Someone once told me 'we are all human beings, not human doings'. I have always liked this phrase. It resonates because it can often feel that we are relentlessly on the go without stopping to come up for breath. I am assuming that by coming to this blog you are a) possibly a mum and b) possibly a little frazzled. If so, I hope this post on my experience of self-care may help you find your own little pockets of air to gulp.
A little about me:
I am a 36 year old mum of two energetic children, aged three years and nine months. I have spent most of my working life in the library and education sector - training, teaching and coaching others. I work full-time and am currently on maternity leave with my youngest. Self-care to me means recognising and responding to my own physical, emotional and mental health so I can look after myself and be there for those who need me. It can actually be incredibly difficult to do this when there are a million and one other things pulling (sometimes literally) at your sleeve but, for me, I hope to be a healthy and active part of my children’s lives for as long as possible and this means I need to take care of myself.
It is considered a basic but it can be challenging, especially with a newborn, to stay physically clean. I found it had a detrimental impact on my mental health if I was unable to. My first child had chronic reflux so I was constantly covered in milk throw-up and, as some of you may know, that smell lingers! Fortunately, my second's digestion is fine but even so, finding time can still be tricky! The effort is worth it though even it means shutting at least one of them in the bathroom with you. I try to use the nicest products I can justify on a maternity leave budget to make even a simple experience more special. Additionally, I paid in advance for a Lovelula (cruelty free) beauty subscription box before I left work so I knew I would have something nice to look forward to each month, even when the money had dried up.
I am a big believer in mindfulness as an important part of self-care. Children are naturally mindful but it can be testing as their parent - little ones do not understand about being late or the importance of wearing clothes, rather than pyjamas, in public! To help my own, I try to maintain a home yoga practice - I have had to reconcile with myself that the children (and cat) will get involved and see the positives. My eldest loves Cosmic Kids and I love Yoga with Adrienne - both available on YouTube. Lion's Breath can be very calming! In another effort to be self-aware and to reduce tensions in our household, I have recently bought 'How to talk so your kids will listen and listen so your kids will talk' - I am only half way through but already I have seen a reduction in tantrums after using some of the tips in the book.
I am a relatively private person (although I appreciate the irony of me writing this post), I am comfortable in my own space so do not naturally seek others, and I have little family support for various reasons so being in online groups has been very useful. I am part of a few Facebook groups based on mums with careers, finding clothes suitable for breastfeeding in, and staying fit - I do not post regularly; however, reading other people's stories helps me feel more connected and I respond if I feel I can help someone. I would definitely recommend the ones I've linked to as they are full of wonderful, supportive women which I believe should always be promoted and encouraged.
I believe that to look after others well I need to treat myself with respect and take my own health, both mental and physical, seriously. This means not finishing the kid's leftovers or eating something because I feel guilty for putting it in the compost. My body not being a dustbin is something I have to regularly remind myself! I am breastfeeding so getting enough nutrients for myself and baby is vitally important, along with plenty of water. Reading, gardening and exercise were all pastimes I enjoyed before children and I still try to fit 5 minutes in here and there where possible - even if it means now using an app like Blinkist which provides a free daily summary of a book or my public library's audiobook service.
Being responsible for my own happiness:
This tip has probably been the hardest for me. My first child had meningitis and that, in conjunction with the reflux, was very difficult to deal with. I have felt regretful about some of the decisions I have made, for example, as the main earner, I took a short maternity leave (for the UK) while my husband remained home and I returned to work. This meant I had to adhere to a strict feeding schedule, as I was expressing, and I did not adapt well to returning. Choosing to take longer this time has meant I have been able to take a more relaxed approach and it has helped undo some of those negative feelings. I am still learning not to feel guilty and punish myself: our bodies and minds are incredible and have done amazing things. They are to be cherished and nurtured, just as we do our children.