Motherhood is one of the only jobs you can have in the world where you literally have to be responsive and responsible 24 hours a day, including managing night feedings, diaper changes, bed time tantrums, nightmares, bed wetting accidents, comforting a child because of scary dreams and coping with illnesses. During the daytime hours, mothers find themselves preparing meals, packing school supplies and lunches, dispensing allergy medications and carpooling to school, early dismissals and school events. The mid-shift rolls around and includes after school activities and practices like soccer, baseball, lacrosse, dance, swimming lessons, etc. followed by dinner preparation, overseeing homework, doing dishes and laundry and keeping the children on schedule with baths and bed time. Once those tasks are complete, it's time to do it all over again as you prepare for the next day's activities and responsibilities.
So why is it that when moms say they need a break they often hear the following comments:
• You will miss your children when they are gone.
• Be thankful that your children are healthy.
• I did it and didn't have... your house, money car, etc.
• You need to be more organized.
• Motherhood is a gift.
• That's impossible!
On the other hand, if a woman tells others about a stressful day she's had at her workplace she will likely be given empathy and provided with solutions to solve her issues. The same doesn't seem to hold true in motherhood. Mothers are expected to take stress on the chin and "suck up" their anxieties because it is an indictment on them and in some way implies they are doing something wrong. If they cry for help on a disappointing day, it suggests they aren't a "good enough mother." If they say they need some time to themselves, it somehow implies they are being selfish. Right? Not true!
I am the mother of three children ages 9, 12 and 15. I believe in taking care of myself so that I can be a great mother to my children. Almost 16 years ago, I began a process of intentional self-care where I would spend 90 minutes a week away from my husband and children to get clear about me. I've also taught thousands of other mothers how to do the same in my Time for Mom-Me™ support groups. I have hosted over 283 of these groups nationwide, helping moms build a foundation for their own self-care in motherhood, which most often is non-existent. The stigma of self-care and motherhood has kept moms from having a blueprint or examples of how other mothers take care of themselves.
I started my journey of self-care when I was just six months pregnant with my first child. My mother sat me down and told me that she wanted me to always stay connected to my own needs, goals, plans and dreams while being a mom. My mom had gotten lost in motherhood and knew that giving everything to her own children was great for us, but it left her without the ability to pursue her interests, nurture her friendships, improve her self-esteem and share life-enriching hobbies with her children. She is a great mother who realized that her ability to grow with her amazing children was stalled by her lack of investment in herself. She did not want that to continue in my family. She asked me to "date myself every week in motherhood." I honored her request.
I have learned the following from "dating myself" over the past 16 years:
• If you don't make your own self-care a priority no one else will. I had to state what I needed to de-stress and not expect anyone to give me permission to take care of myself.
• Be intentional about your needs. I had to identify for myself the daily self-care targets that I needed to hit so I could refuel myself. For me, it started by taking 15 minutes a day to meditate and pray. Over time, I got better at adding to my needs list. My goal was to become more SelfFULL and less SelfLess because my life benefited from that.
• Stop trying to do it all. This was hard because moms often invalidate one another by trying to do it all and then judge other moms when they aren't able to do the same. Yes, I have days when I bring the cupcakes, go to all the games and practices and pick up two or three extra children to hang out, but I've learned that I'm happiest when this is not the daily goal. I've given that up for myself and my family benefits directly from this powerful choice.
• Stop justifying your needs. Talking about what you need to people who don't understand puts you in a position where you feel you have to explain why you need downtime. I give myself what I need and I don't seeking the approval of others to validate my choices. It doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks if they aren't doing the carpooling, cooking, etc. You have a right to have your needs met.
• Embrace the imbalance of motherhood. My children have seasons where life is crazy busy because of commitments. When this happens, I modify my responsibilities accordingly. It might mean that I switch around dinner or that I cook in bulk so we have leftovers to warm up. It might mean that I exercise whenever or wherever I can fit it in so that I accomplish that important task. I don't, however, continue with the same personal requirements of myself when we are in the midst of our craziest seasons. During those times, I change my job description and get the support and help I need to get things done. While I am trying to strike a balance, I also embrace the imbalance that is in front of me and plan accordingly.
I was recently interviewed by a reporter who asked me why moms need "me time" to begin with -- as if it was a dirty word. There is a notion that if I take time for myself it somehow suggests I must not be giving my family all that they need. None of this is true! Damaging stereotypes suggest that moms can "do it all," however, many moms later discover that "doing it all" all of the time isn't sustainable for personal happiness and fulfillment. If you said that you needed to take some personal time in your workplace no one would immediately think you wanted to give less to your employer. Instead, they would see you expressing a need to recalibrate or "balance" your life. The same is true in motherhood.
I encourage you to rethink how you envision moms, "me-time," time for mom-me, self-care, etc. Many moms don't articulate what they need because they feel like they are the only ones who are finding a need to reduce the overwhelm and burnout in their lives. Please don't minimize their feelings or set out to compete with them to prove that you can make it all happen and they can't. That is not the point! The point is that we are moms and we have the right to feel free to express our need for rest, relaxation and to refuel. We are not machines. Even though we try to make it look easy, it isn't at all. Moms have feelings and we want a safe place to say, "I need a break not because I don't love my family but because I also love myself."
When you are done reading this article, tell five moms that you know that taking a break is good for them!