I have something a bit controversial to say. Moms: stop trying to put yourselves first.
You heard me.
Stop it. Stop it right now.
And here’s why.
You’ve been trying all these years to do just that, and you haven’t found a way. The analogies make sense—it’s like putting on your own oxygen mask AND THEN putting it on your child. It’s like trying to water a garden when your watering can is empty. But while those analogies may make sense intellectually, they aren’t connecting to your ability to make it happen. So, I want you to stop.
I don’t want you to go to bed thinking “yet another thing I didn’t accomplish today: putting myself first.” Or, “I really should read another self-help book about how to make myself a priority.”
Quite frankly, it’s unfair to do that to yourself.
You see, I believe your children are an extension of you—they are part of your heart and soul and spirit. In nurturing them—teaching them, hugging them, lecturing them, challenging them, disciplining them, putting them to bed—you are caring for the little souls that mean more to you than anything in the world. In meeting their needs, you are bringing rest to your mind and body. Continue to do that. You’re doing a great job!
So, too, is your partner an extension of you. Shared stressors, memories, plans, hopes, and dreams. Nurturing the needs and desires of not only that individual, but of that relationship, is you tilling the soil you’ve planted and what you hope to sow in the future. Working with that person to grow a home is a place for you to find accomplishment, victory, and more shared experiences with that partner. Continue to do that. You’re doing a great job!
You know who is not an extension of you? The dog.
The pile of laundry.
The dirty baseboards.
And I do want you to put yourself before all of those things.
Think of it instead like this: will life go on tomorrow if those tasks are accomplished? If “yes”, then take time for yourself with no excuses on that particular day. If “no”, consider a slight adjustment to time management to ensure at least five minutes to yourself that day. If “no”, AND there is truly and literally no utter way you can find five minutes, forgive yourself, say “no big deal” and do some self-care the next day.
Here’s how I like to help moms reframe how to care for themselves. There’s a prioritization list. Kids and partner are on it as “musts”. Maybe, so too, is a bill that is due tomorrow. Then there is a dotted line. The dotted line marks the parts of the list that are preferably accomplished that day: the dishes; a load of laundry so there aren’t fifteen that weekend; emailing a teacher about the Halloween party later this month; etc. These are the things that contribute to you feeling like you’ve checked things off the To-Do list, help you fall asleep because you feel like the house is mostly under control, and overall contribute to a well-running household. HOWEVER, these are also things that technically could get accomplished tomorrow. Seriously: re-read that list and tell me that none of those things **could** be done in the morning the next day. Life will not implode, your children will not be harmed, and your relationship will not end should those tasks not be accomplished today. The dotted line may move from day-to-day, and may vary on the situation. For example, if you’re going on vacation at the end of the week, laundry probably moves above the dotted line. An email needs to get sent to the school. But outside of those instances, when those tasks could get accomplished tomorrow, they do not get to be prioritized over you taking time for yourself today.
After the dotted line is a solid line. The solid line is what I like to think of as “the party line.” As in, “I could/should/wish I liked doing this and I’d be patting myself on the back pretty solidly if I did them routinely but are things that I will ABSOLUTELY do if I am hosting an event.” These are the baseboards. Dusting behind the TV. These are also things that aren’t party-related but are examples like making sure you have Tupperware that matches. Purging your closet. The types of things that when you are in the throes of “I am such a bad mother and I never getting anything done” are the examples you pull to affirm that false belief--because of course those things aren’t done (Secret: they aren’t done in any household in America on a weekly basis). Completing these tasks definitely don’t get to take priority over you finding time for yourself today.
Yet, mothers often have themselves below “the party line.” As in, they make anything that is solely for themselves something that can always be punted until tomorrow, and tomorrow always becomes the next day. It is not something that is done until it needs to be done. And when it needs to be done, the conversation usually goes like this “if I don’t get some quiet time away starting like an HOUR ago, I am going to lose my SH** and then we’ll all really be in trouble!”
I mean, amiright?
So, what do I want you to do about it? I want you to do something very small—I want you to take just five minutes—more days out of the week than not—where you do something that is for you only. And I’m limiting you to NO MORE THAN 15 minutes for a few weeks. Why such a short time frame? A few reasons. 1—I want it to be realistic for you to start to do. 2—I want you to understand that a short window of time really can make a difference! If I assign you an hour of daily self-care, and then a month or a year down the road, that hour is not realistic, I don’t want you to despair and feel overwhelmed. I want you to remember that you can feel a positive effect from only five minutes!
I have something else controversial to say: the gym doesn’t count. Yikes, that kind of even hurt me to say. Why doesn’t the gym count? Because the gym is a healthy habit that is so fantastic but let’s get real: so is eating healthy, getting your annual dentist appointment, and going to your doctor for your physical. But those things aren’t self-care----they are healthy habits! Healthy habits I support, by all means. But I want your five minutes to be something you can do anytime, anywhere.
I have a few suggestions if you’re drained of creativity or brainpower:
-a short walk
-stretching (go ahead and roll your eyes. But then try it. And report back.)
-playing a game
-reading (if you like that)
-coloring (coloring books for adults are everywhere)
-sitting outside for five minutes without your phone**
-a creative hobby (crocheting, sewing, hand-lettering, watercolor painting, gardening: youtube has everything!)
**without your phone is key! No screens for this self-care!
To package it nicely: you don’t have to put yourself first but you do have to put yourself on the daily list. It can be as little as five minutes. No screens involved. It doesn’t have to be every day but should be more days than not.
Give it a try for two weeks. See how things shift. Your thoughts, your smile, your ease with yourself. It’ll be worth every second.
Talk to you soon!