“I have realised lately that I have lost myself. All I am now is a mum and a worker (in my job) and the ‘me’ that was once there is long gone. I spend all of my time focused on my family and I don’t take time for myself, participate in hobbies or even really see many of my friends any more.”
Jane, a mum of two littlies, isn’t alone in feeling she is ‘losing’ herself. Being everything to your baby and watching her grow into a unique little person is exciting and wondrous and while there are moments of absolute joy, the intensity of meeting everyone else’s needs can ever so sneakily overtake your own needs for self-care. Then, almost suddenly it seems, feelings of being overwhelmed and ‘lost’ can hit. Sonia says, I was zoning out on the couch thinking “I can’t do this. I’m a half assed mother, friend, wife. Am I horrible to want a hot cup of coffee once a week? Eat a sandwich without children crawling on me? Pee when I need to?”
But for Sonia, this moment of despair was also a wake-up call. She says, “the TV was on the documentary channel, it was about a lioness and her cub who hadn’t eaten in two days and it was getting critical for both. She made a kill, the mother, and ate it. She didn’t give any to the cub. At first I was revolted. Then the narrator said “She must or else she wont be able to hunt for bigger game to share with her cub and they will surely both perish” and sure enough, she made a bigger kill for the both of them. It was like a sign for me.”
It’s easy to be ‘swallowed up’ by motherhood. Babies and small children need to be taken care of – that’s what we sign up for; some little ones need more care than others and we don’t always have the support that would make things easier. We know that if we don’t stay on top of things and pre-empt the tougher times (think, arsenic hour when you don’t have dinner planned), it can all go to hell in a hand basket in no time flat. And crawling back out of that hellish hand-basket can take more energy than if we didn’t let things go there in the first place. So, we become the cog that keeps the wheels turning. Until one day we realize we are on autopilot, putting one foot in front of the other hoping that when we look up there isn’t a wall in front of us. Or, like Jane, we realize, we have lost our own sense of self.
Ideally, we would look up before we hit that proverbial wall, we would realize it isn’t selfish to take care of ourselves, that you can be a good mother without completely sacrificing your own needs for even basic self-care – I would be a millionaire by now if I had just one dollar for the number of women who have told me, “I don’t even have time for a shower every day.” But the all consuming nature of caring for babies and children and running a home means that self neglect happens so slowly, over time, that we shrink into a smaller and smaller space until there is no ‘me’ left.
The thing is, it’s like the announcements in planes: if you don’t put your own oxygen mask on first, you can’t take care of your family. Or, like the lioness, if you don’t nourish yourself, you won’t be able to sustain your own energy or health.
Carving out ‘me time’
Although nurturing yourself will probably mean very simple things at first and, if you have a newborn, it will probably include your baby, it is absolutely essential that you exercise, that you nourish your body with fresh, healthy foods and that you surround yourself with positive support. It’s also important to speak up about your needs, especially with your partner to work out how you can carve out some ‘me’ time otherwise it looks as though you are doing just fine.
Schedule one activity a week – what did you enjoy before you had a baby? Sport? Craft? Cooking? Try a class at a community house that offers babysitting or join a gym with childcare. Or, join your partner up at a gym and get him/her to take the kids to the crèche there so you can have some quiet time at home alone – and don’t spend that time cleaning!
Meet up with a friend who also has kids – laugh together, vent together and take turns watching the little ones so you each get to sip a hot cuppa. Or do something useful like cooking some meals together (see www.mamabake.com). Then you can have more ‘me time’ because you will go home with meals ready for the next few days.
Start a gratitude list – and share with friends (text your lists to each other). Before you go to bed each night, list the things you are grateful for today. This will help you release negative thoughts and interrupt the cycle of despair as it sets you up for a positive mind-set to start to the next day.
Ditch the stereotypes of a ‘good mother’ – your little ones are the most accurate barometers of your own stress and discontent. They deserve a happy, healthy mum and you can achieve this without neglecting their needs, or your own.
Pinky McKay is an internationally certified lactation and best-selling author of Sleeping Like a Baby, Parenting By Heart, 100 Ways to Calm the Crying and Toddler Tactics.