Self-care for mamas

By April Wallace, Northwest Arkansas mama

Self-awareness, self-care, and self-love are so trendy right now but, as a relatively new mom, I feel completely disconnected from it all.

As soon as my first baby arrived, I think my brain shut off the notifications for what I personally needed to get by.

I would look up and it had been days since I had showered, hours beyond when my next meal should’ve been, or more than six months since my last manicure.

Taking time for myself seems much harder than it should be. Every time I think of doing something for myself, my brain automatically shoots down the idea.

“I want to shower now.” No, I should read to Henry while he’s alert and interested.

“I’d like to sit down and read a chapter of my book while he’s asleep.” Well, just look at this house. I should tidy and clean while he can’t mess it up.

“Man, it would be nice to go have my hair or nails done this afternoon while my husband can spend time with the kids.” But then I’d be missing out on some rare time we have all together.

Why was it—why is it—so difficult for me to either remember or make time? Because I’m literally responsible for my children around the clock. To do something for myself feels like I’m taking something away from them. And everything in me resists that.

I’m sure you’re surprised to hear how burned out this mama has gotten on multiple occasions.

When I had only one child, it became easy to blame my husband when I felt as if I’d been run into the ground. But of course it wasn’t his fault. For him, the choice is often uncomplicated and logistical. For example, if I wanted a shower, I could ask him to take over as long as it wasn’t right when he needed to be getting ready for work. Or I could shower and let the baby cry for 5 or 10 minutes. It wasn’t going to be the end of the world.

But for me, in my hormonal state, the choice seemed impossible some days. Ask my husband to go out of his way so I could do something that sounds so incredibly simple? How embarrassing that I would need help for that. Miss out on time with him when his evening hours with us are limited? No way. Listen to my sweet baby cry when he didn’t have to? Absolutely not.

It felt like casting my child to the wayside while I did something trivial. Spoiler alert: taking care of yourself isn’t trivial, it’s necessary for you to be a whole person and a good mom.

This is how it began, and of course it gets worse if you apply that same thinking to the rest of your life. It took my first child’s first birthday to wake me up to the realization that I wasn’t doing much of anything for me.

When my reserves are emptied, instead of feeling like I have won the Mother-of-the-Year award for trying hard and caring a bunch, I just feel like crap. Because that’s what I’ve allowed.

To get myself back, I started simple. I worked on getting that daily shower back. It helped that my baby was a little older now, but it surprised me how easy it could be to help him have fun while I bathed. My new toddler enjoyed bringing me rubber duckies while I was in the bath and squealed and laughed at splashing me.

Then I prioritized getting my exercise time back in my day. I couldn’t float off to the gym anytime I liked, but I could push him in the stroller while we ran errands in the neighborhood or do bodyweight exercises in the living room while he crawled on me or imitated me. And if we danced together? He was overjoyed.

There were phases of long naps that allowed for my reading time, days that Grandma wanted to keep him while I could write or meet a friend for lunch, and eventually I came to see the joy my husband got from having his individual time with our boy. It set me free from the mom guilt I’d been carrying so I could get some regular time away.

The arrival of our second baby did cause me to revert to mom martyrdom once again, but the difference was that I recognized it and was able to recover from it a bit more quickly.

Ever since baby number two got here, I’ve been more open about the need for me-time and slowly started letting go of the guilt for what I do with it.

I’ve used my precious minutes to workout alone, attend a postpartum recovery class, deliver goods to other new mamas, attend doctor’s appointments and get groceries along with other time-consuming or otherwise tedious things.

But do I need to do something big or important with my time away? I don’t think so. I’ve used this time just to shower alone and put my makeup on in peace, to clean my house and let it stay that way for a little bit, to sit on the couch and zone out to a TV show or a social media feed, to reply to friends’ messages that have stacked up—even if it’s not pressing, or to have lunch by myself without having to feed two other people simultaneously.

My needs and my boys’ needs change with the seasons and our individual stages, but that’s part of this life, figuring it out, and being OK with the change.

Not to mention accepting that my self-care looks different from another mama’s self-care. Maybe I don’t use expensive bath goods or take spa days or have a regular hair appointment every other month, but now I can journal most mornings or read a few pages or make a private phone call without feeling bad about myself.

As long as I come back to my children refreshed and ready to be there with all my heart, I feel like I can use this time however I need that day. Because my boys don’t need a strung-out, easy-to-anger mama. They need someone with time and patience, who can reach in and find that for them.

But first I need to give it to myself.