Children are demanding. They make their needs known. Messy houses seem to scream, too: "Load these dishes" or "Make that bed." Bosses inflict deadlines. Friends and family members require attendance at the birthday party, the golf game, the hospital bedside. Everyone in your life has needs. Others may seem better at demanding those needs are met than you are. Your needs sink to the bottom of the 'to do' list. There simply seems to be no time. No one will make time for you but you. No one will take care of you but you. No one is a mind reader, so your mother or your partner or your best friend does not realize you are running on empty unless you speak up. These are all hard truths about being an adult and especially about being a parent. You have to make time. You and only you. Again, this means making choices. Choose to put yourself first-- at least once each day.
Another part of making time for yourself happen is adjusting your expectations about how much time is needed. Ideally, you desire a forty minute soak in the tub, followed by an hour lounging in bed with that trashy novel. Think in smaller terms. Take five minutes out of each hour to practice deep breathing or to perform some crunches. Or take twenty minutes to disappear for a rest in the bedroom when your partner comes home. Think in terms of multi-tasking, too. Walk the baby in the stroller. Lie on the floor with a magazine, next to the baby while he has his "tummy time," and smile at him occasionally. Repeat to yourself, "Time for me is essential," "I can take five minutes every other hour for me"--or at least twenty minutes once a day!
Many women are taught to think of others, to always put others' needs first. This is often presented in a very black or white fashion. Either you put others' needs first all the time, or you are selfish. There is little perspective on the middle ground, that you can be a considerate person and still put yourself first every now and then. Selfish people always put themselves first, every waking minute. People who practice self-care can maintain a balance, tending to the feelings or needs of those around them without totally denying their own need for rest, relaxation, nourishment, and fun. Self-care means self-preservation, not selfishness. It is what allows us to thrive in our lives, not merely survive.
Talk positively to yourself when you have managed to steal away for some activity you enjoy. Label what you are doing as selfpreservation. You are not selfish. You are working to find the balance between your needs and the needs of others. Recount in your head the many giving things you have done today and tell yourself you have earned this brief respite from the needs of others. Repeat, "It's self-preservation, not selfishness."
You may feel that resources have become extremely valuable once your baby is born. Time is at a premium; extra cash may be hard to find. Certainly you want to give the best to your baby. Women may devalue their own needs, believing the myth of "only a mother." You are only a mother--how hard can that be? Why would you need breaks when all you have done today is sit on the couch feeding a baby? Your partner is working a "real" job--certainly breaks are more deserved after battling customers all day. You may devalue what you do in terms of spending money, too. Why would you need to order take out food for dinner when you have not done anything today? An attitude like this devalues the hard work that you are doing. Falling into the trap of denying your needs because you don't deserve it is often related to issues of self-worth, as well as issues of the value or difficulty of the job you are doing. Pay attention to what you are saying in your head. You may feel like less of a person now if you are only a mommy. Even if you are working outside the home, you may feel your brain has fled, and you are contributing no longer to your employer's mission. Tune in to how you are belittling your skills, your efforts and your time with your baby by repeating such negatives.
You are the most important person to your baby. No one can be a mother to your baby but you. You, and only you, are the mother your baby needs. As we have said before, you will be a better mother if you take care of yourself emotionally and physically. And if your baby deserves the best mother possible (of course!), then you have to take care of your needs. If your baby's mother does not deserve it, who does? Practice reciting to yourself, "My baby deserves the best--and that means me!" "To be the best for my baby, I deserve to take care of me." "Parenting is one of the most important jobs I'll ever do, and with all I do, I've earned time for me."
© 2010 A. Dunnewold & D. Sanford