However crazy it might seem, it's alarmingly easy to relegate yourself to second-class-citizen status after you become a mom. Your kids become the kings of your castle; you, their servant, court jester, driver, and cook. Without any conscious decision-making on your part, suddenly "Mom" is your defining role, and all those other things you used to be before kids — employee, voracious reader, lover of animals, long-distance runner — seem like distant memories.
But they don't have to be, and moreover, they shouldn't be. Self-care is just as important for moms as it is for anyone else on the planet, but it can be so much harder to achieve when you've placed the happiness and comfort of the tiny humans in your house above your own.
Here are some ways to rediscover your own premotherhood self-identity and take time for the self-love and -caring you so deserve.
- Start prioritizing your own happiness. It may sound simple, but it can be extremely hard for busy, overextended moms to take account of what is and isn't bringing joy to their lives. If driving your kids around to a million activities is making you nuts, tell them they each get to pick only one. Say "no" to that PTO post. Have a glass of wine with dinner. Let Grandma watch your baby while you ignore your to-do list and get your nails done. Reconnect with your own needs and desires and prioritize them.
- Make a list of the five activities that gave you the most joy in your prebaby life. Mine were probably writing, practicing yoga, having wine-fueled dinners with girlfriends, binge-reading, and traveling to new places, and for years after having my kids, I didn't do much of any of them. Once you make that list, find a way to reintroduce the ones you're missing most, or even better, bring all of them back into regular rotation.
- Discover a new hobby or rediscover an old one. Humans thrive on new experiences, so why not try a new sport, take up gardening if getting your hands dirty feeds your soul, or volunteer for a cause that means something to you? If you've given up a much-loved hobby because motherhood didn't allow time for it, find a way to bring it back into your life in some way.
- If you love your career, find a way to work, even if it's just a little. If you've left a career you were passionate about to be at home with your kids, it can feel like a real loss. Although you might not be able to work in the same job you had before without changing your childcare situation, look into freelancing, contract work, or job sharing. There are ways to keep one foot (or at least one toe) in the professional world while the rest of you is rooted at home.
- Make time for kid-free date nights and girls' nights out. Sometimes, moms need to get out of the house without kids in order to stop thinking about that never-ending to-do list that's constantly running through our heads. Make a date to go out to dinner with your partner or your best friends, have the sitter come an hour early so you can get ready alone, and don't worry about the mess you'll find at home.
- Ask for help, especially from your partner. No mom can do it all alone, and trying to be the first one to accomplish that feat is just plain silly. Hire helpers. Enlist grandparents. And remember that your spouse is just as capable of taking care of the kids as you are, despite how much they might complain about it.
- Find some quiet (even if it's just for five minutes). Downtime can be hard to find when you're a mom, so when you have a few minutes before the school bus arrives, while you're waiting for the dryer cycle to finish, or before karate class lets out, resist the urge to check your Instagram feed and let yourself have a moment of peace.
- Don't just post pictures of/shop for/talk about your kids. There's a fine line between loving your kids so much that you want to show them off, dress them up, and brag about their accomplishments and losing yourself to them entirely. Make sure you make an appearance in your social media accounts and family stories, too, and go buy that dress you've had your eye on. You deserve a wardrobe boost, too.
- Understand that while guilt might be a natural emotion, it doesn't make it a valid one. One of the biggest obstacles of self-care for moms is it often comes with a heavy side of guilt. It's an emotion every single mom has felt when they leave their children for a weekend away with the spouse, sneak out for an early meeting before their kids have woken up, or really to take time to do anything that involves prioritizing themselves over their kids. Realize that guilt is an emotional reaction, not a true indication of what kind of mother you are, so shrug it off and get back to enjoying yourself.