When I first heard the term “self-care” (I don’t know – maybe 3-4 years ago?) my first reaction was guilt. Here were people listing all these wonderful self-care ideas that we really should be making time for: Epsom salt baths, mindfulness, taking 20 minutes to yourself, yoga… and it just felt like another task to add to my “To Do” list, is a list which is never complete. I think in recent times there has been a backlash to this concept because many people (especially mums) feel exactly like I did that first time. Guilt. I’ve been thinking about this a bit over the last couple of weeks because quite frankly, I’ve been running on empty. I’ve taken on too much, I’ve been solo parenting 2 children for a few months, I’ve been finishing up a very time-consuming course, I’ve been trying to increase my client base (with all the accompanying busyness), plus doing a pretty poor job at keeping the house neat and tidy or feeding my children nutritious food. As result, I’ve been struggling with chronic insomnia and a feeling of complete overwhelm. Not to mention that my children have been struggling emotionally because I’ve been distant and distracted, resulting in attention seeking behaviour from them and less than constructive responses from me. Not the way I want to be at all.
I think the hardest thing for us as parents is that we learn that we can’t always do everything we need/want to do. I suspect that most days, for most of us, parenting feels like failing. Even those things that we want to prioritize and we consider important are often in competition with other values that we also consider important. We battle against the constant influx of the articles that remind us “this is so important for your child’s development” and the “the one thing most parents get wrong” headlines, or the insta-perfect families we see on social media. We WANT to be great parents, we WANT to get it right. We KNOW we should be doing all these different things to give our kids the best. But how on earth are we supposed to work hard enough to provide our children with a comfortable house to live in, plus find the time and money to buy fresh, local organic food to cook from scratch, plus spend quality time with them (with no screentime) plus keep up to date with the laundry, tidying, cleaning… and don’t forget all those extra activities we need to take them to help them develop academically and socially, and then we’ve also got night time to contend with, with frequent waking, bed hopping, bed time routines, and don’t forget the frequent colds and bugs that kids get when they just need extra TLC… all that sleep-deprivation that just drives us to the brink of exhaustion on top of the unrealistic expectations we place on ourselves. If we can’t even live up to those parenting ideals that we set ourselves, then of course our personal needs get pushed way down. So let’s knock this idea of luxurious “self-care” on the head. It isn’t going to happen.
What has my solution been? What is self-care, really?
Well, for me self-care is not about temporarily escaping from the life I have, but rather, living a life I don’t have to escape. (I saw a post about that a while ago on Facebook, but I can’t remember who posted it, so it’s not an original idea of mine at all. If I can find the post, I’ll credit the person who came up with that idea). That means that right now, I’m cutting myself some slack. I’m going to stop trying to achieve the impossible. I have a plan of things I’d like to do but they’re going on the back burner. Because what’s important right now is that I can enjoy my life as it, and prioritize what’s important (my family and my mental health). And for that to happen, it’s ok for me to be just a decent parent, and a crap housekeeper.
So… I’ve been making sure I spend quality time with my kids. Even if that means I don’t get to sit and watch tv. Ever. Or get on top of the cleaning. But it’s making them happier, therefore when I do need to get stuff done, they’re usually happy to play without interrupting me too much. I’m still sitting in the middle of my very messy house as I write this. And I mean MESSY. It will be a miracle today if either of my children come even close to their recommended daily intake of fruit and veg, and they will no doubt exceed the recommendations on processed food, as well as screentime. But I will have spent time with them. Bottom line, I hate cleaning and I don’t really love cooking (especially when I cook really lovely stuff that gets rejected). So I fall back on ignoring the mess. It stresses me out a bit, but also… I kind of don’t care. I fall back on “easy” dinners. Fish fingers and mashed potato, the two veggies they knowingly eat (broccoli and corn). Pasta and hidden veggie sauce. Chicken goujons and oven chips (with the two veggies they eat). I’ve also been working in the garden. A lot. The garden has become my happy place as I approach middle age. My toddler entertains himself outside by digging holes, eating dirt and exploring, so I get a break from toddler duties. I can think things through while I dig and nurture my plants. Plus, fresh air, a bit of sunshine and exercise is good for your mood. Did you know that bacteria in the soil can also contribute to a feeling of happiness? So, yes, gardening is my happy place. And also, I’m still doing something productive around the house, so no guilt. But while I’ve been outside, I’ve been evaluating all my commitments and deciding what needs to go. And some pretty big things have gone, which have left me emotional and sad, but also with them a sense of relief. And as they go, it frees up more time to do other things. The things I really need to be doing right now. And finally, good coffee. Sounds weird, but honestly, 3-4 cups of really good coffee a day bring me so much happiness. I might have to drink them while making a packed lunch for school, or while sitting on the sofa watching my children dance to music. I rarely get to drink one uninterrupted. But those cups of coffee make my life better, and I can even drink them “mindfully”, really savouring the flavour and the enjoyment they bring.
I don’t know what needs to change in your life to make it a life you don’t need to escape. The things I’ve said might be completely different from the things you can do or what you need in your life, and the things that *I* need to do aren’t your priorities and shouldn’t make you feel guilty. Find what you need to do. Maybe it’s worth thinking about now…