If you've ever been the primary caregiver for a newborn, you know: Their needs come first. It's just the way of the world, right? It's part of what accounts for the prevalence of postpartum depression. We go from organizing the liquor cabinet to being responsible for making a tiny human not die day after day.
But, at some point, and much earlier than one might imagine, we have to start taking regular breaks from making humans not die to make ourselves not lose our shit. And that means letting us graduate from"new mom" to "Mom," from "new dad" to "Dad." Though it can be uncomfortable for some, this transition brings with it many benefits. Among them is a little something we modern Homo sapiens like to call: S E L F - C A R E.
Self-care, in this context, often means getting enough sleep and eating regularly and nutritiously. But it also means taking time to feed your creative side, your social side, your side that just wants everyone in the family to shut the fuck up for 15 goddamn minutes while you take a bubble bath.
Unfortunately, many of us, for countless reasons, get really, really entrenched in the newborn mindset.; we equate our selflessness to our children's safety, our sacrifice to their happiness. In order to be a good mom, we tell ourselves, I must always think about their needs first.
This is a myth. Because while our kids' needs come first in a great many things, they do not come first in everything. It is not cruel to insist on having time to yourself every day. It is not unrealistic to expect that you will have a life outside your children. It's okay for you to enjoy something that does not have anything at all to do with them.
In fact, it's a really good thing!
Research shows that higher levels of fatigue — the kind brought on by inadequate sleep, diet, social support or coping techniques — is associated with lower parental competence, greater parenting stress, and more irritability in parent–child interactions. (Not to mention spouse-spouse interactions!)
I've seen it before — and even experienced myself. Maybe you have, too. You realize your well of selflessness has run empty. You start scraping the bottom, feeling around for any reserves you may have missed. Finding none, you immediately feel burned out and resentful. All you want to do is blame your child for being difficult while hiding under the nearest blanket — and that's usually what you do.
The longer you go without "you" time, the more tension erupts between you and your child. Yes, you may still be putting food on the table, but your ability to care for her emotional needs go down the toilet.
By taking the time you need to refuel after a period of selflessness, you are modeling for your child what it means to be a well-balanced adult and how important it is to take care of yourself. You are also slowly preparing yourself for the time when your kids move out and you're, well, out of a job.
Now it must be said that believing a child's needs must always come first is a guilt-inducing myth borne not only out of sexism, but also out of desire. Not everyone is comfortable with self-care. Sometimes parents intentionally reject their own needs so that they might just live vicariously through their kids. The more we tie our identities to our littles, though, the more painful we find their aging. Believe me when I say that having a teenager means that you are on the other side of a closed door for many, many, MANY hours a day. If I wasn't well-versed at taking care of myself, the nostalgic pangs I sometimes feel might explode into full-fledged panic attacks.
So how about you? Are you taking good care of yourself? Getting your needs met?
Or do you find yourself feeling achy, unhappy, vulnerable, anxious, or lonely? Are you irritable? Overwhelmed? Do you have difficulty concentrating? Do you find guilt welling up the moment you find yourself wanting to enjoy life outside your child's presence? If you're not sure you are getting enough time to yourself, here's a self-care inventory assessment that might help.
And if you want some excellent self-care ideas, check out ParentShift's Chapter 3, page 71.