A Guest Post By Rebecca Eanes
Before my children were born, I had a pretty predictable daily flow. Eating, sleeping, showering – these were done on my terms and in my own time. I enjoyed hobbies, date nights with my husband, and outings with friends at my leisure. My husband and I could decide on a last minute weekend getaway with little more than a duffle bag to pack in our car. On the weekends, we stayed up really late and slept in the next morning. Do you even remember the last time you woke up to your own internal clock?
When my son was born, he was the greatest gift I’d ever been given, but he also turned our lives upside down. Suddenly, I ate, slept, and showered on his terms. His needs, of course, came before mine, and because infants need a lot, I rarely had time to meet my own. My hobbies became a thing of the past. Outings with friends were no longer a priority. Date nights with hubby became few and far between. I shopped for baby, sang for baby, stayed up for baby, woke up for baby – my whole world revolved around my little bundle of joy.
One reason I didn’t prioritize self-care was that it felt so unachievable. Who has the time? I remember thinking that the self-care ideas that I came across were pretty unrealistic. They asked me to “sleep when the baby slept,” but I just physically couldn’t, no matter how tired I was. They told me to get up hours before my children to have free time alone in the mornings, but I co-slept with my kids so when I got up, it woke them up. They told me to put my kids to bed and enjoy an evening with my husband but my kids needed me to lie with them. By the time they fell asleep, I was often asleep myself. I was so exhausted by days’ end, I hardly had the energy or desire to knit or read a novel.
Eventually, the lack of self-care did start to wear me down, and I knew I needed to take better care of myself so I could be a better mama for my boys. I learned an important lesson about self-care during those early years as a mom. The first is that it is absolutely necessary and not selfish to take care of my own needs. The second is that I could redefine what self-care meant for me. I had to examine the ideas I had in my mind about what self-care was supposed to look like because, honestly, part of what left me feeling deprived was my unrealistic expectation that self-care had to be stolen hours from my previous life.
Date night didn’t have to be a fancy dinner and a 2 hour movie at the theater. It could be 20 minutes of sitting at across from one another at our little dining room table with a lit candle and a couple of Hot Pockets. What truly mattered was that we were connecting. Catching up with friends didn’t have to mean a book club meeting at the café or a scrapbooking party at someone’s house. It could look like a 10 minute FaceTime chat to catch up with one another. I could be just as rejuvenated by laughing during our nightly space adventures as I was by pampering myself for an hour with a deep conditioning treatment and polishing my nails. It was really a matter of perspective and yes, of course, gratitude.
Once I let go of my unrealistic ideas about self-care, it became easy to find practical acts that nourished my mind, body, and spirit. That’s really what self-care is, after all. It doesn’t have to look a certain way or last a certain length of time. I can sit a cup on the counter and walk by every couple of hours to pour a little water in. By the end of the day, the cup will be full. The same principle applies to self-care. I can pour in a little at a time throughout the day and still end up full of joy.
Five practical ways you can nurture yourself each day.
1. Exercise. I know you were expecting this one, but stay with me. You may not be able to make it to the gym for an hour or go for a run. What really helped me was to realize that my exercise didn’t have to look a certain way. As long as I moving my body, that was good enough, so might I recommend to you that you aim for “good enough” exercise? Some options to try are stretching on the floor next to your baby, throwing in 20 jumping jacks and 10 lunges on each side before you fold those onesies in the hamper, or having a dance party with your toddler.
2. Play. Sometimes we tend to look at playing with our kids as a chore, but it is possible to train your mind to see play as a positive experience you share with your kid, not just something you have to check off the list. To combat the boredom, find ways to play with your child that you actually think are fun! Let your inner child out to play! Jump in puddles. Paint together. Sled down hills and make up silly songs. Try to remember what you loved to play as a child and do that again.
If you find it hard to get into play, read What if I’m Just Not a Playful Parent
3. Practice tai-chi. Yoga is often recommended for reducing stress and increasing happiness, but tai-chi is a wonderful alternative. Often described as “meditation in motion,” it is a fluid, gentle form of exercise designed to relax the body and refresh the mind. The benefits of tai-chi include stress reduction, mental clarity, calmness, increased energy and flexibility, improved muscle strength, and increased feelings of mental well-being.
4. Keep a book of joy. The benefits of gratitude journals are well-documented and proven to make you feel happier. A book of joy is your own personalized happiness book. It’s anything you want it be! Write what you are grateful for each day as a start, but then keep going. Fill it with doodles of hearts and snapshots of your kids. Write wonderful quotes and profound thoughts. Record funny moments, proud moments, and moments that take your breath away. Your very own book of joy is a tangible, beautiful, hold-in-your-hands collection of the goodness in your life.
5. Enjoy the little moments intentionally. Our lives are made up of little moments, yet so many of them go unnoticed in the hustle of daily diaper changes, work, baths, homework, meals, and chores. If we aren’t mindful, we’ll miss the beauty in our ordinary days. A lot of people look so forward to the big moments in life – the vacations, the birthdays, the graduations – that we fail to see the joy in the little moments. Every single day presents us with gifts to unwrap and memories worth holding on to. Notice them. Hold in your heart a deep appreciation for these moments as you notice them. Nothing will change you so profoundly.
Here are some ideas to help make daily moment with your baby more connecting.
Rebecca Eanes is a best-selling author and the founder of Positive-parents.org. For more strategies and inspiration like these, check out Rebecca’s new book, The Gift of a Happy Mother: Letting Go of Perfection and Embracing Everyday Joy.