Does anyone else get annoyed by advice or reminders about the importance of “self-care?” Those posts or articles are usually eye roll-inducing for me because they always seem to catch me at a time when I would give myself a solid C- on how I am doing caring for my children and my company and my husband, much less myself. It’s frustrating to be told to “make time” for me (like that’s even physically possible) when some days I barely have time to make myself a cup of coffee. Oh, and it’s not like I have extra hundred dollar bills laying around to spend on spa treatments. So, advice without any real strategy tied to it is always pretty useless.
I’ve made a career of supporting moms. As the Co-Founder of Trusting Connections Nanny Agency, I am so proud of our mission to connect families with exceptional nannies and sitters because we believe that parenthood should come with a tribe. You were never meant to do it alone. Not then and certainly not now when most parents are juggling far beyond what is humanly possible and most of this burden falls on women. I am in the business of helping moms. Many of the gals on our office staff team are moms. My friends are moms. My clients are moms. And while I am sure this isn’t new or surprising information for you…moms are really struggling. The Federal Disaster Distress Hotline has seen a 1000% increase in the number of calls that have come in since COVID-19 hit. Studies show that parents with children under the age of 18 are the most hard hit of all age groups. Over a third of moms polled say they are experiencing severe distress, (up from only 3% in 2018) and 42% of parents are worried about how interruptions to the normal school year are going to impact their child’s education. So no, you’re not alone.
I, like others, am just another worn out mom. So why am I dishing out advice you ask? Well, for whatever reason, I’ve noticed that self-care comes more naturally to me than it does to others. There are little things that I do, day in and day out, without even thinking about it or realizing what I am accomplishing until I reflect on the results. In general, I consider myself to be a happy and positive person. It’s not that I never struggle; of course I do. But all in all, I feel fairly rested, fairly calm, fairly happy. …most of the time. But it’s not because I lucked out with a perfect marriage, flawlessly well-behaved children, massive amounts of wealth or a low-stress job. I actually have none of those things. I am also, like all of you, in the middle of a sometimes paralyzing pandemic. So why is it that life still feels wonderful most of the time? I really think it all comes down to the care and keeping of me. Annoying or not, self-care matters. I am proof of that. The things I do for me contribute greatly to my mental and emotional well-being. Caring for myself in big and little ways keeps my batteries charged.
As annoying as calls for self-care are, the first step is understanding just how powerful and important self-care is, especially at a time like this. It’s powerful because it doesn’t rely on anyone else but you. Your husband might not intuitively know how to care for you emotionally or do it consistently enough. Your kids certainly can’t care for you; in fact, sometimes it seems like they can only be counted on to drive you crazy. Other people you rely on for support are not always going to be able to show up in the way you need them to or at the right time. The only person that can really care for you, is you. The sooner you understand that, the sooner you will stop looking to external sources to make you whole. It’s a dead end road.
Self-care is recharging your batteries. And the good news is, you don’t have to operate at 100% charge (although that would be nice)….even 75% would be enough to help you function optimally and give you the boost you need to power through life. Not even toys work well when running on low batteries. That’s when the sounds they make get garbled and creepy sounding. They are barely a semblance of their old selves. They shine less brightly. Function more slowly. Until, one day, they only exist as a shell of themselves, unable to do what they were created to do. When you’re drained, your marriage suffers, your kids suffer and you suffer. So I wanted to share with you some small, mostly cheap, simple self-care rituals and habits that keep me emotionally healthy.
A new school year (if you can even call it that!) is upon us and you mommas need to be graded too. On each of the following areas, I want you to give yourself a letter grade A-F on how well you’ve been doing.
#1 Spending time with girlfriends.
Nothing recharges my batteries like laughing and crying around the table with like-minded moms. Make nurturing your female friendships a priority. If your husband works late a lot and you can’t afford a sitter, plan girls nights or mom’s day outs with the kids in tow. If you aren’t comfortable with in-person gatherings, do Zoom wine dates. If you and your girlfriends talk about getting together but don’t actually make it happen, be the one to take the lead and spearhead a get-together. If it’s always hard to find a time that works with everyone’s busy schedules, plan out regularly scheduled times (like the third Thursday of every month) to spend time together or try a Doodle to help you avoid going back-and-forth to find a time that works for everyone. If you don’t have friends you can count on, don’t worry. They are out there; you just haven’t found them yet. Make it your mission to find them and keep them. Girlfriends are just that important. Your life might even depend on it. According to a Brigham Young University study, having a solid social network gives you a 50% increase in odds of survival. Women are just amazing. Surround yourself with good ones and they will carry you through even the darkest days.
My Grade: ___________
#2. Enough “Off-the-Clock” time.
I often give moms advice about the importance of an early, regular bedtime for small children because it’s so important to reserve the last few hours of your day, winding down, recharging and garnering strength to handle the next one. Your batteries will always be running empty if you never get to “clock out” and if the days just bleed into each other while you have kids running around all hours. Although it might seem easier said than done, there are multiple strategies for establishing a solid nighttime routine or fixing bad habits you’ve already created. And with some tools and patience, you can enjoy a quiet house by 8pm every night if you’re committed to making it happen. For working mommas, the evenings are sometimes the time when they get the most quality time so for those families, carving in time before the kids wake up might be a better window. In any event, you need time reserved for quiet and solitude.
My Grade: ___________
#3. An indulgence.
What’s the thing that breathes life into you? Maybe for you an indulgence is a monthly, regularly scheduled massage at a beautiful spa. Or maybe, a walk up and down the aisles of Target alone feels like a Caribbean vacation. Every mom needs some kind of indulgent way to spoil herself…a manicure or pedicure, a facial, a long bubble bath, a 15-minute window to lock herself away in a closet to meditate. Whatever an attainable indulgence means to you, put it in your calendar and treat it like an important appointment that must happen every so often. Plan for it or it likely won’t ever happen.
My Grade: __________
#4. Being a perpetual student.
At the start of 2020, one of my New Years’ Resolutions was to read at least two books on marriage, two books on parenting and two books on business leadership. What all these self-help books have in common is that they all help improve relationships. Relationships with a spouse, relationships with your children… the relationships I have with my employees and my business partner. Most dissatisfaction in life stems from dissatisfied relationships. Think about it. Any time we can learn about (and then implement) positive changes within these relationships, the less headache those relationships will give you. Even small changes can make a big difference. You might be thinking, “You don’t know my husband. He won’t change. He won’t read a book on marriage or apply the tools I learn. He won’t go to counseling.” The good news is, he doesn’t have to change, for the situation to change. If even one person in a relationship does something differently, the dysfunctional patterns can get disrupted. The environment will look different. One of the most powerful quotes I’ve ever heard is taped to the inside of my jewelry drawer. It says, “Look, I wish I could tell you that it gets better but it doesn’t get better. You get better.”
My Grade: __________
#5. Zen Environment.
I don’t live in a micro house or stick to the “no more than 20 clothing items” rule suggested by some minimalists, but I do incorporate minimalist theory into my everyday living. Ask my husband who laughs at how I will – out of nowhere – randomly start organizing a kitchen utensil drawer, maybe even in the middle of a work call.
Research shows that an abundance of stuff is actually correlated with less happiness. You might not realize that having three different pizza cutters in a kitchen drawer is partly to blame for your frazzled state but you’d be surprised. Being surrounded by unnecessary things creates chaos in your space which translates into chaos in your brain. Too much stuff makes it harder to keep your house neat and tidy and can actually complicate daily functioning. It’s much less time-consuming/depressing/frustrating to find something to wear when a third of the things in your closet don’t fit or don’t make you smile when you see them. Whereas, if you paired down to only the items you love grabbing, a simple thing like dressing yourself becomes much more enjoyable. Make a rule for yourself to donate or discard three things for every one thing that comes in the house. Take it one drawer or closet or pantry or room at a time and for every item in there ask yourself, does this add value to my life? Or as Marie Kondo would say….does it spark joy?
My Grade: ___________
#6. Simple but satisfying daily rituals.
Trader Joe’s has these shortbread biscuits that are so good they make me feel like I am at a fancy high tea in England. At the beginning of the week, I spend five minutes (literally) making some homemade whipped cream, and each morning, before my day starts and the kids are working on their morning routines, I sit down with a cup of coffee, Entrepreneur magazine, and one of those biscuits slathered with whipped cream and strawberry jam and mindfully savor each bite while I fill my mind with business advice and inspiration. I only get to do this for about seven minutes before I am interrupted by someone needing something or someone screaming, but that seemingly silly and short morning tradition starts my day right.
My Grade: ___________
Notice I didn’t say exercise? Someone telling me to exercise as a means of self-care is like adding insult to injury. I abhor “exercise” and view it as just one more thing I have to feel guilty about for not doing. If exercise is that thing that recharges your batteries…I’m jealous. But if it’s not, change how you think about exercise. Kind of like the saying…”If you love what you do you never work a day in your life.” Find something that gets you moving – anything – that you also happen to enjoy. Back in the olden days when I dropped my kids off at school in the morning, a friend and I walked a path and the walking was secondary to the talking, laughing, and connecting. My girlfriends and I also took our kids along with us for easy hikes when the weather was nice. Moms chatting in the back and kids leading the way in the front. Exercise.
My Grade: ___________
If you’ve made it this far in reading this, don’t let the time you’ve already invested go to waste. Look up above at the grades you gave yourself and pick TWO of your lowest scores and decide one action item for each of those areas. Write down the goals you’ve made for yourself and tape them to your bathroom mirror or set them on your nightstand as visual reminders of the new habit you’re trying to create. Once you see how much of a difference small adjustments make you’ll feel motivated and empowered to make even more positive changes in your life. Never live stagnantly!