When I gave birth to my first son, I was 36 and could not have felt more ready to start a family. For so long I’d dreamed of the husband, the children, and the house with a white picket fence. I had a successful career as a speech language pathologist, a beautiful new home, an amazingly supportive family, and wonderful friends. When Griffin came along in April of 2014, we were elated and couldn’t wait to bring our boy home.
It wasn’t long before the reality of having a newborn set in…big time. I was overwhelmed, anxious, and all of a sudden felt entirely unprepared to care for this precious little boy. I’d spent years babysitting, worked with children in my professional life, and naturally had a million opinions on child-rearing. Ha! I expected to be tired from breastfeeding around the clock and from getting to know my little guy. What I didn’t expect was how quickly I lost my sense of self as Griffin became the very center of my world.
A friend asked me at one point “What are you doing for self care?” I was baffled. Self care? Was that even a thing? And if so, did I need it? It turns out it is a thing, and oh man, I needed it! I struggled at first with how to relax. Early on, I remember my sister taking Griffin for an afternoon so I could have a break. I felt paralyzed by all the options-do I sleep? Do I read? Do I exercise? Do I eat? In the end, I booked a last-minute massage. It was miserable! I laid there feeling guilty for not being with Griff, for spending the money, for not knowing how to take care of myself. So began my journey towards finding my own joy, to really understanding what I need to be the best wife, mother, and person I can be.
Here are some ideas for self care that have worked for me so far…
Steve and I work hard to have a date at least one night each week. Sometimes we go out alone, sometimes we meet friends, and sometimes we cook at home and play cards. In dealing with the stressors of everyday life, taking some time to check in with one another and simply talk is a must for us. Spending time with Steve also reminds me that we’re in this together and I feel much less overwhelmed.
Making time for my friends is something I try to do, but also one of the first things to get lost in the shuffle and busyness of parenting. Although visits aren’t always possible, quick phone calls and texts can do wonders for me if I’m having a particularly difficult day. There is something very comforting and grounding in knowing I’m not the only one who feels like they cut grapes for a living.
Find a Playgroup
This one is essential! Through a local mom’s group, I was matched with a group of 3 women who had babies right around the same time as I had. It has been such a blessing to have these amazing ladies and their babies in our lives. We bounce ideas off one another, we laugh at how similar our baby’s antics are, and we’ve even shed some tears together. Watching our kids grow has been so much fun and I truly don’t know how I’d have made it through the past 2 years without them!
This is the definition of self care for me. After Griffin was born, I was petrified of exercise as I was afraid it would negatively affect my breastmilk supply. I put a lot of pressure on myself to exclusively feed him breastmilk and I poured all of my energy into doing so. I found that if I ate extra calories and drank a lot of water, I could keep up with his demands and still get those workouts in. Regular runs and yoga classes are a time for me to decompress, breathe, and check in with myself. I have so much more energy now that I’m in better shape and am able to play and lift and shlep with the best of them. And I FEEL better. I’m happier and more grounded and that makes me a better mom.
Do Something You Love
For me, this turned out to be cooking and baking. When Griffin was 6 months old, with the support of the husband and our amazing babysitter Elena, I was able to start taking a weekly cooking class at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. There, I further explored my passion for food and food preparation. I LOVED the time spent there and I was so excited to return home to see my baby at the end of the day. A little time apart did wonders for my mental health and I was cultivating a skill at the same time. Win-win!
On the hardest days, fresh air and movement worked wonders for us-and they still do! Sometimes it’s as simple as walking around the block, other times we take a ride into Boston and play in the public garden. No matter what-it always makes me feel better.
Give Yourself a Break
What I mean here is….be gentle with yourself. Feel all the feels, cry all the tears, take a nap. I think as new moms we put A TON of pressure on ourselves to be everything to everyone. And frankly-we can’t be. I see now that my own health, mental and physical, is just as important of that of my babies. If that means my child gets a bottle of formula instead of breastmilk so I can complete an extra sweaty workout, so be it. If that means my toddler watches an episode (or 2) of Daniel the Tiger so I can check my email, he’s going to be fine. I’m not saying that making yourself a priority is easy. It’s something I continue to work on each and every day. But I see how much more love and energy I can give when I’m happy.
Ask for Help
Ahhh…this is a tough one. I’m lucky to have family, friends, and neighbors nearby who readily help me out. Asking them for that help, however, is not so easy. I’ve found, though, that they are not just willing to help, but eager to help. They’ve been there too! Some of them are STILL there with their own families, yet selflessly give up their time and energy to help a sister out. You want to take my son for a couple of hours? Yes! You want to drop off a meal? Yes! You want to hold my baby so I can shower and (gasp!) blow dry my hair? Yes! Just say yes, people. You’ll be so glad you did.
So tell me..what do you do for self care? Anything you’d add to my list?