We've all heard the "give yourself oxygen before you give it to your child" metaphor for self care as a mother, but do we believe it is true? We moms seem to walk around with a string around our necks with the sign, "I am a giver, not a taker" and we feel guilty for doing anything for ourselves. But this sign can quickly strangle us and steal our joy during a season of life that (supposedly) goes swiftly. Keep in mind that this post is meant to be a companion to the other posts in the series 7 Days of Soul Rest, so know that I do not believe that you can find true soul rest by just taking care of your physical needs. But that said, I do think it is important to not neglect the body for the sake of the soul. Elijah ran for his life and then crumbled to the ground under a Juniper tree, begging for God to take him. Instead, God gave him what he needed in that moment: sleep, food, water, then more sleep, food and water. After that, he woke up and went in the strength "of that food" for forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, where he met with God in a gentle breeze (1 Kings 19). Sleep. Food. Water. God can minister to our physical needs as much as to our spiritual needs. In fact, most other cultures believe the two are mysteriously connected.
So here is my Basic Mom Survival Guide for the first 3 years, because that is all I have survived thus far. I, with the power vested in me by no one other than someone who understands, give you permission to:
Sleep More I know you are already rolling your eyes at this one. Stop that. Although I know we can function with less than 8 hours of sleep, this doesn't mean we should.
Here are some ideas on getting more:
Head for bed 30 minutes before you actually plan on going to sleep (I know it takes me about 40 times longer to get in bed than my husband).
Stay away from screens 30 minutes before bed (I know that science says earlier, but I'm just being practical here).
Nap on the weekends if at all possible--you and your spouse can trade watching kids on alternating days.
New moms or postpartum moms have different sleep rules (one thing I tried after baby #2 when my husband was still home from work was to stay in my room with the baby until late in the morning and my hours of sleep totaled 8 hours). I'll have to write another post about that in the future!
Articulate Your Needs to Your Spouse (or Friend or Relative) I wish my husband were a mind reader, but after testing him out, I've discovered he's not. Sometimes, when I feel overwhelmed, I realize I need to assess what I'm doing that someone else could be doing instead. Ask for and accept help from others. Exercise Consistently Though it seems counter intuitive, moving is restful. I won't go into all the science of how exercise relieves stress, but I will say that from personal experience, I am a different personal mentally, physically and spiritually when I am exercising regularly (which means running, for me). You may need to get creative with this, but it is doable, especially if your spouse is on board and will help you to work out a solution. It is worth it. (And the childcare at the gym is waaaaay cheaper than daycare..). Eat, and Eat Well First of all, sit down at the table with your children and eat. Many moms (myself included) turn into grazers as we microwave, chop, refill and clean up messes throughout a meal. Prepare the food in advance, then sit down and eat it with your kids (note to self). And if you can, have dinner as a family. And to eat well, eat foods that are as close to their original state as possible. Eat as many fruits and vegetables as you want and eat all the rest in moderation. Take Care of Your Appearance It is a little frightening that I am responsible for the personal hygiene of two other human beings in addition to myself. So guess which person sometimes doesn't have their teeth and hair brushed?
My main goals after I had my first baby were: 1. brush my teeth, 2. shower (or at least wash face), 3. change my clothes, 4. put on make-up (which takes me 5 minutes), 5. brush my hair. All by noon. And if I accomplished these in addition to sustaining the life of another human being, I was doing well. Our husbands appreciate it when we take care of our appearance, but we will feel better if we do, too. Have Friends I'm still figuring out how this works as a mom, but several of my friends who collaborated with me on this series mentioned the emotional and spiritual benefits of meeting up with other girlfriends (without kids) several times a month. I know from experience that talking with a friend for two hours does wonders for my marriage because it takes the pressure off of my husband having to maintain that amount of verbiage. Good friends can also put life into perspective, reminding us of our blessings and pointing out the areas where we may be being overly dramatic or unreasonable.
Go on Date Nights We usually try to go on a date night twice a month, though I know some couples go more frequently than that. Don't feel guilty about spending money on a babysitter. It is worth the investment (and your kids will actually benefit from someone being paid to spend quality time with them!). Sometimes you can work out a swap with another family, just be sure it's an even trade.
And don't forget to make time for intimacy with your spouse. One of the greatest pieces of advice I got before I got married was to "Give and receive frequent sex!" As women, we sometimes focus more on the giving part than the receiving part, but the truth is that our husbands kind of like making us feel good.
This was my "first day of preschool" picture
Have Alone Time Mostly anything you do alone will qualify. Going to a coffee shop, getting a haircut, walking around somewhere, or even going to Target ALONE can sometimes be enough to make me feel giddy if I have reached my limit of home-time. One of my friends with four small children schedules a babysitter every other week for two hours just so she can get away for a bit. And although I am an extrovert, I have always lived with introverts, so I will say that an introvert will probably need even more alone time than an extrovert. My husband is an introvert and so we will try to schedule an evening for him every week or every other week just to "be." He also tries to get up much earlier than the rest of the family or else hides in another room in the house so he can get at least a few minutes at the start of the day without having to interact with the rest of us (it's for the benefit of all). Have A Dirty House or Get Help You have to learn to be okay with a dirty house. And if you can't and can afford it, pay someone to clean your house. This is something that I have done off and on, starting with when I was 9 months pregnant with #2, and though I felt super guilty at first, I realized that I was essentially paying someone so I would have more time and energy for my family. Just the living areas, every other week works for us, but I have another friend who pays for a monthly deep cleaning.
Having a clean house also helps me to want to be more hospitable whereas before, like it or not, I would sometimes not want to have people over because my house was a wreck. I realize this is a luxury and it makes me feel guilty even writing about it, but I would highly recommend looking into a cleaning service at least for certain seasons of busyness in your life.
Say "No" This is harder for some people than others, but we need to set healthy boundaries to prioritize where to spend our time, money and energy during this chapter of life. I've been told that our boundary lines will not be as narrow as they are now, but for now you need to keep your first things first.
Let Your Kid Watch TV I used to think I would feel guilty about this, but Idon't. If my showering, putting the baby to sleep, or having 24 minutes to myself in the morning means my son watches one episode (or two) of Daniel Tiger, then I think that there are much worse things to feel bad about. Let your TV babysit your kid--in moderation and with supervision, of course. You won't regret it. Do Something You Love Doing For many moms, this becomes the "Pinterest parties" that non-crafty moms despise. But a wise friend of mine pointed out that this is her creative outlet during this season of her life, so why not let her make 20 cupcakes in the shape of a sheep if it feeds her soul? And just because we may not be able to do all the hobbies we used to love doesn't mean we can't develop new ones. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Work together with your spouse or other support network to schedule regular times for rest and please don't believe the lie that you are being lazy or shirking your responsibilities. You will be a better wife, mom, employee at work, relative, friend and disciple of Christ if you give yourself space to decompress and relax.
Check back tomorrow for meeting with God in the ordinary moments. And if you missed the previous days, start here!
I would love to hear more ways you implement self care in the comments. Please share what has worked for you in different seasons of busyness in your life.