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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When you feel like you don’t have any friends

When I was growing up, I had two very close girlfriends. We did everything together. After spending as much of the school day together as possible, we’d hang out after school and then at the weekend as well. We were all as different as chalk and cheese and armadillos.

I was obnoxiously extroverted, boy crazy and didn’t give a toss what anybody else thought. One friend was as quiet as I was loud, which made her a sharp observer of human behaviour with a wicked and delightfully absurd sense of humour. The other friend was sensible, passionate and kind. She gave me a hug the moment we were introduced – who couldn’t be besties with someone like that?

I’m not saying we didn’t have our disagreements and falling outs, but those girls were my sisters. We had no secrets from each other and lived in each other’s pockets. When I recently went back to visit after not seeing them for 15 years, it was like we could pick up where we left off. We’d all changed so much, but the basic connection was still there.

It was a wrench for me when I moved across the world from those friends, and inevitably they were no longer such a big part of my life. But a few years after leaving I fell in with another kindred spirit. She and I did our PhDs together and during that time were practically inseparable. Although we both had boyfriends, people used to joke that she was my other partner.

However, student days ended, and we both got married and had kids. We kept in touch but no longer lived particularly near to each other so the relationship became less intense. Then she moved overseas, and our main interactions now are very occasional phone calls, lots of fb tags and a weekly Fitbit competition. Not bad – but not hanging all day telling each other our deepest secrets friendship either.

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I’ve been thinking about the wonderful friendships that I was lucky enough to have, because lately I’ve heard from more than one person how they feel like they don’t have any good friends anymore. Like, they don’t have anyone who would help them move … let alone help them move bodies.

And I get where they’re coming from. I have many people in my life who I’m happy to call friends, but since my youthful best friends, I’ve never been able to quite find friends who I would admit murder to (disclaimer: I have never murdered, nor do I have any intentions of murdering – this is a metaphor based on a popular saying). I also don’t have any group of friends that I hang with on the regular like I did when I was in my twenties.

I remember looking forward to the chance motherhood was going to give me to meet a whole new group of people. I’d make some new besties at baby groups and since we were all off work we would totally hang together all the time. That did not happen for me. It was actually a bit crushing. I tried to make some good friends but slowly realised that the only thing I had in common with these people was that we had sex during the same year.

I’m not saying I’m friendless. I actually have some lovely friends. I now have two close mum friends local to me (they would probably help me move but secretly resent me for moving away). Those friendships took several years to get to the great stage they’re at now and I hope they continue to grow. I’ve also met some very fun mums at my eldest son’s school. We have boozy and inappropriate nights out and I love hanging with them. I also have some wonderful friends who I used to work with or study with, who I see only rarely but when I do see them it’s a fantastic time.

The reason I’m telling you all this is because I’ve come to the conclusion that friendships change when you start to trot towards ‘middle age’. So many people have been telling me that:

  • They’ve lost touch or fallen out with old friends that they valued
  • It’s difficult to make new friends
  • They don’t have time to invest in their friendships
  • They feel bad about not having close friendships or regular social engagements
  • They miss the security and enjoyment of their old friendships and groups of friends

And it’s not just mum friends who’ve told me this. I’ve heard it from at least two different childless male friends as well. They think there must be something wrong with them because they don’t have ‘enough’ ‘good’ friends.

So I want to tell you that, if this is the case for you, it’s not your fault. There’s nothing wrong with you for not having the quantity or quality of friends that you feel you should have. My extremely unscientific anecdotal research shows that it’s perfectly normal for friendships to change and become less intense as you get older.

These days, I don’t have one friend who I do everything with. I have different friends for different occasions. Some I see weekly, some I see every few months, some I might only see once a year (or less). They all bring joy to my life in different ways. There’s the friends I talk about my kids with, the friends I go out on the town with, the friends I talk about work with, and the friends who will join me in contemplating the true meaning of life.

So if you’re missing your friendships, step back and consider how you might be having unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. It’s okay to play bit parts in each others lives. The time you spend together is still valuable. If you have a laugh together, if the interaction is effortless once you’re together, then these are your people – even if you don’t see them often or know everything about their lives, the way you did with your youthful besties. Life is, after all (as a random motivational speaker once said) ‘just a collection of happy moments’.

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Mission Mindfulness

Take all your problems & rip ’em apart

Take all your problems

And rip ’em apart

Carry them off

In a shopping cart

Be like the squirrel, girl

Be like the squirrel

– “Little Acorns” by The White Stripes

It’s not a well-known song, but “Little Acorns” by The White Stripes is a song to live your life by. It tells the story of Janet, who has been having a tough time lately. But as she’s walking one day, she sees a squirrel storing up nuts for winter. She notices the way the squirrel brings the nuts to her nest one at a time, and eventually manages to store up as much as she needs.

Clever Janet sees this as a metaphor, and realises that if she takes the “one acorn at a time” approach to her problems, they will be more manageable.

Okay, so it’s sort of a silly song. A hard rock riff and an entreaty to be like the squirrel. And it also might be something that we all already know implicitly. Of course it makes sense to break problems into smaller pieces to make them more manageable. But knowing something doesn’t mean we always do it.

So what are the problems that sometimes overwhelm us, and how can we “be like the squirrel”? Here are some situations where being like the squirrel has helped me.

 

Grief

Regular readers of this blog will know that I keep banging on about the death of my grandmother, who brought me up in my early years. It’s been a couple months now but sometimes I’m still suffocated by sadness and I just miss her so much. I had read about it before, but now I know firsthand, that grief never really goes away. Some days are better than others. Let each moment of grief be it’s own little acorn that you acknowledge. I’ve been allowing myself to feel sad when it happens, rather than trying to just carry on, even though that sometimes seems like what everyone expects.

Work

I work part-time but I’m pretty sure I’m still doing a full-time job and then some. I never, ever get to the bottom of my to-do list and sometimes I worry that I’m not keeping up well enough and I’ll get in trouble. But actually, everyone is just as busy as me in my office, and we’re all doing our best. So I just take one small task at a time. And I try not to multi-task, because that is a way of doing lots of work but never finishing anything.

Money

I also, like most normal people, do not have as much money as I would like. I have a lot of bills, like childcare, to keep up with. And I’m not very good at budgeting or saving. If I try to impose an austerity regime on myself, I’m going to (a) be miserable and (b) fail at it anyway.

So my acorn approach is to just think a little harder about each time I want to do something that costs money. How much do I really want/need this thing? Is there a way of doing it cheaper? And each time I manage to save some money by thinking it through, that is a small success.

My house is a tip

This is one that I get pretty stressed about. We have too many toys, but it hurts my heart to get rid of things that were loved when my children were smaller! Am I the only one who gets sentimental about brightly coloured plastic?

Sometimes I start planning to get organised, but am discouraged by the enormity of the task. One thing cascades into another until I just don’t know where to start. Saying I would just do one job becomes just as difficult as trying to do it all at once.

So I’ve started taking a more novel approach and applying complete and utter blinkers to certain bits of mess. Instead of focusing on doing small jobs that might ultimately add up to a tidy house (neeever gonna happen), I just focus on the things that really need keeping up with. The dresser near the front door always gets piled up with loads of random crap. Fine, I’m ignoring it. But I’m going to keep up with the washing. Sort of.

I wish I had more close friends

Becoming a mum changes your social life forever. I used to constantly be with friends, and I had a different friend for every situation. I could call up my “going to the theatre friend”, my “going on holiday” friend, or my drinking buddy. When I had my kids, I grew apart from some of these friends, either because they had kids too and also had no time, or because we were now living such different lifestyles.

I have found it difficult to make mum friends in my local area, and only have a couple ladies who I consider real friends and not just acquaintances. I sometimes feel pretty depressed that I can’t find a group of friends to hang out with at a moment’s notice, or even just that I feel so socially awkward  and isolated among groups of mums on the school run.

But you know what, it doesn’t even matter. Quality over quantity. I’m putting more energy into the little acorns I’ve already collected (the genuine, proven friends). And every time I feel awkward on the school run, I’m just going to carry on saying hello to people even when they don’t respond, and smiling at them all like some sort of maniac.

I’m a shouty sweary mum

When I get stressed or worried or upset or hurt, I shout and swear. That is my reaction. It’s something I’m working on. But I still sometimes step on a bloody lego brick and then turn the air blue in front of my children.

Or when my 5yo is completely ignoring my entreaties for him to stop chewing on a fidget spinner before he chokes on it, and the 10th time I ask him I shout, FOR GOD’S SAKE STOP CHEWING ON THAT BLOODY THING OR YOU’LL END UP IN HOSPITAL!

I am aware that this is not ideal parenting. Judge me as you will.

But I’ve also gotten better and better at showing more empathy with my children. When they get upset about something like misplacing a small plastic junky toy, or because one brother knocked over the other’s tower, I’ve learned to say “I’m sorry honey, I know you worked hard on that tower”. Instead of what I’m thinking, which is “get the f**k over it already”.

So every acorn of positive parenting, every time I offer some extra praise, is one to add to the pile that is making up for the fact that my eldest definitely knows all the swears and how to use them. I’m also working on replacing my swears with rubbish replacement words too. Like “oh FFFidget spinners” or “GoddaaaaarNit”.

Do life’s little problems sometimes get you down? What problems could you add to this list, and how do you deal with them? Here is the song, btw:

Tammymum
The Pramshed

An exercise in thankfulness

This week it’s Thanksgiving in the USA, where I lived until I was 22. It’s a day every year where people come together to eat ridiculous amounts of food and then fall asleep in front of the TV. It’s sort of like an extra Christmas without the presents or the religion. I won’t go into the full history of it here, but if you want to know more, then this article in the Telegraph is pretty informative.

For some, Thanksgiving is just about having a good time and they don’t think much about what it really means. However, for many, we like to take a moment and think about what we are grateful for in our lives. And a cursory Google search on the term “being thankful” brought up numerous articles explaining how gratitude can actually make you healthier.

But it’s not always that easy, is it? Children need looking after, houses need cleaning, work needs doing, family members need help, you get health problems, you have a bad day, people are jerks … all of the things that happen in a normal life can pile on top of each other and weigh you down until you forget to look up and remember what’s good.

I’ve been feeling a bit weighed down lately myself – so much so that I’ve started having heart palpitations and even panic attacks. My doctor’s only suggestion was to “give up coffee”. Oh right, like that’s going to make me less stressed!

But I have decided that as it’s Thanksgiving, I’m going to make an effort. I don’t bother with the turkey and all the fixings now that I live in the UK (I get enough turkey at Christmas, thanks), but I do think taking time out to be grateful is time well spent. So here is my exercise in thankfulness. I’m going to tell you some of the things that are pissing me off, and then find something related for which I’m thankful. Some are serious – some less so – but hopefully some of you will get where I’m coming from.

I’m not happy about…

…the fact that my older son is still not getting on well at school. He screams at the teachers and runs aways down the halls. Yesterday the teacher actually called home to tell me what he’d been up to. His behaviour at home has gone downhill as well. This is despite a recent visit to a paediatrician who basically thought he was fine. I’m at a loss as to how to help him right now.

But I’m grateful for…

…my son. We are having these issues but he is still my child and we love each other. There’s nothing better when I hear him say “I love you” in his little voice. We can play and giggle and have a laugh. I am not the perfect parent and I need to learn how to work with him to improve his behaviour, but we will always be a team.

I’m not happy about…

…having lost a friend recently. He passed away and I’d not made the effort to see him for a while. And so I felt grief but also guilt. I messaged him just before I found out what had happened, but it was already too late.

But I’m grateful for…

…the fun times we had together. I’ve spent some time looking at old photos and remembering, and enjoyed a pint of Guinness (his favourite) in his honour. Remembering the good is the only way to move forward. I’m also grateful for the lesson I learned about keeping in touch with people. Next time I think of a friend, I will message them straight away, while I still have the chance.

I’m not happy about…

…being sore and weak while recovering from the hernia surgery I had recently. I haven’t been able to pick up my kids or even leave the house for the last week and a half.

But I’m grateful for…

…the prospect that this will improve my long-term health. Plus, the leaflet they sent me home with says I must not do the washing or hoovering for 6 weeks! It’s right there in black and white. I’ve shown it to my husband.

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I won’t be doing this for 6 long weeks!

I’m not happy about…

…my lack of interior design skills. My house is so cluttered, with my main decorating accents being brightly-coloured plastic toys. I look with envy at beautiful lifestyle blogs and their owners’ skilled arrangement of attractive scatter cushions. I have scatter cushions that my neighbour gave me after she bought some nicer ones. It was my house or the bin for them. Appropriate – since at my house they are often covered in cat hair and biscuit crumbs.

But I’m grateful for…

…the fact we’re nearly finished building an extension to our house. It’s been hard having builders around and everything in upheaval for the last 5 months, but soon we will have more living and storage space. Hopefully I will then be able to cut the clutter. I doubt I’ll get any better about scatter cushions though.

I’m not happy about…

…being rubbish at Instagram. This is a blogger gripe. I know good bloggers are expected to take fabulous photos and share them on Instagram. But I just don’t really “get” photography. To me, it’s what the picture makes you think about, rather than the aesthetics. And I hate the shallow “great feed” comments you get.

But I’m grateful for…

…the people who follow me anyway! Why anyone beyond my close friends are happy to look at a poorly-lit photograph of my dinner is beyond me. But they do. I even got 30-odd likes on a shot of my messy living room full of packages of laminate flooring and plaster dust. So I’ve decided to keep it real on Instagram. I’m going to post pics of my real life and just be happy with the followers who want to see it.

I’m not happy about…

…what I like to call the Christmas conundrum. I’ve been working hard to get fit and be happy with the way I look for a school reunion I have coming this summer (don’t we all want to be fabulous when we see the people we grew up with after a long time?). The surgery has set me back a bit, and now we’re getting into Christmas. How can I eat ALL the mince pies without compromising my fitness goals?

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I need to try all the different brands. Let’s call it blog research.

But I’m grateful for…

…the fact that I can choose to binge on pie or not. Some people can’t afford to buy all the pies, or can’t eat pies for other reasons. I’m thankful for the very existence of pie. And wine. Let’s not forget to mention wine.

But really, why bother?

Being thankful often gets a bad name. Insensitive people try to cheer up a person who is grieving or having a bad time by pointing out that they have things to be thankful for. But it doesn’t work that way. Everyone needs to talk about things that are making them unhappy, and being thankful can’t always fix things. It’s also important to be honest about our own feelings.

But forcing myself to write down some of the things that make me happy – thinking about what’s funny, what’s serious, what’s poignant and what I have learned – has already made me feel calmer and more in control. I’ve taken a break from exercising my body, but taking some time to flex my thankful muscles has helped me lose some of the weight I’ve been carrying on my shoulders.

What things are you stressed out about? What are you most thankful for? Let me know in the comments.

Tammymum
mumturnedmom
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday