Mother love: it’s complicated

I remember when I used to meet up with friends, go to the movies and read as many books as I wanted. I would literally put one book down and pick up another. I remember regularly ringing one of my best friends and enjoying epic two-hour conversations. I remember re-watching all seven seasons of The West Wing in a month (long before Netflix and binge watching were even a thing). I remember walking my dogs every day. I remember lazy Sunday afternoons on the couch. Sometimes I would even have a nap!  

Those days are long gone because eleven years ago I became a mum.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. Having a family with my husband was a very conscious decision. I am so unbelievably lucky that I have been able to have three healthy kids. Children are, without question, a joy and a privilege and I love mine beyond measure.

It’s not as though I didn’t realise that my life would change when they came along. It took us a long time to have our first and I had plenty of nieces and nephews around me before then. I knew that parenting was not all wine and roses. But I was a little naïve about the relentlessness of the to-do list, particularly when one became two and then two became three and school and sport and activities were factored in.

You see, although I haven’t forgotten that I used to make time for me, I have essentially stopped making time for me. I am also painfully aware, particularly over the past couple of years, that I am not looking after myself. I can see it and feel it. It is now possible for me to injure myself bending down to retrieve a carrot from the fridge or demonstrating a drill to my daughter’s netball team at training. I want to do something about it, but as each week flies by, nothing changes.

Mums take on a lot. Whatever our work situation we are still shouldering the lion’s share of child-rearing, domestic duties, school and sport organisation, family finances − and the list goes on. We also bear the brunt of the myriad frustrations, disappointments and anxieties of our children. The fact is, children need love and attention in order to thrive and life is complicated. And that oft-mentioned to-do list is the bane of my existence, piling on the pressure. The spring clean my house requires would take the whole of spring! I have things on the to-do list that have been there for years, although organised linen cupboards are surely over-rated!

I’m not talking about being indulgent. It’s not, ‘Woe is me, I want more time for myself’. I’ve never placed much emphasis on ‘me’ time, as is clear from my current dilemma. I am fully aware that I can be as much of a martyr as the next mum. I’m also hard on myself, a bit of a perfectionist, and as any parent knows, this personality type is ripe for some crushing reality checks as you grapple with parenting. Your kids aren’t perfect and neither are you, there is no one solution for anything, and you can’t fix every problem or heartbreak. We are constantly trying to work it out as we go along.

But the fact is, if I don’t make time for me, then how can I expect to be a good mother and partner? And if I do learn to prioritise what’s most important, isn’t it only logical to think that I will be a better parent and partner? So self-care is not really a matter of indulgence, but of necessity.

If you google ‘how to take care of yourself as a mum’ you will be inundated with thousands of articles and tips. It’s reassuring to know it’s not just me who needs help! One of these articles “43 Easy Ways to Start Taking Better Care of Yourself Today” by Autumn Spencer resonated with me.

“Self-care is about sticking up for yourself. It’s about prioritising your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. As parents, we prioritise our children, our spouses and our work over ourselves. And we struggle mightily – feeling selfish and guilty – when we don’t.

“Here’s a critically important concept: taking care of ourselves IS taking care of our families, our relationships, our careers, our obligations. It’s an investment in our longevity – in our future ability to continue to be productive in the many roles we all play. If we don’t care for ourselves, we’ll eventually and inevitably, be unable to care for others,” states Autumn.

I know that when I have too much going on I am not as good a parent as I can be. And I want to be a really good parent. There is nothing more important. I don’t want my kids’ memories of their childhoods to be of a constantly frazzled mother given to stressful weeping in the car on the way to school! I want to be a great role model for them on how to manage life, as well as enjoy it, for all the wonderful moments we’re gifted with each day.  I want them to remember me smiling and laughing and having fun.

So my mission is to make a little bit of time for myself each day. Schedule it in if I have to. Regular exercise is going to be number one on my list – my lower back demands it. And I am determined to start one of the many books piling up in my bookshelf and it has to be fiction. The only thing stopping me is me!

This year Mums’ Night Out is focusing on this very important issue with the theme of ‘Nurturing My Self’. Psychologist and Aurora columnist, Tanya Russell, is going to be there to help mums like me learn how to take better care of ourselves and utilise mindfulness in our pursuit of a less hectic and more present reality. Mums, grandmothers and foster mums are invited to join us to find out the many small ways we can make self-care a priority every day.

Mums’ Night Out will be held on Tuesday 16 May at the Blackbutt Hotel, 80 Orchardtown Road, New Lambton, from 5.30pm. Cost is $20 per person. RSVP 4979 1134 by 8 May. 

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Joanne Isaac Image
Joanne Isaac

Joanne is a Communications Officer for the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle and a regular columnist for Aurora Magazine.

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