#MomsGrowthHacks #MomsSelfCare #MomsPersonalDevelopment
Are You Happy?
At a company outing a few years ago, a pregnant colleague asked me about motherhood. “What’s it really like? Are you happy? Everyone talks about being so tired…”
“Yes, I’m happy,” I answered and meant it. “It’s amazing…” I added, perhaps a little too quickly because she looked at me expectantly, sensing hesitation in my voice. “…but it’s hard.” I admitted.
I couldn’t bring myself to share everything I felt. Although I take pride in my candor, who wants to stress out a woman grappling with pre-baby worries? It’s such a vulnerable yet beautifully hopeful time.
I didn’t want to explain how much self-sacrifice is involved in motherhood. By self-sacrifice, I don’t mean less parties, jiggly abs or cleaning spit up. I mean lack of sleep…to the point of hallucinating and a long, emotional struggle to reestablish even a modest level of self-care.
During my pregnancies and through to the first glimpses of my babies, I felt powerful momentum pulling me toward something extraordinary. My capacity for love grew so exponentially, I rarely look back at what I left behind.
What Did You Give Up?
You usually have to give something up to make space for the new. Before you (eagerly) tossed everything out to make room for parenting, what were the ‘weight bearing walls’ of your happiness frame?
You probably left something vital behind.
Pre-kids, despite a demanding work schedule, I enjoyed tremendous support from my friends. I indulged in memorable travels and time-consuming beauty rituals like deep conditioning my hair. Oh and my home was pretty spotless…and organized! I meticulously filed incoming mail. I didn’t realize (then) how my clean, organized space contributed to my ability to relax.
Fast forward to now, my dining room table has so much paperwork on it, that I’ve stopped entertaining in fear of the half-day filing marathon required. Although I aspire to have tidy space again (someday) I’m focused on reestablishing high impact (yet realistic) self-care routines.
I didn’t willingly ‘give up’ self care, it just quietly became the easier choice and I hadn’t thought much about it until last year.
In the limited time I have for scheduling, my kids see their doctors for everything and anything. Yet, I become irritated when my body demands maintenance. I resist all formal care when sick (sometimes for weeks) before giving in. Sound familiar?
Years back, I had stopped drinking water during the workday as a strategy to ‘gain’ time by limiting bathroom breaks. Sad… I know. Sadder still, over coffee with two Mom colleagues, we realized we were all doing this! I maintained exercise and healthy-ish eating (save for wine and chocolate) but I would often skip meals on days when it felt impossible to ‘pause’. Compounding this, my children didn’t sleep through the night until 13 months each and I was moving through life like an ill-tempered zombie.
Late last year, when my youngest turned 2, I began to have pockets of clarity amidst the fog. The way I kept myself ‘going’ was unsustainable and every part of my life suffered. Always even-keeled, I found myself coming unhinged with any inconvenience. Although I’ve always sought patience, I became more impatient than ever. My work output was high but the creative problem solving that marked my career successes diminished.
Erosion of self-care, like geological erosion, is so subtle you almost don’t feel it. You recognize something bad is happening yet it’s on the edges of your consciousness and by the time you’ve thought about it for more than a minute, your worried brain quickly moves to something else.
There is beauty in sacrifice and at some level, as our children grow and become even more enchanting, it’s easy to wear the Mom sacrifices with a ‘badge’ of honor. After all most Moms are doing the same.
What Does Self-Care Really Mean?
There isn’t a Mom on the planet who isn’t beyond busy and neglecting some aspect of her self-care to make it work.
On Mom’s Hierarchy of Needs, you’ll notice ‘self care’ and ‘self interests’ at the top (versus where time is prioritized at the bottom) because overwhelmingly, this is where Moms struggle to allocate time.
Self-care (i.e. proactive medical care, eating well, sleep, exercise, managing stress) and self-interests (i.e. hobbies, learning a language, developing new skills, girls night out) may seem like ‘extras’; however, please fight hard to get some of these back onto your agenda.
Do NOT, I Repeat, Do NOT Give These Things UP!
- Getting enough sleep (overall, day to day it’s not always possible)
- Regular exercise and movement
- Healthy habits – i.e. medical visits, nutrition, wellness
- Learning new things and acquiring new skills
- Creative outlets and hobbies
- Career growth/professional development (if you’re working)
As I experience this new clarity for myself and have honest, raw discussions with other Moms … I feel compelled to share what I’m learning. Ultimately, breaking the societal norm that we are expected to invest energy in our families at the expense of reasonable self-care isn’t good for Moms, Dads our children or communities.
The Tricky Part…Prioritizing & Making the Time
Even when I knew I wanted ‘more’ for myself… more learning, more unwinding, more peace and more career growth, I couldn’t immediately find a path to it. I had to think deeply about my needs and what I wanted life to look like – for myself and my family. I had to let go of some wrong thinking that my foggy-headed-Mom-to-an-infant-brain convinced me of. Everything felt ‘impossible’ then. I had to rebuild to see life through the lens of possibility. I also had to sleep for more than 4 or 5 hours a night to think like myself again.
I’ve been inspired by all of the amazing resources I’ve read, heard and seen. I’ve sought out the best research around creativity, productivity, stress management, meditation, personal change and movement. It’s been a process, but I’ve set significant new habits in the past year that enable me to align my actions and intentions.
The 5 Highest Impact Changes I’ve Made
- Meditation and mindfulness: Everywhere you look there’s information about the benefits, yet when you’re getting started it’s challenging to maintain motivation and focus. It helped me to learn that everyone (yes, even super-yogis) stumbles through.
- Sleeping More: Anything you read about productivity (now) emphasizes the importance of quality sleep. According to the National Institute of Health the average adult needs 7 – 9 hours per day. I’ve moved from a sketchy 5+ hours per night to getting 6 or 7. I rarely attend night events and (try to) make my children’s adherence to their sleep schedules (so I can stay on mine) a priority.
- Boosting Daily Movement: The benefits of regular exercise are well documented. Although I exercise daily, I needed to ‘up my game’ a bit and bake more movement in throughout the day. After seeing Margaret Moore speak about the book she co-authored, Organize your Mind, Organize Your Life (which I later read) I began using regular movement breaks during the day to boost energy. It works! I typically walk outside during lunch 15 to 20 minutes and get up for a 5 minute walk after 2 hours of time in front of the computer.
- Putting Myself On A Schedule: We ‘schedule’ our kids and we ‘schedule’ meetings at work so I resisted the drudgery of further scheduling. However, structure to organize your days and week works. It saves time and precious mental energy for better things. I began with morning and bedtime, then moved to ‘theming’ my work days (much of the time). I.e., I try to organize deep, thoughtful work (writing, research, analysis) earlier in the day and push meetings, email responses and other ‘tactical’ work to the afternoons.
- Reading More (& Diversifying My Reading): As a child, I would return from the library with a stack of books so high that it was hard to carry. I would read so many books a week, my mother worried it was the source of my nearsightedness (it wasn’t, yet, she insists it was). I went through a book ‘drought’ for years… I was only reading business articles. I have returned to reading about life, productivity, leadership, health, science, neuroscience, biographies of incredible thinkers, etc. When my kids are older… I plan to read novels again too!
Resources, Tools & Tips I’ve Relied On
|Activity||Helpful Tools & Tricks:|
|Meditation||I loved this book for actual meditation guidance, Turning The Mind Into An Ally by Sakyong Mipham. For a rational explanation on why (and how) to get ‘out of my own head’ A New Earth, Awakening Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. My favorite meditation app (that I also use with my 6 year old) is Stop, Breathe & Think.|
|Sleeping More||Outlook/Google calendar: I have a daily ‘meeting’ with a reminder to start preparing for bed at 9 pm. Do I ignore this sometimes? Yes. However, the reminder has helped curb constantly going to bed after 11 pm.|
|Exercise & Movement||My personal tools: gym membership (within a 10 minute walk from home), a running stroller and treadmill at home. Take the stairs whenever stairs are available to you.|
|Schedule For Mommy||I originally listened to this on the Productivityist podcast, however, it’s nicely explained in this blog post.|
|Reading More||Audible for my commute and keeping physical books & magazines on my nightstand. I try to spend 30+ minutes before sleep technology free and reading a real book is a helpful wind down.|
Did I magically fit all of this in? Hah! Certainly not! It’s been a process of rethinking my priorities…constantly. I’m still busier than ever, sometimes much too busy. I’ve also had to put many activities I enjoy aside (i.e., manicured nails, watching TV with my hubby, shopping at real versus virtual stores)… at least for now.
Are you inspired? Where will you begin on your path to self-care? I’d love to hear about it, leave a comment or send me a note.
Would you like the weekly update? Please let me know.