It’s ten o’clock at night. Your little one is in bed, undoubtedly dreaming up new ways to drive you crazy in the morning, and you’ve done all the housework you can possibly handle. You breath a sigh of relief, smiling at the beautiful silence that surrounds you. You’re free. You can do whatever you want.
All day long you’ve dreamed of this moment. You can finally read that book, watch that TV show, work on your future best-selling novel. You’re free to pee without an audience. You can finally sit down for more than 5 minutes without hearing, “Mom, I need…”. You can take a break from all the yelling that motherhood brings with it.
Then it hits you. You’re free…but all you can think about is sleep. Sweet, beautiful, hopefully uninterrupted sleep.
A familiar ache takes shape in your heart. There’s no time to do any of those things. Not tonight. Not with this exhaustion settling deep in your bones.
Tomorrow’s to-do list is long, after all. There’s dishes to wash, laundry to do, meals to cook. There’s diapers to change, books to read, time-outs to give. You’ve got errands to run, you’ve got appointments to keep, and you really ought to squeeze in a shower somewhere.
Tomorrow will take a lot of strength. Just like every day before it, and every day to come. You need your rest. With a heavy sigh, you head to bed. Maybe you’ll breeze through that list. Maybe you’ll find a way to squeeze in some time for yourself.
Recently, I’ve been locked in a fierce battle with this exhaustion. After spending every waking minute of my day catering to the needs of others, I find myself unable to expend the energy necessary to take care of myself.
After a particularly rough day, I found myself thinking about the importance of self-care. By neglecting my own needs, I have put a considerable amount of strain on my family. It’s very easy for a mother to feel as though she must always put herself last, even if she knows better. From a young age we are taught that “good” mothers sacrifice everything for the well-being of her family. It’s an extremely hard lesson to unlearn.
When it comes to my own self-care, I often find myself in the trap of putting it off until “later”. Then, when “later” finally arrives, I don’t have anything left to give–even to myself. This is a bad enough habit on it’s own, but when you are someone who struggles with depression, it’s a double-whammy.
As I thought about this, I began to wonder what I could change about my daily routine to allow me some more time for myself. Obviously, the precious time after my daughter goes to bed would be better suited to more relaxed activities. Mediation, some TV time, reading…those things that require very little energy would be best saved for this time. But what about all those other things I long to do?
Since my daughter no longer takes naps during the day, finding time for me during daylight hours has been a struggle. Even when she’s happily playing on her own or engrossed in a movie, I find it hard to use that time for myself. That good ol’ mom guilt kicks in and I tell myself to wait until she’s asleep. I wouldn’t want to be ignoring her after all!
There is also the matter of not wanting to start something that I know will be interrupted. It’s like waiting for a bomb to go off…very hard to relax!
Both of these things are self-defeating excuses. Sure, it would be nice to have a few hours a day to myself to focus on my hobbies and interests, but that’s just not feasible. Instead of sitting around wishing things were different, I need to get my butt in gear and focus on what I can change.
That little voice telling me that I’m ignoring her by working on something that’s important to me? It’s a liar. If she’s content on her own, I have nothing to worry about. In fact, it means I’m doing a good job as a mother. She feels safe and secure enough to enjoy her budding independence without me hovering over her. I should totally be using this time for myself. Instead of puttering around the house hating the fact that I’m not writing or reading or what-have-you, I should be doing those things.
As for the interruptions, knowing that my daughter is excellent at entertaining herself, I’ve decided to block off some time each day specifically for her to play by herself. She’s old enough to understand boundaries and that during this time, mommy is only available for things like potty breaks, pull-up changes, boo-boos, those sorts of things. I’m not talking long stretches of time here, just a half hour, twice a day. Then I’m free to play whatever game she chooses!
There are some things I do for me that she can easily become a part of that for some reason I find myself putting off. She can play the tambourine while I play my guitar, for example. She can color beside me if I get the urge to draw. We can do manicures and pedicures together. It’s endless really.
I am also reinstating my “no housework after 7” rule. I don’t know how it happened, but somehow I found myself catching up housework after my little one went to bed. Looking back, I was a lot happier when I had a quitting time. Once 7pm hits, housework is off limits.
These are just a few of the small changes I have decided to make. It’s going to take work to stick to it, but it will definitely be worth it. If there’s anything I’ve learned in my life, it’s that balance is everything. As mother’s we cannot expect to feel fulfilled in our lives if we always put ourselves last. We cannot focus on caring for others when we feel empty.
I wholly expect a few setbacks as I work out the kinks in my life. Those setbacks are where we find growth. The road to happiness is full of twists and turns. Above all else, we must learn to enjoy the ride.