“Self-care” is one of those buzzwords that moms hear a lot. The hashtag, #selfcare, has 26.1 million posts on Instagram. But how do we actually make the time for self-care if we care for a child with special needs, are a single parent, work outside the home, have a deployed spouse, or any combination of those?
As women, we often feel obligated to do it all, which results in a mental and often times physical workload that rarely eases up. You know what I am talking about: carrying in the groceries, while on the phone with the speech therapist, while thinking about switching the laundry and what you’re going to make for dinner. So, how in the midst of juggling it all, can we throw in one more ball?
I set up a virtual coffee with a few of my mom friends to find out how they do it, complete with multi-tasking, screaming children, and lots of laughs. My friends are at different points in their careers, parenting, and self-care journeys. Some of these ladies have children with autism and the others have typically developing children. Some of them work full time outside of the home and others are stay-at-home moms who homeschool. Regardless of where they are on their journey, they kept it real and shared valuable advice that will benefit any mom.
Be realistic when setting self-care goals.
Self-care looks different for each person. Being honest about your time and resources will make your self-care journey more successful. How much time do you have and when will you fit self-care in? How much money can you budget for it? Plan on how to get around roadblocks—if your sitter cancels, if your child’s therapy session gets canceled, etc. We are so good at planning and executing everyone else’s life events, now it’s time to set some self-care goals for ourselves.
Self-care is a necessity, not an indulgence.
A friend of mine who is a fitness and life coach once told me, “If you want something different, you have to do something different.” We need to change our mindset and make self-care a priority because our families deserve a mom who is not physically and emotionally exhausted. So how do we “do something” different when for so long we have told ourselves that we must put everyone and everything else first? First, we need to include our circle. Tell your partner, friends, etc. that you want to and are going to make self-care a priority. Next, just like we do for our children, make visuals to hang on the bathroom mirror, refrigerator, wherever you need to see it, to make it happen.
Get back to the “It takes a village” mentality.
Throw the misconception that you should be able to do it all yourself out of the window. Getting rid of that idea will help you and your family thrive. If a friend offers to watch your child so you can go to the dentist appointment that you have rescheduled six times, take her up on the offer without feeling guilty. Sure, most of us can’t afford to hire a babysitter every time we want to engage in a little self-care, but we can use playdates, grandparents, respite care, etc. If you don’t have the money to join a gym, get a few friends together and a do a workout class from YouTube in the backyard while the kids play. It’s not easy to step away from the idea that you need to do it all yourself. Take it from me: you can’t. It’s okay to ask for/receive help. Build a support network; surround yourself with friends, family, and professionals you can count on. When we allow ourselves to turn to our village, everyone will benefit.
Self-care is more than a trip to the spa.
While a trip to the spa sounds like a dream, I would settle for a few uninterrupted minutes in the bathroom. You too? Maybe you also have sat down for dinner only to realize it’s your first meal of the day, because the day was so hectic. It’s time for us to realize that self-care is not only about trips to the spa, but also making sure we meet our basic needs. We need to make sure we are eating healthy, sleeping/resting, and scheduling and keeping doctor’s appointments. We also must know what our limits are and how to decompress. In addition, self-care means identifying what you enjoy doing and making a serious effort to include it in the schedule. We need to make sure our basic physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are being met to ensure our families are getting the best versions of us.
That’s right; write self-care into your mom planner, put a reminder in your phone, do whatever you have to do to make it happen. This is crucial because if we don’t schedule it, it will quickly fall to the bottom and then off our to-do list. Whether you start off with five minutes in the morning to read a devotional or set aside time for an afternoon run, schedule your self-care like you would an IEP meeting or therapy session for your child. Schedule whatever interval of time fits into your schedule. Even small pockets of time throughout the day will make a big difference.
I enjoyed my time catching up with my friends, talking about their children, laughing, and getting their input for this article, but my biggest take-away was that I need to take their advice to heart. It is so easy to lose ourselves as we put our children and families first. However, as clichéd as it sounds, “we can’t pour from an empty cup.” We need to do whatever it is that will make us the best version of ourselves. Breathe, give yourself some grace, and take this journey one day at a time; you’ve got this!
Carla Wyrsch has been a devoted educator and advocate for children with disABILITIES since 2002. A certified special education teacher with a background in applied behavior analysis, she has spent her entire career working with children with autism. Her experience spans a variety of settings, including residential treatment facilities, military bases, public schools, and the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Lerner School for Autism. In addition to her work with children on the spectrum, she enjoys providing coaching sessions to both professionals and parents in the areas of behavior modification and other best practices.