Self-care as a parent, and especially as a mother. What a dream, right? There are not enough scented candles, massages and bubble baths in the world that can give me more hours in the day or give me a break from the family’s mental load.
Hands up if you’re feeling this. In case you’re not familiar with the term, the mental load is the invisible labour involved in managing a household and family, which, let’s face it, very often falls on mom’s shoulders. It's being the one having the never-ending list of to-do items constantly running in your head, remembering and tracking the entire family’s activity schedule, homework deadlines, dentist, appointments, school holidays, shopping lists… and even if you’re not the one to do them, you need to tell someone else to do them and make sure they get done. You’re essentially the household’s overworked and unpaid project manager (whether or not you have a full-time job outside the home too).
For me, especially as an introvert, I recognized that I need to do something to take care of myself or else I will burnout pretty quickly. Then I morph into Cranky Screaming Mum, and no one likes it when she shows up to the party. You do need to take care of yourself first in order to take care of your family – just like on an airplane, when they tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others. And part of the problem is the mom-guilt – how do we give ourselves permission to think about ourselves when everyone else is demanding things of you. Here are some tips that have helped me, and hopefully will give you some ideas (and the green-light) to make things easier for yourself:
1- Have systems and boundaries in place
I find the #1 best way for me to reduce stress is to think less (I know, easier said than done). Managing your schedule is less about having more time to do things, but more about feeling less overwhelmed by everything you need to get done. Struggling to keep up with stocking the fridge or thinking about what to make for dinner every day? Plan out your meals weeks or even a month at a time and do your shopping at the same time every week so you don’t have to think about when to do it. To-do list never ends no matter how hard you try? Instead of making a list, schedule the task in. Even small things like running errands, making phone calls or picking up the kids get a slot in my calendar so I also don’t overload myself with tasks that I don’t have enough time to do. Everything is accompanied by reminders so keeping track of things don’t need to take up space in my brain. I’m also getting quite good at saying “No” to people and things that suck up my time and energy unnecessarily. Say “No” without giving any excuses or feeling guilty. It’s very liberating!
2- Delegate like a boss
You do not need to do everything yourself. Sit down with your partner and see what responsibilities can be passed to him/her, outsourced (if you can afford it), and decide what you can… just stop doing. Tuesdays stressing you out because you have to get three kids to three separate activities and make dinner? It’s ok to get delivery that day. Give more responsibility to those kids of yours, especially as they get older. They can start cleaning their own bathroom, keeping track of their own sh*t, and making sure they turn their own schoolwork in on time (and if they miss a deadline, well bub, that’s how you learn).
3- Do that one thing that keeps you sane
Love hiking? Spinning? Playing the piano? But there’s never enough time! At least once a week (or more often if you can manage) book into your calendar that one thing that you love to do and keeps you from becoming a frazzled rage monster. Whether it is a coffee date with friends, reading a good book or taking that bubble bath, block off the time (easier if you make it the same time every week so it becomes a habit), ensure everyone knows it’s YOUR time, and guard that block of time with your life. No exceptions, no interruptions. And no rescheduling!
4- Get a Check-up
So I’m not going to lecture you about exercise, eating healthy, blah blah blah, since we all know that’s important. But when was the last time you got a health screening done? Going to the doctor, getting all the tests and making sure your levels are all within normal range? Sure, you’re tired all the time because the kids are energy sucking goblins and you stayed up unnecessarily late watching one more episode on Netflix, but are you getting enough iron and Vitamin D? We often ignore minor health issues like aches and pains, headaches and poor sleep quality because we’re busy (and chalk it up to aging) but taking care of your health is probably the best thing you can do to maintain or improve your quality of life.
5- Give yourself a break
I don’t mean a literal break (though see #3 above – have you booked in your time yet? Do it!) I mean stop being so hard on yourself. No more perfectionism and trying to do it all, stop comparing yourself to other people and for goodness sake, stop scrolling the ‘gram and thinking those influencers are winning at parenthood (it’s not real, trust me). Care less about the small stuff – if your family are fed, healthy and happy, then you’re doing great! Repeat after me: “F-it all, I’m doing the best I can, and that’s 100% enough.” To me, the most important part of self-care is guarding your mental and physical well-being.
If you are struggling, please get help, be it from family, friends or a professional. Taking care of your family might be the most important thing to you, but remember, you are the most important thing to them.
August Society Founder & Creative Director