I remember when my little one was a baby and I had my first couple of hours to go out on my own. I remember looking around at the other women who had their children with them and feeling like there was someone missing from my side.
I also felt guilty that I wasn't spending every moment with my daughter, as I had done since she was born. After the couple of hours of wandering around the shops trying to feel that comparing lip gloss brands was life-enhancing (I know it is sometimes, but I was so tired it didn't feel like it then), I arrived home and was back into the routine of feeding and rhyme time, story time and bedtime.
I realized that my time out of the house had barely let me catch my breath. I didn't feel that the couple of hours away had set me up for the next three months of mothering.
It just hadn't been enough.
So, here, I am going to suggest 10 ways of looking after yourself that stray from your typical "get out of the house for a couple of hours."
These things do require more regular investment of time and that is why they work.
1. Ditch the guilt. Notice when you are internally saying that you should not be spending time doing something for yourself. You need to do things for yourself so that you have the energy to do things for other people -- the ones who are depending on you.
2. Say goodbye to perfect. Ask yourself if your children want a perfect mother or if they want you. Recognize that there is no such thing as a perfect mother.
3. Stop checking out the other diaper bags -- comparison with other mothers is not helping you. Just because some other mother always remembers the wipes and has homemade organic puree in neatly-labelled boxes does not make her a better mother than you.
4. Your body is a temple -- it's one that even had a little congregation in there at one time. Treat it well. This also means getting enough sleep. I know, I resist it, too.
5. Connect. Other moms are still quirky, individual people. Get to know them and perhaps make a pact to have times where you don't just talk about how your children are getting on. You are also still very much allowed to have friends who are not moms.
6. Identity. Figure out something you can do that is not mothering. Then, when you are talking about what you do, include that as well as saying that you are a mother. This is not a 'have-to' because of course being a mother is a huge job. It's more about claiming a little piece of your life puzzle as your own. Never introduce yourself by first telling other people about your children.
7. Stay informed, but don't believe the hype. Make the parenting choices that seem right to you and your family.
8. Get nostalgic. Think about what you used to love to do before you had children and then integrate some of that into your life.
9. Think forward. One day, your children are going to leave home. Who do you want to be then? What do you want to be doing then? Start figuring that out and working towards it with tiny, but confident, steps.
10. Be kind to you. By this, I mean catch thoughts where you are being unkind to you and just begin by noticing them. You can also teach your children by helping them notice when they are saying unkind things about themselves.
These are lessons that I am continuing to learn for myself. From one imperfect mother to another, with love and total respect for how much you do,
Deborah Chalk is a Martha Beck Certified Life-Coach who helps moms whose focus on their children, home and family has taken their attention off their own needs. They used to care for themselves pretty well, but life got busy and they aren't doing as well as they used to. She helps them to figure out what taking care of themselves looks like and work step by step to a more balanced and joyful life.
You can sign up for a free meditation for mums and weekly emails with lots more help for this motherhood journey at www.deborahchalk.com