7 self-care ideas make you a happier mum

When I became a mum, the first thing that went straight out of the window was looking after myself. In the early days, there just wasn’t any time. If I didn’t have time to sleep, no way did I have time to paint my nails. Putting your children first is natural and right, but it’s very easy to get in the habit of ignoring what you need to feel like you. The list of things to do is so long that mum’s needs fall off the end of it.

It took me getting into a very stressed and unhappy state to realise that I absolutely deserve to spend time on myself. Self-care is a necessity, not a luxury. So over time I have slowly been developing little habits that make me feel just a little more content, a little more calm, and a little more me.

I thought that sharing my list of things might provide others with some food for thought. Doing even just one, in my opinion, will help you feel less stressed, angry, sad, anxious, or any of the other feelings that we’d like to feel less of. When doing these things means taking time away from my kids, I don’t feel guilty because I know that doing these things makes me a better mum when I am with them. If I’ve had my needs met, I’m less likely to shout when they wind me up. So it’s a winning situation for everyone.

1. Buy yourself little treats that help you slow down and appreciate life

For me, I started spending more money on buying nice shower gel and moisturiser. I used to use whatever was lying around or on offer at the supermarket. But more recently, I realised I really love that ‘spa’ scent you get from certain products, particularly ones with a lavender, rose or bergamot scent. I bought some for myself and now every time I take a shower I can close my eyes and pretend I’m in a spa. It seriously sets me up for the day.

For you it might be nice throw cushions, candles, flowers or posh chocolates. You don’t need to wait for someone else to treat you. It doesn’t need to be super-expensive. But find that one little treat that will give you a moment of contentment in your day.

2. Carve out kid-free time whatever way you can

I’m lucky because I do have time alone in my house when my kids are at school or nursery, and I also have a supportive husband who spends an equal amount of time looking after them. But even if you are a full-time mum and single parent, I think it’s worth going out of your way to find kid-free time and then treating yourself. For example, save your shower with the nice smelly soap for after they’re in bed (or before they wake up, or after they go to school). This way, you can spend a little longer at it, and no one will barge in and have a poo during it.

3. Style your hair, do your nails, wear perfume, makeup and nice clothes whenever you want (or not)

On days I stay home with the kids, I have previously had a habit of slobbing about in sweats with my hair sticking out in funny directions. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But more recently I’ve realised that I’d gotten in a frame of mind that said if I was just going to be at home there was ‘no point’ in me looking and smelling good. I kind of thought I was wasting time if I took the time to do my hair. I only wore perfume and clothes that made me feel pretty if I was going out somewhere.

More recently, I’ve decided to wear perfume every single day. Because I like it. When I spritz it on, I feel happy and beautiful. It’s not a waste to put it on if no one else is going to smell it. It’s enough for me to smell it. I’ve started taking the time to style my hair and wear my favourite clothes on the weekend. I’ve let go of the notion of ‘saving things for best’. Life is short and I want the best every day. 🙂

But sometimes I can’t be arsed with all that and I don’t do it. Which is also a-ok.

4. Have reassuring rituals and routines, but break them sometimes

Our house is pretty big on routines. There are bedtime routines for the kids, and I have a bedtime routine for myself as well. We have family Saturday morning rituals (like snuggling in bed watching Paw Patrol) and Sunday dinner rituals (we always sit down for a proper meal with pudding). I find these rituals comforting. Everyone knows what to expect and what to look forward to.

But sometimes, we throw it all out the window and go out to eat or have a floor picnic instead of a proper meal at the table. Sometimes, in the summertime, I let the kids stay up until it’s actually dark out and then put them to bed only when they’re ready to drop. Sometimes we go out to a friend’s house and let them run wild while we socialise and drink a beer.

Rituals and routines are all the sweeter when we aren’t tied down by them.

5. Use your skills for something other than parenting

Parenting is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and there are definitely many skills involved, some of which I don’t have. Like sewing and ironing. But all of us have skills that have absolutely nothing to do with parenting as well, and it’s important to keep using these.

In my case, I love my paid job. The skills I use there sometimes dovetail with parenting skills (like dealing calmly with difficult people), but for the most part I’m using a totally different part of my brain. If you don’t have a paid job, or hate your paid job, find a hobby or some volunteer work.

Some people write poetry or, erm, blog. Some people are good at arts & crafts. Some people play a sport or get involved in another group such as a choir. Some people are really fab at helping out at their kid’s school, or they spend a few hours working at a charity shop or keeping people company at a care home.

It is really important to use the skills that make you who you are – and in most cases, you’ll be making a contribution to society at the same time.

6. Exercise. Seriously, this is non-negotiable.

You wouldn’t have heard me say this a few years ago, but exercise is absolutely essential to life. I’m not saying it has to be high-impact or hardcore, but you need to move your body.

After having a breast cancer scare last year, I was seriously shaken up about my health. I realised how fast everything can be taken away by bad health. As the evil six-fingered man on The Princess Bride once said, “If you haven’t got your health, you haven’t got anything”.

Soon after my scare, I came across a news article that had a doctor saying exercise should be approached just like other aspects of personal hygiene. If you would never skip brushing your teeth, you should never skip exercising.

But equally, I realise how hard it is to fit exercise into a busy life of parenthood, work, housework and a social life. For me, I’ve started using an exercise video streaming service. I wake up at 5:30am and sneak downstairs to do aerobics and weight-lifting in my dining room before the kids are awake. The streaming service is great because there is loads of variety (unlike old-fashioned workout DVDs). I also make the choice to walk whenever I can instead of taking the bus/tube/car.

I think everyone should make exercise a priority in life. Put it in your diary and treat it like a real appointment. The kids can entertain themselves for an hour. If you have a newborn, stick the baby in the buggy and go for a walk. Basically everything in life can be put off for an hour (or even just 30 minutes) for you to get healthier.

Since I’ve committed myself to exercise, not only have I gotten fitter and healthier but I am happier all the time. I used to scoff at the idea that exercise would give you more energy instead of make you tired but it’s absolutely true once you get yourself into a routine that works for you. And the science says you’ll probably live longer too.

7. Don’t sweat the petty things

An old friend of mine used to say ‘don’t sweat the petty things, pet the sweaty things’. Which was a vaguely suggestive way of saying you’re better off doing something that’s a bit of a laugh than worrying about something that is pretty unimportant in the grand scheme of things.

Are you worried you said something stupid or rude to someone recently? Unless that person is noticeably cheesed off at you, you probably didn’t. I tend to worry I put my foot in it all the time, when I totally didn’t. Don’t ruminate on things you said or did and worry whether they were right or wrong. It’s such a waste of time.

Are you worried because you’re not a domestic goddess? Did you take store-bought cakes to the school bake sale? Do you have a mountain of washing in your house that threatens to take on a life of its own? Do you have last week’s sandwich crumbs littering the floor of your kitchen? Or perhaps toothpaste smears in your sink?

Don’t sweat it.

Nobody ever laid on their deathbed and said, ‘I wish I’d kept a cleaner house’.

Play with your kids, read a book or magazine, watch trashy TV, do your exercise and enjoy your life. You’ll clean when you feel like doing it and that’s often enough. You’ll bake if you fancy it … and if not, everyone loves Mr Kipling’s anyway. Get your neighbour to sew that hem on your son’s trousers and save ironing for weddings, job interviews and funerals.

That’s what I do, anyway. 🙂

Mission Mindfulness

 

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There’s nothing wrong with New Year’s Resolutions

I’ve noticed that New Year’s Resolutions are a bit out of style these days. Some say: don’t make them because you’re going to break them anyway. Years of people making unrealistic goals for themselves and then failing have led to people not bothering at all, even scoffing at the whole notion.

However, I think that taking stock of the past year, and allowing yourself a fresh start, is a good idea. It’s not “new year, new me”. I’m the same me, but I want to set some gentle intentions for things I’d like to do it the year ahead. I also want to let you know about some things that are going to change on this blog.

A year reviewed

As years go, 2017 has not been my favourite one. The worst part of it was saying goodbye to both of my grandparents, who played a major role in my upbringing. It’s the first time close members of my family have died. Learning to live with my grief while continuing to function in daily life was very difficult for me. I developed a full-on anxiety problem, with heart palpitations/panic attacks.

I eventually got mostly rid of it though, and found that exercise and mindfulness are key for me in keeping myself happy and avoiding anxiety. I developed new strategies to fit exercise into my busy lifestyle and have tried new types of exercise too. My big success was completing a 10k race in 1 hour and 16 minutes, having never run so far before in my life.

Another fantastic success of this year was that I got a new job. I had a long notice period to work for my old one, so I’m not starting my new job until later this month. The new job is a complete career change but it is for an amazing and exciting employer, doing important work. I’m going to have a lot to learn and it’s pretty scary, but overall I’m looking forward to it and think it can only be a good thing.

I have loved my current employer, but it had gotten to the stage when I had been there too long and just needed a change. I never thought I’d be able to move on so easily because of my flexible working requirements, so I am so happy I’ve found an amazing new employer who is happy to be flexible.

Back to the downsides, just at the beginning of December I suddenly found a large lump in my breast. I went to the doctor straight away and was referred to a breast clinic. I was expecting them to say it was just a cyst, but instead I ended up with a mammogram, ultrasound and core needle biopsy. I have not yet had my biopsy results. So that is scary. It’s taken me a few weeks to feel normal again after the biopsy, but I’m now determined to just carry on as normal and think positively while I wait for the results.

Intentions for myself

My biggest discovery this year was that exercise really, truly does make me happier. Of course, science supports this and other people told me that for years, but despite exercising on and off for many years, I never believed it made me happier until recently. Perhaps it is my age, but now I feel a noticeable difference in myself when I exercise compared to when I don’t. So my intention is to do as much exercise as I can in the new year.

I have created a little calendar for January with a planned activity for each day. But I am not going to beat myself up if I don’t actually manage to exercise every day…I just going to be happy each time I can cross off another day of my exercise calendar.

Another intention on the health front is simply to eat more vegetables and less sugar. I refuse to cut things out of my diet. I think that’s a recipe for disaster. But when I am not bothered about whether or not I have something unhealthy, I simply won’t have it. And I will not clean my plate unless I want to.

Finally, I am also going to try and think positively and live in the moment. I am a great worrier and explorer of “what-ifs”. But, as my husband repeatedly reminds me, “what-ifs” are rarely useful. I am going to cross bridges when I come to them, and try not to worry which rickety crossings might be miles ahead.

Intentions for this blog

Some of you may (or may not!) have noticed that I haven’t written much on this blog lately. This is mainly a product of being busy and tired, and simply having other priorities. I started this blog for me and I see nothing wrong with using it however it suits me. But, it does make me happy when I write, and so I’m going to aim to write something once a week or so.

I’m going to shift the focus of the blog slightly. I don’t want to change its name because that is too much of a faff, but I’ll probably change the tagline when I have time. I’ve always called this a parenting blog, but that’s not really what it is. It’s more about life as a mum (rather than focusing on the actual children), and about how to look after yourself. I’ll have to think of a way to describe that in a catchy tagline!

So my future posts will unashamedly be about me and how I’m surviving my busy life, only one aspect of which is being a mum.

I’m also going to stop doing product/service reviews and sponsored posts. There will be one more sponsored post coming out this week, and that will be the last one. The main reason for this is that my new job prohibits that sort of moonlighting in my contract. I may still review things that I’ve paid for myself, but I won’t be accepting free products or any money to write posts.

And so…onwards and upwards for 2018! Thank you to anyone who reads my little musings, and I wish you all the best for the year ahead.

What are your resolutions this year, or are you a resolution refuser?

 

Mission Mindfulness

 

Five ways running could make you happier

I am not a runner. I could never be a runner. My boobs are too big and my ankles too weak. I hate being out of breath. It’s boring. It’s too difficult. It’s raining / hailing / snowing outside.

These are the things I used to tell myself about running. But, more recently, through sheer desperation to get fit in a way that fits around work, parenting and a budget, I started running. I did the Couch to 5K programme, which involves interval training, starting very gently to work up to 5K.

My friends were impressed that I was running 5K. They asked me if I’d thought of doing a 10K running event. NO WAY! said I. Why would I want to do a silly thing like that? I don’t need to prove myself.

But shortly after that conversation, The Children’s Society asked me to run the London Vitality 10K and blog about it in support of their work. My blogging obsession converged with my newfound running skills and a desire to help the charity, and thus began my 10K training journey.

With less than a month to go until the big day, I’m actually amazed at the progress I’ve made. Yes, there have been setbacks: illness, work commitments, very inclement weather and even grief. But at the same time I’ve proved to myself that I can run 8K at a decent speed (and if I can do 8k, what’s another 2k?), and have increased my speed at running 5K. I’m now confident that, barring any disasters, I can complete the 10K on the big day before they close the course (i.e. in less than an hour and a half).

And I want to urge everyone to give running and especially training for an event a try. Unless your GP tells you not to, I believe that anyone can run. And the benefits are about more than just fitness. Here are some of the serious and less serious ways that training for this event has improved my life:

Mental health

Before my training really took off, I was suffering from some serious anxiety problems. But since I really started amping up my running efforts, the anxiety has just disappeared. The running has also been absolutely essential in helping me deal with my grief at losing my grandmother recently. She is my number one top most loved person other than my husband and children. Running has given me space to contemplate and address that loss.

Perseverance

I am so surprised and pleased with myself for sticking with my training. I never do as much as I want to or hope, but it’s clear that there has been an improvement since I started this journey in February. Some people doubted my ability to train for such an event, but I’ve proven that Marty McFly (from Back to the Future if you were born yesterday) is right: “if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything”.

Confidence

I haven’t lost a single ounce of weight doing all this running. Mainly because it makes me mega hungry and I just can’t be bothered to diet on top of all the other stuff going on in my life. But my clothes fit better, my rear end is tighter and I just feel better. I’m technically overweight according to BMI scales (which I don’t entirely agree with), but the running has proved to me that health and fitness isn’t just a number on a scale.

Fashion sense

Running clothes tend to be brightly-coloured and tight-fitting. I have a bright green top, skin-tight running tights and day-glo orange running shoes. Nothing will make you feel more daring than dressing in a ridiculous clashing ensemble composed of bright colours and spandex. It’s made me a bit more confident in my style generally. See featured photo for a representation of the sheer blinding colour of my trainers.

Washing

My commitment to running has increased my commitment to doing the washing because:

(a) Running clothes are expensive. I have two sets and I’m not buying any more. So they need to be washed.

(b) They’re smelly.

And you can’t do just the running clothes as they don’t make up a full load. So I’ve been totes catching up with my washing just because running forces me to do the washing.

And by catching up, I mean the hamper is merely full, rather than overflowing.

I’m running 10k on 29 May and it’s going to be bloody hard work. But the money I’m raising will help children and young people suffering from mental health problems, abuse, debt and a whole host of other rubbish things. If you’d like to help The Children’s Society improve the lives of these kids, please check out my JustGiving page.

Losing the baby weight: Myths vs reality

Once you get pregnant, not only do people start telling you what is safe and unsafe to eat, they also keep reminding you not to “eat for two”. Well, sod that. If I can’t drink and I can’t eat the best cheese, if I’m sick, tired, hormonal and my boobs hurt, you know what I’m going to do? Eat cake. During both of my pregnancies, I ate cake and ice cream and mountains of curry, pizza and peri-peri chicken. And both times I did gain weight which took a lot of time to lose. Plus, I wasn’t exactly skinny to start with. But I don’t regret a single mouthful of sugary goodness, because pregnancy made me feel awful and the cake helped me cope. If you feel the same as me, then you should cake away. Tell any judgemental friends or family that someone on the internet (clearly an expert) said it was fine.

Once you have the baby, the health police stop banging on about how not to poison your baby and gain loads of weight, and start banging on about how to lose the baby weight. Luckily, these days celebrities are being a little more honest about how bloody difficult it is. But there are still countless articles trying to give you “realistic” tips about how to use the weight-loss tricks of celebrities. I’ll tell you how celebs lose baby weight. Two things:

  1. They have bottomless pits of money to hire personal trainers and diet chefs and nannies to look after their babies all night.
  2. It’s their job to lose the weight.

So I’m here to tell you a real person’s view on losing baby weight. I think there are loads of myths about losing the baby weight that are propagated even by our well-meaning friends and family. These conspire to make new mums feel worse about their shape. And the worse you feel, the harder it is to make the changes you want to make. So here are my biggest baby weight-loss myths and some tips (from my humble experience) to help you actually lose the weight in real life (if you want to).

Biggest baby-weight loss myths

“9 months on and 9 months off”

This one has a good intention behind it, implying that it takes as long to lose the weight as it does to gain it. But in my experience, 9 months is not long enough. It took me the best part of 2 years to lose the baby weight after my first, and I’m still working on the weight gained from my 22-month old. The problem is, raising babies is hard work. It’s physical, emotional, mentally straining and you don’t get much sleep. These factors combine to make you reach for the nearest chocolate-y sugary fatty-fat-food full of energy to help you get through another day. You might not have time to cook proper meals or if you do cook them, you may never eat them. My first son used to cry like clockwork whenever I sat down for a proper meal. As a result I used to eat like I’d been stranded on a desert island living on coconut water for the last year.

“Breastfeeding helps you lose the baby weight”

This is a big one that they like to roll out in those wonderful guilt-trip pamphlets and signs as displayed in hospital and given you by health visitors. Now, as I’ve explained in my breastfeeding story, I was only able to achieve mixed-feeding with both of my children. So perhaps that is why breastfeeding didn’t do jack for helping me lose weight. But whether or not your baby is fully, partially, or not-at-all breastfed, don’t feel bad if it has no correlation to you losing weight. Breastfeeding makes you produce all sorts of hormones that you don’t normally produce. Plus, if you’re on the pill, there are only certain pills you can take when you’re breastfeeding and one of the side effects of progesterone-only pills is weight gain. I have never been able to achieve any significant weight loss until I’ve stopped breastfeeding.

“Just eat a bit less”

Someone actually said this to me when my baby was only 3 months old. I was tucking into a fairly modest plate of pasta and he’s all like, “maybe you should have a smaller portion?”. Pfffft. I had my stomach cut open 3 months ago. I was up all freaking night with a baby hanging off my boob. You try it and see if you want to eat less sodding pasta.

“Try some postnatal fitness classes”

I actually highly recommend these. But not because they will necessarily help you lose weight. They might, or they might not. I did baby yoga with both children, walked miles and miles pushing buggies around, and tried some more difficult mum fit classes too. None of these resulted in weight loss (any calories burned were replaced with sleep-deprived-chocolate-binges). However, the exercise improved my mood and I met other mums for potential friendship/coffee drinking/joint chocolate binges. The baby yoga was also a lovely way to bond with my baby.

“You can get back to jogging 6 months after birth”

Maybe if you are Jessica Ennis-Hill or Paula Radcliffe. My dabbling in running before both of my children was not fortifying enough to get back to it easily. I tried to start jogging again when my youngest was 6 months old. It lasted for about a week before I put my back out and caught the latest virus that was going round Eldest’s preschool. Get back to your usual exercise when you’re ready, but don’t feel bad if it doesn’t work out, because babies are hard work. You will eventually be able to resume (vaguely) normal service.

“You have to lose the baby weight”

You may actually be comfortable in your skin post-baby just the way you are. If you are, then chill. Don’t let anyone tell you what your body should look like. The way you feel is the only thing that matters.

Things that helped me lose baby weight

What works for me might not work for you, but I’m going to tell you anyway in case it does.

Finding the right diet

When you’re ready to watch your diet, that is. Based on my experience, I wouldn’t recommend dieting before baby is at least 9 months old, sleeping well at night, and until you’ve stopped breastfeeding.

There is no magic bullet for dieting, but what I’ve found is that each person can find something that works for them. I’ve had friends who’ve lost the weight and kept it off successfully with Weight Watchers, the South Beach diet and Slimming World. But for me, it was The Fast Diet. Even before I had kids, I could never stick to any sort of diet or even so-called “just eating healthy”. But The Fast Diet, also known as 5:2 or intermittent fasting, has been a miracle for me. You limit your calories to 500/day for just 2 days a week and eat reasonably (i.e. whatever you want without totally bingeing) the rest of the time. After both children I’ve lost around 2 stone (24 lbs) with this diet, after never being successful with any other. It sounds crazy but if you read the book it makes sense, and there are loads of other health benefits from fasting. It’s made me crave healthier foods. I’m currently obsessed with avocado, and that’s a phrase I never thought I’d say.

Finding a realistic exercise programme that fits into mum life

The only thing that has worked for me for getting fit and keeping fit is the Couch to 5K programme. It’s a running programme where you gradually work up, through interval training, from being a “couch potato” to being able to run 5K. It seriously works, no matter how unfit you are. It helped me get over a dislike of running. And it’s a great solution for a mum, because you can do it any time and with no special equipment. However, you may find something else is your thing. The biggest thing is to remember is that any exercise is good. Even if you aren’t consistent, one gym session a month is better than none.

Getting your brain on your side

I’ve found that I’m enjoying my exercise sessions more lately and I think it’s due to things that I’ve changed in my life that keep my mind busy while I’m exercising. In the past, I found exercise so boring! But since I’ve started blogging, I’m coming up with post ideas in my head the whole time I’m running and the time flies by. I forget I’m running. I’ve also subscribed to a music streaming service, and it’s really helped to always have fresh, new music to listen to. It’s also helped me to set a goal/reward to look forward to. For me, I’m hoping to look and feel awesome in time for my 20-year highschool reunion next summer.

Enlist support from your family

If your partner resents the time you spend exercising, or hates the food you cook on your diet, you are not going to succeed. Talk to your partner and explain how important it is to have his/her support. Support your partner’s diet and fitness goals as well, and see where you can cooperate in meal planning and family scheduling. If you have older children, you can also get them to join in on your exercise. My 4yo loves a bit of stretching or calisthenics.

Accept setbacks

Being a mum is a bloody hard job. If your child gets sick, or you get sick, or you have another life emergency, or a bereavement, or you get injured during your exercise efforts (I’ve had a hundred bad back or twisted ankle incidents), you might end up having to take a break from diet and exercise. Try not to let it get you down. It’s real life. As long as you keep trying whenever you realistically can, you’re doing great.

As for me, I’m doing okay. My youngest is not yet two, and I have about 5 more pounds of baby weight to lose. Then I can tackle what I like to call my “beer and burrito” weight.

Are you eager to lose the baby weight or are you happy just how you are? Do you have any weight loss and fitness tips you’d like to share?

Cuddle Fairy
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