Most parents will tell you about how they hazily go through their earliest days with their newborns, living in isolation on no sleep, constant "am-I-doing-this-right?" anxiety, stress, and a steady diet of takeaway and whatever casseroles or lasagnes were generously donated through some kind of life-giving meal train. The only thing that matters in those first few fevered weeks is making sure the little one is okay.
But I'm here to tell you from first-hand experience: That. Is. Not. Sustainable.
Reports say 78% of mums say they put off taking care of their own health to care for family members.
For some reason, that's a lesson that every parent has to learn the hard way. It's just so easy to continue the pattern that's established in those earliest days: putting the children's needs first and foremost, while grabbing a nap or whatever bite to eat you can scrounge up only after the kids are taken care of and in bed and then feeling too tired to maintain your adult friendships. I remember days spent pureeing sweet potatoes for my kids when were babies only to cook Two-Minute Noodles for myself after they finally went to sleep for the night - after midnight.
The tendency to put yourself last is especially prevalent in mums: According to a recent survey, 78% of mums report they put off taking care of their own health because they were too busy looking after their loved ones. When asked to rank the amount of time spent managing the health of various family members, the same mums put them in this order: Kids took the most time, then pets, older relatives, spouses or significant others, and then (finally) themselves.
Seriously, three places behind the dog.
But after everyone from the kids to the cats are handled, there's not that much left over for Mum: A survey of 2,000 parents found that mums and dads, on average, get only 32 minutes of "me time" each day - which, frankly, seems high to me. A study in Britain put that number at closer to 17 minutes, which feels more on the mark. How are mothers supposed to be functioning human beings when we give ourselves less than half an hour a day to manage our own needs?
"Self-care is a necessity, not an indulgence."
The answer is, mums can't. Which is why I believe mums need to take their self-care into their own hands, putting "me time" up at the top of the family priority list - even if it means something else that would benefit the rest of the family gets bumped down to the bottom.
If you think about it, it makes sense: Taking care of yourself puts you in a position to be a better mum overall. If you spend all day preparing healthful veggies (or preparing six different meals for pickier older kids) while scarfing junk food in the wee hours like I did, you're going to feel tired, hungry and foggy in the morning. Which means you're not going to have the energy for another round of puréeing and swaddling.
Eventually, you hit a wall.
Self-care is a necessity, not an indulgence. We need to nurture ourselves just like we nurture our children. If we don't take care of ourselves, feelings of depletion, resentment and isolation could potentially arise. I know I feel more centred and present after taking time to engage in self-care, and strongly believe in building it into my daily agenda.
The "build it into the daily agenda" is the key point: If you don't actually make space for your self-care, it isn't going to happen. Recently, I've shuffled around some of my own priorities.
That doesn't mean I get to go to the gym (hahahaha - as if) or attend a spa appointment every day (as much I would like it to). For me, a morning walk around the farm as the sun comes up is my biggest non-negotiable. It's time to get moving, get fresh air, think, breathe and prepare myself for the day.
It doesn't sound like much and that's the key - it doesn't have to be much.
It just has to be something for you.
"Our children look to us and how we treat ourselves."
Not only is it good for me but when you think about it (and this is great if you still feel you need to justify taking time for yourself), seeing you look after yourself, is good for your kids.
You see, our children look to us and how we treat ourselves. This goes for many things: how we speak to ourselves, how we treat our bodies, how we value our time. Modelling healthy self-care can be helpful for our children to witness and internalise. We are teaching them that taking care of yourself matters just as much as taking care of your family.
I don't want to raise children who puts themselves last and don't believe they deserves her own "me time" to spend however they want. And chances are, if I hadn't changed my ways, at some point they would have noticed my midnight burrito habit, and that would've made just as much an impression on them as my insistence that they eat their greens.