Like orphaned socks, random game pieces, and naked dollies, my mom guilt pops up nearly everywhere. I wonder if I spend too much time on my phone and not enough time listening to my girls’ stories. I snap at my preschooler and mentally berate myself for staying up reading, which makes me tired, and consequently, impatient. I procrastinate asking my husband whether he minds putting the kids to bed so I can go out for a friend’s birthday because I feel guilty for leaving, regardless of the fact that I am home with my kids practically all day, every day.
This Mother’s Day, my kids will probably give me homemade cards and pictures, which I’ll treasure. But the gift I’ll cherish most is the one my husband gave me via our shared Google calendar: An invitation to an event called “Pam do whatever Pam wants.” I plan to do exactly that—without guilt.
Taking care of myself is not just good for me, but for my family, too. Here’s why.
If Mama Isn’t Happy, No One Is
This old saying might sound like a manipulative way for Mama to get the whole family to bend to her every whim, but it’s not. In fact, emotions are contagious, and you can catch them from anyone. It just so happens that many women, feeling crushed by the stress of motherhood, battle insomnia for years after their babies start sleeping well. We tend to carry the weight of not just our professional lives, but also commitments to the PTA, carpool, doctors’ appointments, dental visits, scheduling daycare and sitters and camps, and planning birthday parties. All the while, we scroll through our Instagram feeds and wonder how everyone else makes it look so easy, if we’re doing it #allwrong.
I’m not saying a day to yourself will cure insomnia or depression, but it can do wonders for your perspective. If you come back to your family refreshed and happy, that vibe will trickle down to the whole family as they catch your mood.
My husband will be happy to tell you, giving me time to myself is more than worth the hassle of parenting solo while I’m out. But even if your family isn’t happy about the inconvenience of your yoga class, or you meeting a friend for a walk, Julie Burton, author of “The Self Care Solution: A Modern Mother’s Must-Have Guide to Health and Well-Being,” argues your self-care is still worth prioritizing. According to Burton, the earlier you establish your self-care routine, the easier it will be for your family to eventually accept it.
Taking a Break Makes Me a Better Mom
Even God rested on the seventh day. Moms are on call constantly. Since having kids, I have become that annoying person who sets their phone down on the table at a restaurant, in case the sitter texts. I refuse to sleep in a yurt in the mountains with my husband while our kids stay with their grandparents so I can be accessible just in case. (Also, I don’t feel like sleeping in a yurt.) As mothers, even when we’re apart from our children, part of us, however small, remains focused on them. When we are with them, even when (or more accurately, especially when) we attempt to focus elsewhere, our children make it nearly impossible. I can’t be the only one who makes a phone call when my kids are engrossed in an imaginary fairy world, only to find they are STARVING or BLEEDING as soon as the other party picks up.
Research shows that employees are happier and more productive when they have ample vacation time. As a mom, your higher-ups (or more accurately, your lower downs) wouldn’t see you as a team player if you sat in your room with the door shut during business hours. They would, however, love to see you back from a vacation day with your batteries recharged, ready to tackle the next project—be it a boo-boo, a grilled cheese sandwich, or a French braid—with renewed enthusiasm.
I’m Modeling the Importance of Self-Care
Our kids learn from what we do, not what we say. When my daughters see me taking time to nourish my own interests, we all win. I get to spend time doing what makes my heart sing, and they get to grow up thinking that that’s what normal moms do. (Because everyone thinks their parents are normal, at least for a while.) Says Burton, prioritizing self-care sends a message that “empowers children to be able to make healthy choices and advocate for their own self-care as they go through life and are faced with tough decisions like saying no to drugs because they care for and respect their body, or deciding to go out for the soccer team because they want to blow off some steam after school, stay active, and have fun with their friends.”
Since having kids, I’ve had to cut way back on some of my activities. Gone are weekly craft nights and spontaneous happy hours. But I cling tightly to parts of my old self. I’m still an avid reader. My girls know when we go to the library, I’ll read them whatever they want after I’ve picked up my books from the hold shelf. My entire adult life, I’ve been an athlete. My girls may grumble about gym childcare, but they know I teach spin every Monday. When I return from a run, they inquire, “How was your run, Mama?” and often join me for some stretching. I will be thrilled if I can raise girls who carve out the time to engage in the recreational pursuits they love (even if those pursuits make their legs hurt), especially if they become mothers.
This Mother’s Day, I will run a 5k. I won’t do it with a stroller or walk/jogging with my daughters. I will run hard. I will grimace in pain while reminding myself to relax my jaw, to smile, that I am lucky I get to do this. I will do it not because I hate myself (though I can see where you’d think that), but because testing my body’s limits brings me joy. Afterward, I will fully relax into the facial I have scheduled.
Sure, I’d love a mimosa brunch with my family. But what I’d love more this Mother’s Day is the chance to replenish my soul with some self-care.
Pam Moore is an award-winning freelance health and fitness writer, occupational therapist, and certified personal trainer.