You probably feel like you have to do it all. You’ve read the books on attachment parenting, or you’ve soaked up the intense cultural messaging that tells us how to mother, or you’re simply stunned by the thick cords of love you feel for your baby, by the way that motherhood has changed and rearranged you.
You tell yourself that you’ll refuel later, when your child is older. That you should enjoy every moment, even when you’re too exhausted to enjoy much of anything. Or you compare yourself against all the other parents who seem to be juggling life effortlessly, who don’t seem to need time away from their kids in order to thrive.
I know, because I’ve been there.
For the first few years of parenthood, I was attached to my son almost constantly. We went to bed together at 7PM every night, as that was the only way I could patch together enough sleep to survive. We woke up together—at 11 PM, and 1 AM, and 3 AM. I sleepwalked through days spent attending playgroups, taking walks with my son, and sitting on the couch, nursing. When I actually manage to fit in a shower, he was always right past the shower curtain, perched in his bouncy chair.
After months and months like this, I was ragged. I was a zombie, thinner than I’d been since high school. Motherhood was literally eating me alive. And I was letting it.
Deep down there was a little voice trying to get my attention. What about me? It squeaked. What had happened to my life? My dreams and desires? Yes, I loved my son. Yes, I was fortunate to be able to spend so much time with him. But couldn’t I love my son and still be a separate human being?
On the rare occasion that I did something kind for myself, like head to a weekend yoga class, I felt both as if I was getting away something illicit and like I was missing a limb.
As soon as I backed out the driveway, where I’d often see my son at the window, sobbing, though, I felt free. My son was safe with my husband, and I could blast music that I liked (and not that crappy music for toddlers) without having to worry whether my kid needed a nap or to nurse.
Motherhood is the most intensely physical and emotional job I can imagine. Our arms are always full. Our hearts expand as they love in a way we never quite imagined. Our bodies morph and shape-shift, they endure sleep deprivation, they absorb aches and jabs as our kids make their own personal playgrounds out of us.
Never have I needed more self-care than as a new parent. Never did it feel harder to make happen.
As my kids have gotten older, it’s gotten easier. Last month, I went away for a weekend with my writing group. As I sat on the screen porch, sipping coffee and pecking away at my keyboard, I felt my body uncoil. If I wanted to take a nap, I could. If I wanted to go walk on the beach, or chat with my friends without being interrupted every few minutes, I could. I felt my shoulders drop and my breath deepen. There I am, I thought. I need to do this again, and soon.
And I will.
When we’re with our kids, we’re constantly on. Even if they’re happily playing with their trains in the other room while we’re sipping coffee in the kitchen, sooner or later we will hear the word “MOMMY!” and our bodies will snap to attention. We are always on alert, flexed and ready to go when they need us—which is often.
Not surprisingly, I’m a better mom when I give myself the gift of returning to my own body, my own spirit, my own hopes and dreams. I’m a better human. I’m happier. Calmer. Lighter. I return to my family still committed, but more myself. More inspired. More loving.
I’ve also found that it’s important to get the chance to miss our kids a little bit, and for them to miss us. And it’s important for our partners to get time alone to care for our children, and for our children to discover they can be cared for by other adults.
It’s also crucial for our children to have examples of women taking excellent care of ourselves, taking the time to refuel. When I imagine my own little daughter decades down the line, believing that she doesn’t deserve self-care, or that she’ll put it off until later, it breaks my heart. I owe it to her to model what self-care looks like.
If motherhood is kicking your ass, if there’s a voice deep within you screaming for something just for you, please listen. Don’t muffle it. Tell your partner, your parents, your friends.
If the guilt rears up, as it so sneakily does, it’s okay to talk back. The guilt will tell us we’re selfish and our kids will only be little for a tiny bit longer and we should enjoy it, dammit. The guilt is a liar. It grew up in the 1950’s and expects a hot casserole for dinner at 6 PM sharp. The guilt is outdated, brittle. Let it go.
So go now. Let that little voice inside you speak up, tell you what it needs, what it wants. Listen. Make a plan to care for yourself, whether it’s as simple as taking a bath by yourself to getting away for a weekend—or longer. You deserve it.