How Self-Care Can Make You a Better Mom

In all honesty, I don’t even know that this is an article I should be writing.  It is more than a touch hypocritical of me. You see, I have three children: ages 13, 7, and 3. And for most of those years, I’ve been a bit of a martyr. I believed that being a “good mom” meant putting myself last. And don’t get me wrong there's a degree of selfishness that has to go out the window when your first child is born. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about the never-do-anything-for-myself, never-spend-money-on-myself, wallowing-in-mom-guilt kind of martyr. In my mind, we couldn’t afford babysitters. The child care center in the local YMCA was ridden with germs, and there was no way my children could possibly fight off strep, multiple strains of influenza, and norovirus all at the same time.

I couldn’t meet a friend for dinner or drinks, because there was no way my husband could handle all three children at bedtime. Besides, I breastfed two of the three kids, and going out for the night was “too much of a hassle”.

Again, there was an element of truth in each of those beliefs I clung to so tightly. Money WAS tight. There inevitably WERE lots of germs in the YMCA child care center. And when you’re breastfeeding, sometimes it does feel like a chore to leave your baby at night, knowing that you have to pump when you return home.

Six months or so ago, something changed in my perspective. I wish I could tell you what it was, to make you more able to flip that switch for yourself. Here’s my best guess: I was exhausted, plain and simple. I didn’t have any energy. And my mid-to-late-30s body was unrecognizable to me.

I was stiff and sore, and none of my clothes fit the way they did after my second child was born. Apparently, the third one just did me in. There was nowhere to go but up at this point, and it finally occurred to me that maybe, just MAYBE, if I took care of myself first, I would be a better mama for those littles that I adore so much.

You know what I did? I bought and borrowed a few books that were more stimulating than Little Blue Truck and Pout Pout Fish (though I do love those). Then I read them, and it felt SO GOOD. Then I gathered a couple of friends, and we committed to a “Girls Night” once a month. If you choose your friends carefully, they’re not going to care if you show up not showered with play-doh on your clothes. And I can handle that kind of girls night.

Although I was feeling better already, I still hadn’t addressed my physical symptoms. So with much fear and trepidation, I joined an exercise studio. As it turns out, my anxiety was unfounded. This studio was full of women both older than me and younger than me, both in better shape than me and worse shape than me, and with both more and less coordinated clothes than me. We all fit in because we’re all there with the same purpose: to be stronger and healthier.

In case you’re wondering, even though I’ve started spending both time and money on myself (so selfish, right?!), I actually think I’m a better mama than I was before. Exercising has given me more confidence, strength, and energy to be fully present and PLAY with my kids.

Spending time with other mamas I love has made me feel less lonely and less resentful when it feels like every little household thing falls on my shoulders. And participating in a hobby that I enjoy (reading) has made me feel like I might actually have some brain cells left that aren’t devoted to Daniel Tiger and elementary school-level homework.

I know it’s hard, mamas. Believe me, I’ve been there. And I’ve used every excuse in the book. But make a change. You don’t have to make several changes at the same time, like I did, but do one thing for yourself this week. See what happens. Call it a science experiment. You just might be okay with doing something for yourself next week too. Your kiddos need you to take care of you, too.

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