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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How motherhood makes you stronger

With motherhood comes all sorts of lovely experiences and some, um, less lovely ones. The first time your child says “I wuv you” is lovely. The first time he vomits on your lap is not lovely. And yet, some of the things that really suck about parenthood have actually made me improve my coping skills in a number of areas.

Things the pre-child me simply couldn’t cope with just roll right off me like the peas my toddler placed on my head. So here are 5 ways motherhood has made me stronger.

Poo, vomit and other bodily effluvia does not phase me

Before I had kids, simply the smell of vomit would make me feel ill, let alone actually seeing it or, god forbid, touching it. Now, I can quite comfortably (and even intentionally) catch vomit with my bare hands. It may not be my favourite pastime, but I can handle it.

I don’t think twice about the odd smear of poo that may make its way onto my person. These things wash off so easily. It’s only a little bit stinky.

And, as a parent, sometimes picking bogeys out of another human’s nose is simply a necessity. You can try using a tissue but it doesn’t always get the job done. And I’d rather pick it and bin it than stare at it flapping out of my son’s nose all day.

All of this exposure to nasty, germy things means that I have very little fear of anything I might encounter late at night on public transport.

Spiders

On my 8th birthday, I brushed my teeth and when I spit out the toothpaste, a partially-chewed spider came out of my mouth. This was an extremely traumatic experience which kicked off a lifelong fear of spiders.

I remember being 18 years old and finding a spider a big as two 50p coins in my bathroom. I called my dad to kill it for me, but he had decided to foster my emergent independence as a responsible adult by informing me I had to resolve the situation myself. I was too scared to squash it, so I dropped my 1500-page English Literature anthology on top of it and left it there for 2 days. When I finally got up the strength to remove the book, the spider simply got up and crawled away, never to be seen again. I neither killed it not removed it from the house, but it would appear I taught it a lesson!

In more recent years, married life has meant I always had an obliging husband to remove spiders for me. He is a kind and gentle soul and so catches them in the designated “spider cup” and throws them outside.

I coasted along in such a manner without facing my spider fear until I had kids. Now, there is a real problem because nothing is more spine-chill inducing than the notion of a creepy-crawly, fang-sporting, hairy spider crawling over your sweet, sweet baby’s face. And so suddenly I became both fearless and merciless when a spider comes anywhere near my children’s domain. I’ve caught them in cups, I’ve hoovered them up, washed them down the drain (even using an implement to make sure they really went right down) and even, on one occasion, picked one up by the leg and flung it out the window.

Thank you, motherhood, for teaching me that no spider is fiercer than a mother’s love.

Squatting, carrying, running and squeezing

We’ve covered squeamishness and visceral fear, but of course motherhood also makes you physically strong. The average observer may not be able to see our mum muscles, but I assure you they are there.

A mum can hold a wiggly baby to her breast whilst assisting a potty-training toddler in wiping his bottom.

She can wrestle a tantrumming toddler into a carseat or highchair.

She can climb a flight of stairs in a single bound if she hears a suspicious bang while the kids are in bed.

She can wiggle into narrow spaces to retrieve a much-loved toy.

She can squat for unreasonable amounts of time when needing to apply shoes or change a nappy in a less than hygienic area.

She can push a buggy, up and down hills and over grass or gravel, for untold hours until the little bugger angel falls asleep.

She can carry her handbag, two children, an overstuffed changing bag, a potty and a bit of shopping with barely of bead of sweat appearing on her furrowed brow.

And we do all of this without (much) whinging. Pre-kids I would have collapsed in a heap if I had to do all that.

Pain, illness and lack of sleep

Everyone knows that childbirth hurts, but the bit that comes afterwards hurts even more because it lasts longer and nobody offers you any drugs to cope with it. We take our babies home when we are worn out and emotional, with stitches holding together either our stomach or our undercarriage. I had an emergency c-section after my first, and had burst blood vessels in my eyes and soft tissue injuries in my legs after my 2nd from pushing too hard. But in modern life we’re expected to just carry on. Maybe pop to the supermarket or take a nice(??) walk. In other cultures, women are allowed to stay in bed for a whole month after the baby is born!

Then some of us might get this lovely thing called mastitis. If you don’t know what it is, it’s a lovely infection inside your breast, which not only hurts the breast itself but gives you flu-like symptoms that make you feel like dying. And besides taking antibiotics you have to keep feeding the baby with your sore boob to help it get better. Ouch is an understatement.

Then of course there are the bugs. Have you ever tried to breastfeed in between bouts of vomiting? Or worse, cooking a meal for hungry children or changing a really stinky nappy? It might actually be my personal version of hell.

But I look back at the times I kept everyone alive when I felt like dying, and think it’s a pretty amazing achievement.

Keeping calm and carrying on

The final skill that motherhood has taught me is staying calm in the face of confrontation. I’m not going to say I’m always calm … but it takes more to throw me in a tailspin than it used to. Sometimes, I’m even calm with my own children. Mostly, this skill is employed outside the home when dealing with other adults. I know that it is very unlikely that, under everyday circumstances, an adult is going to scream in my face, kick me in the shins and lay on the floor screaming. And thus any confrontation is that much easier to deal with.

So the next time you feel like this parenthood gig is bringing you down, or you feel insecure about your parenting skills, just look back on your tired, sick, sore self, carrying heavy loads, vanquishing dangerous insects and catching vomit in your bare hands, and know that you are one strong mama.

What things can you do better now that you’ve faced the travails of raising small children?

Mission Mindfulness