more angry so of course, I act like a jerk. Then I feel bad for acting like a jerk so I decide to let him pick the movie we will watch that night (which inevitably, is some painfully lame action movie) and now I’m bitter again. Do you see how this is a problem people?? If I had just taken care of myself to begin with, everything would have been fine. Sure, the house wouldn’t have been as clean, but I would have felt rejuvenated and Caleb would have come home to a happier wife.
Here’s the thing: Often, we don’t take care of ourselves because we believe we should be taking care of others. I hope that the above example was a good illustration as to why this logic is null. Why? Because: By taking care of ourselves, we in-turn are taking care of others. (Have you noticed I’m really digging italics for this post?) Caleb and I have this thing that we say to each other that reminds us of this concept. Sometimes, if I feel he is being hard on himself, I’ll say to him, “Hey, take care of my husband please.” He will say the same to me if I say something bad about myself or am not caring for myself. When he takes care of himself, he also takes care of me because I love him and we are a team. It also relieves me of the burden to take care of him and vice versa. I’m not saying that we don’t do nice things for one another, we absolutely do… but, we try not to force the other to mind-read our needs. If I need a break to go do yoga or to write, it’s my responsibility to ask Caleb if he can watch Luca so that I can have what I need. It’s not fair for me to run around ragged until he finally asks how he can help. When we communicate our needs it takes the other person off the hook to try to figure us out.
So how does this relate to motherhood? Well, if you have a hard time taking care of yourself without a kid (or a husband) it’s only going to get worse when you have a family. The demands of being a mom and wife are potentially endless (no thanks to Pinterest). So we have to take responsibility for our own needs by purposefully choosing to take care of ourselves often at the expense of “caring” for someone else. It doesn’t mean we don’t love our spouse or our kids. In fact, I would argue that we are caring for our husbands by being mature women who are aware of our own needs and our limits. This is also a characteristic of emotional intelligence and by practicing self-care we are setting a good example to our kids.
Ok, here’s the kicker though: Sometimes things have to get done. Yep. Sometimes, there really are things that need to get done around the house. If you’re a stay at home mom, what I’m about to say is going to be somewhat controversial… Your husband needs to do the housework too. I think for working moms, this statement is kind of a given because you’re both working (although statistics show that even working moms still pick-up the bulk of the housework) and he knows that you can’t do it all. For some reason, we have a hard time differentiating between Stay at Home Mom and Stay at Home Mom & Cook & Maid. When you chose to stay at home was it so that you could have more intricate meals and a cleaner house?… Mmm… I’m guessing NO. Being a Stay at Home Mom is a JOB. Our job is to raise healthy, emotionally intelligent, socially adept children so that this world will be a better place someday… Well, that’s my goal anyway. Yes, I am able to get some housework done and I am now able to cook more, but I have to keep my priorities in check constantly. My point of all this, is that if we are doing all the housework, and cooking, and child-wrangling… how on earth are we to self-care? We have to ask our partners for help. We just can’t do this all on our own.
Unfortunately, a lot of guys seem to have this fantasy that we will be able to do it all. Admittedly, I also had the fantasy that I could do it all too. It’s so hard to understand what it’s like to try to do it all until you’ve been there. Caleb told me that one of his friends was put in charge of his kids for a weekend while his wife went on a women’s retreat. Apparently, one weekend was all it took for him to appreciate how hard it was to care for the kids and try to keep the house in order. He never complained about the house being messy again. Moral of the story? Go on more women’s retreats. No seriously, it’s important that we are honest with our partners about how hard it is to try to do everything. Hopefully they will take your word for it. If they’re still skeptical, maybe they won’t be once you take some self-care time outside of the home and they can get a taste of your daily life. In some cases, you may need to go to marital therapy for a little bit so that you can work-out these issues… it’s better to do it now than years down the road when resentment has festered into contempt, a primary indicator of divorce. That may sound dramatic but unfortunately this is a very common scenario. Don’t let it get that far.
So, real moral of the story: Enlist help and take care of yourself. You and your family deserve it. Ready? Now go self-care. You got this.
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