I became a mother for the first time one month before my 41st birthday. I don’t know if my experience as an ‘older’ mother is much different from someone who becomes a mother at 21 or 31, but I suspect that it is. Partly because I had 41 years to practice selfishly focusing on myself and my own desires. I don’t use the word ‘selfish’ negatively, but just that I had the freedom to only take care of myself for all those years. Obviously, I was married and I had a career and other obligations, but Elie doesn’t need me to take care of him 24/7 and I could make decisions about how much to work or what other commitments I wanted to take on. But a baby changes all of that. A baby needs you all the time.
It was a harder transition than I anticipated.
Being an older mother may also be different because I spent years, over a decade, yearning to be a mother. I got married for the first time at age 26 and became a step-mother to five older children. I always thought that my first husband and I would have another child of our own, and by the time I was 30, that longing was fierce. My first marriage ended when I was 35, and I slowly began to resign myself to the fact that motherhood was not in the cards for me. But I never quite lost all hope, and when Elie and I decided to have a child, I was ecstatic. Elated. Over the moon. You get the picture.
I have a tendency towards perfection, which is really difficult when it comes to motherhood, to say the least. There are a lot of expectations, and my years of yearning to be a mother might have compounded that need for perfection. I still fight against it. It can be overwhelming. All the ways I could be a great mama and all the ways I could really mess up, even when trying really hard not to.
I spent my pregnancy meticulously preparing for the birth of our son, and I was ready. But, I didn’t have a good sense of what life would be like when he got here. I hadn’t spent any significant amount of time with babies in many years, so I couldn’t quite picture what day-to-day life would be like. I think it can best be summed up with a story Elie’s cousin tells. She is a single mom, and she said, “When I decided to have a baby, everyone told me I wouldn’t have time for myself. I thought that meant I wouldn’t be able to go out with my friends, not that I wouldn’t be able to go to the bathroom.” Even when you have a loving, supportive husband or partner, that can still be true.
I learned a lot about myself after I became a mother. It’s amazing how motherhood can shine a magnifying mirror on your innate qualities, highlighting quirks you never really noticed before, but probably should have. Like, I love schedules and planning. It makes me anxious if I don’t know what to anticipate. Although it’s obvious to me now, I never knew this about myself before. In fact, I always thought of myself as a spontaneous person. But motherhood made me realize that I breathe more easily when I have a plan. Ironically, I can pretty easily deviate from a schedule without much heartache or distress, as long as there is an initial plan in place. Maybe it’s a yin and yang thing.
I think it took me over a year to even begin to feel like I could–that I needed to–carve out time to focus on my own needs. It felt selfish, to take time for me. I couldn’t figure out how to fit it into my day and still be a good mama and a present wife. And besides, for that first year, I couldn’t stand to be away from Theo for more than an hour or two. And, honestly, Theo nursed so often that I couldn’t be away for longer, because I never could produce enough milk to get a supply of pumped milk. It wasn’t until he weaned at 12 months that I had a little more flexibility.
But I could feel the weight of self-sacrifice beginning to wear on me.
And so, over the last year-and-a-half, I slowly started to develop a practice of self-care. It started with walking and then some yoga and Barre3 classes. I started scheduling dates with friends again. Elie and I scheduled regular date nights, just the two of us. I figured out how to do meal prep during the day, so mealtimes are easier. I started carving out time for reading or listening to podcasts. I developed methods to keep the house clean and organized, using nap time or enlisting Theo’s help. When he helps, it always takes longer, but he loves it, so it’s fun. Little by little, I’ve fallen into a good ritual of self-care.
So, when Mitera Collection asked me to share how I practice self-care with an Instagram takeover, I thought it would be fun, but it actually turned into an empowering, revealing exercise. As I shared throughout the day, I realized how far I’ve come in really taking care of myself. And I think it shows in how I parent Theo. For the most part, I feel like I am a patient, kind, present mama. I spend a lot of one-on-one time or family time with him. But, I also take care of myself, which also shows him that self-care is important. I create time each day to connect with Elie, just the two of us, which is equally important. Of course, I have my moments of frustration or exhaustion, just like anyone else. But, I find those moments come when I’m feeling run-down.
You might not have seen the Instagram takeover, so I thought I would recap my self-care rituals here. I know I always gain inspiration from others, and my hope is that you find inspiration here, either in how I take care of myself or in how I find the time for myself. Either way, I hope you are inspired, not to put yourself first, per se, but to know that your needs are equal to your children’s needs and your spouse’s needs. Because we can’t pour from an empty cup.
Feeding My Spirit
Of course, the topic of feeding your spirit is lifetime journey and deserves more than a few paragraphs here. But I’ll just share the few things I always include in each day to nurture my spiritual life.
First, I pray. When I wake in the morning, before Theo crawls into bed with us to read books, I breathe deeply and thank God for this life. I pray for friends and loved ones who are ill or suffering. I pray for strangers. I pray for our world. Even if you don’t feel comfortable with the word ‘prayer,’ being thankful and meditating on kindness and love feels powerful.
When Elie and I decided to have children, we went to a spiritual counselor to help us determine how to navigate our different religious and spiritual beliefs while raising our child. One of the most powerful practices that came from those conversations was to develop a ritual of daily gratitude. So, during dinner each night, Elie and I tell each other what we’re grateful for on that particular day, and it has became a meaningful reminder of the richness of our life and the blessings we have been given. We don’t take it for granted.
Every night, before I tuck Theo into bed, I ask him to name his favorite part of the day, and I ask him what he’s grateful for that day. He only partially grasps the concept of gratitude, I think. But gratitude is a practice, and I hope thankfulness becomes an essential part of his heart and soul. We also pray a simple prayer every night before bed.
I don’t think there is anything selfish or vain about making yourself feel beautiful each morning, before you start your day. I know I am a better mama when I’ve showered, put on make-up, brushed my hair and put on something that makes me feel good. That something is almost always just jeans and a t-shirt or yoga pants, because my days are filled with rolling around on the floor with my son, playing hide-and-seek in the playhouse, finding crabs at the beach, or laying in the grass and waiting for trains. I usually end up with strawberry stains and dirty handprints on my shirt, but if I start off feeling beautiful, it’s all okay. And lipstick helps, always.
There are a lot of other things I could insert here: the benefits of dry brushing, switching to all non-toxic make-up and beauty (and household) products and more. Are you interested in a blog post on this? If so, leave me a note in the comments and I’ll work on that.
Becoming a mama can be hard on your body. If you are feeling tired, fatigued or just not well, ask your doctor to test your hormones and your vitamin and mineral stores, to make sure you are not deficient. I would suggest seeing a naturopath, registered dietitian nutritionist who specializes in functional medicine, or a functional medicine physician. Individuals with these credentials are most likely to be up-to-date on the latest research and testing for levels for optimal health. Many of the laboratory reference ranges for vitamins and minerals and hormones do not reflect the latest research. I take a variety of supplements that support by own body type and nutritional deficiencies.
Moving My Body
I have to get in some form of physical activity each day, or I feel a little crazy inside. I know the activity is good for my heart, but it’s even better for my soul. Moving my body each day clears my mind and sweeps out the cobwebs. It makes me more present for my family and helps me be better at everything else. I’ve learned how to carve out time each day, even if it’s just a few minutes. While sometimes I will slip off to a yoga class or to a Barre3 class, more often than not, I just tie up my tennies and head outside for a walk, sometimes by myself, but most often with Theo, on our way to the park. Fresh air is the antidote for everything.
Getting Enough Sleep
Ah, sleep. This is the one area of self-care where I really struggle, because I have never been a good sleeper. And it’s so important. I try all the tricks, but my mind does not easily turn off, and I often toss and turn and have interrupted sleep. I always have, since I was a little girl. But, here are thing things I do to at least try to get a good night’s sleep.
If I have something on my mind, something that’s really weighing on me, I write it down. Something about getting it on paper helps to get it out of the circular hallways in my head. Although I have to say, this rarely happens. Usually, a talk with Elie will solve anything.
I take magnesium before bed, in the form of this supplement. Many women are deficient in magnesium, and it can be helpful for sleep, leg cramps and constipation.
I go to bed early. I’m in bed by 9:30 pm at the latest, preferably earlier. I usually wake up between 5 and 5:30 am, so being asleep by 10 is the only way I can get at least 7 hours of sleep.
I know all the research on not using electronics before bed, but it’s so hard to stick to. I have a policy of not being on my phone when I’m with Theo (other than to take pictures) and so my only time to catch up on reading blog posts or scroll through Instagram is right before bed. It’s the only time of the day that I allow myself that little indulgence, and it’s why you might notice all my daily Instagram stories are typically posted at once, late in the day. Does it interrupt my sleep? Maybe.
If I can’t sleep, or I wake in the middle of the night, I meditate. Research shows this helps you to fall back asleep, and it typically works.
Rarely, I nap. Since I don’t sleep well at night, I find naps make my nighttime sleep worse. But every now and then I’m so tired, I just have to lay down and close my eyes. Even if I don’t sleep, that rest makes me feel better.
A Tidy House
Notice, I don’t say a spotlessly clean house. But our house is aways tidy and organized, because disorganization, mess and chaos make me bonkers. I can’t think clearly if the kitchen counter is littered with dishes or the bed isn’t made. So, I always make the bed first thing in the morning and nap time is always my time to tidy the house, do laundry and do any organizing projects that need to be done. For some people, a messy house doesn’t bother you a bit. If it doesn’t, don’t waste your time. Your children don’t care, and neither do your friends.
Doing What Brings Me Joy
Other mamas often ask me how I have time to cook. My answer is that I can’t not cook. It is the thing that connects me to myself, outside of being a mother and wife. I stand in the kitchen and I chop and I stir and create and I feed the people I love. My mind clears and I feel good. It’s as simple as that. Cooking brings me joy.
It was when I was reading a post by Erin Loechner where I first thought about cooking in this way. Someone had asked her how she found time to write, and she said she couldn’t not write. It is essential, and you find time for the essential.
For me, cooking is like breathing, I can’t not do it.
For you, it may be something else. Gardening, painting, reading, writing, cycling. There are other things I love to do, too, but nothing else is essential to my day. So, if you don’t like cooking, be kind to yourself. Do something else. These days, there are lots of ways to nourish yourself and your family without spending hours in the kitchen.
Nourishing My Body
But speaking of nourishing, the food you eat is important, even if you don’t like to cook. We all feel better when we are fueled with good whole foods. I have a few resources here to help, like this one on my philosophy towards food and these on meal planning. If you hate cooking, keep it really simple. And in general, I think you can’t go wrong with following Micheal Pollan’s sage advice: eat real food. mostly plants. not too much.
Writing this reminds me that I should share a little more about my specific daily nutrition habits. I’ll work on that, so stay tuned. Sneak preview: apple cider vinegar before meals, lots of probiotic-rich foods, always including protein, fiber-rich foods and good fats with each meal. And lots of vegetables.
As a mama who doesn’t work outside the home, I can get in a rut where the only thoughts running through my mind are about toddler sleep and when to start potty training and how to prepare for Theo starting preschool in less than two months (!!). I start to even bore myself. So, here are a few things I do weekly (not necessarily daily) to make sure my brain gets a little exercise, too. And so I have something interesting to talk with Elie about at the end of our day.
I listen to podcasts. This is a favorite.
Thanks to my bookclub, I read. This was a recent favorite.
I have meaningful conversations with smart and interesting friends, learning about the things that bring them joy.
I rarely listen to the news, because it just makes me sad. That may make me ignorant on current events, but I’m unapologetic. I think it’s better for my soul. I have to be careful of what I read and watch. I’m the kind of person who absorbs sadness, and I can’t get bed/sad news stories out of my head. So, I don’t watch the news. That’s also self-care.
Elie and I both put a lot of effort into maintaining our friendships and our relationship with our extended family. It’s important, for obvious reasons. But, it’s not always easy. At the end of the day, I often just want to put on my pajamas, snuggle up on the deck and relax with a glass of wine. The solution? Be friends with people who like to do that, too.
My tendency towards perfection has definitely shifted since becoming a mother. Sometimes we go out, but to make sure we’re home with Theo most nights of the week, we often invite friends to our house. If the house isn’t clean or it’s a simple meal, I know they don’t care. It’s about being together. Friends will come over for coffee and we talk while the kiddos are running the cars across the floor. I rarely do lunch dates. Instead it’s park dates or meeting at the farmers market. Even though the conversation is distracted, at least we’re seeing each other and supporting each other.
Meaningful Time with my Husband
This one may be the most important thing I do for self-care each day. Meaningful time with my husband. Because our family started with just the two of us, with our love affair and our deep respect for and adoration of each other. I don’t ever want that do go away, and so it has to be nurtured. Our family depends on it.
Although Elie and I see each other a lot during the day, it’s always interrupted, distracted time. The good interruptions and distractions of a full and wonderful life, with projects and a house revolving with friends and visitors and a little boy who joyously takes all our attention and concentration.
But, when Theo goes to bed at 7 pm, the time is ours. To sit and breathe and talk about our day. To check in on how we’re doing. To discuss a podcast or book. To give a back rub or to snuggle. To sit outside with the setting sun and enjoy each other.
All of this is to say that motherhood is the greatest, hardest, most joyful, soul-wrenching, laughter-filled, introspective incredible journey. It is a journey that forces you to grow into the best version of yourself as you are trying, so very hard, to nurture your child to be a kind, caring compassionate human being. And at the same time, trying not to transfer your own hopes and desires and dreams and expectations or phobias and fears to this little impressionable person. Whoah, it’s hard.
But taking care of yourself helps. It gives you a clear-eyed perspective on what’s important and what’s not. Do what’s important. What makes your soul sing. Leave what’s not.
I don’t know your particular life story or your circumstances. I don’t know if you have support in your life or if you’re parenting alone. I don’t know if you work or if you stay at home. I don’t know what challenges you face. So, I give you all of this without judgment or assumptions, but only with the hope that it helps you, as learning how others nurture themselves helps me.
Think about what’s essential for you, outside of caring for your little ones, and find time for it. What brings you joy? What feeds your soul? What makes you excited? What do you do that makes you breathe deeply and exhale? Find time for that.
My self-care rituals closely mirror the intentions I set for 2018. You can read them here if you want inspiration for setting your own intentions.