We never planned on having babies 22 months apart, but it happened—and we were thrilled. My mum, however, was concerned.
At the time I thought she was being a party pooper. Little did I know, her worry- ing wasn’t unfounded. Taking care of two under 2 those first few months almost killed me. Between recovering from a C-section, tending to a sick newborn and a very energetic toddler, and transitioning to being a family of four, it was a lot—to put it mildly.
I will forever be grateful to my mum for being my coach and my rock those first few weeks after baby Teddy was born. For fielding all my teary phone calls and frantic texts. She was an absolute godsend.
She firmly encouraged me to avoid placing unrealistic expectations on myself as a mother and wife and to just take it one day at a time. Before my mother left our brand-new family of four after doting on us during our first week home from the hospital, she said, “Brace yourself. And please make sure to eat—because you are responsible for feeding another person right now.”
As long as we were all fed, it would all be OK. We didn’t get much sleep. (Well, perhaps with the exception of my firstborn, Birdie.) We didn’t do too many exciting things. We didn’t get out much. I didn’t “accomplish” anything it seemed—but hey, we made it!
Some days I would spend up to four hours rocking Teddy to keep him from screaming and vomiting, and telling myself over and over again that tomorrow would be better was the only way I could survive. Sometimes the next day was better. Sometimes it wasn’t. But it was the hope of improvement that kept me going.
We threw sleep training out the window, stopped counting how many hours of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” Birdie watched and made macaroni and cheese with our eyes closed. I became OK with wearing yoga pants every day and occasionally stained shirts, too. We all ate breakfast in bed daily—and by “breakfast” I mean a granola bar and squeezable yogurt. I showered when I could, which was rarely, and slowly buried my type A personality.
The only thing I refused to let go of was a clean house. For some reason, it was closely tied to my sanity. I felt that as long as our home was clean I could pretend like everything else was fine, too. Other than that, I just went with the flow and took what moments of privacy, clarity and quiet I could get.
And then, as with most things in life, the tides began to change. My feisty toddler acquired the vocabulary she so desperately needed to express herself, and the tantrums all but disappeared. My baby became a toddler and outgrew both the acid reflux and dairy intolerance. He learned to walk and even say “mama” and “papa.” All of a sudden I was finding myself with time on my hands, and I began to realize that I had almost completely lost touch with myself. I had spent so much time sacrificing all of myself to these little people that I was completely depleted.
But, little by little, I began to put back together the pieces of myself that had been locked away and placed on the tallest shelf. And it feels so good to finally do things just for myself again.
The biggest change, however, has been that I feel it’s made me a better mother. Investing in myself gives me more patience, grace and strength. Because, let’s be honest, running on empty doesn’t benefit anyone.
So, for the other mamas out there who find themselves in the same boat and feel a bit lost in the sea of motherhood, I’m sharing a few things that I do now on an almost-daily basis (and I wish I had done more of from the beginning) that help me feel happier, content and excited about enjoying each day.
1. Take a moment in the morning to pick out an outfit that doesn’t feature fitness apparel.
I do my hair, put on a little make-up, and spritz some perfume. It’s amazing how much confidence it gives me.
2. Find a little pocket of time during the day (not at night when I can barely keep my eyes open) to read something.
A magazine, a chapter in a book, a short poem or article. I find that doing this plants a little bud of something for my mind to chew on throughout the day that has nothing to do with diapers, meal planning, laundry or baths.
3. Avoid spending every naptime doing laundry or cleaning.
It’s terribly tempting, but tending to chores every free moment leaves me feeling completely burned out. Instead I’ve tried to alternate between chores and something that feels selfish and restorative, like writing, reading, listening to music or even scrolling through my social media feeds.
4. Eat my breakfast alone.
This is the one time during the day when I allow the kids to watch whatever they want for a half hour. They’re not ready for breakfast this early, so I’ll usually give them some Cheerios to munch on and head downstairs. I’ll make myself a pot of coffee and a bowl of yogurt and enjoy a few minutes of quiet to set my mind straight for the upcoming day.
5. Plan a “me date” once a week.
One evening a week when my husband, Kevin, gets home from work, he either takes the kids to the park for two or three hours or I leave. It’s my time to decompress from all the whining, clinging, cooking, cleaning and general mommy-ing. And it’s key to my sanity.
6. Have a spa night.
I don’t splurge on massages, manicures, facials or blowouts, but once a week I treat myself to all of that at home. It’s not as luxurious, but there’s something delightful about a nice hot bath and pampering right before climbing into your own bed.
It doesn’t sound like a lot, but—trust me—it makes a huge difference. It’s just a few tweaks here and there, but the change is invaluable. Our kids deserve to have mommies who feel happy, fulfilled and taken care of. And finding out what makes you feel those things is just as important as taking care of your babies. Investing in your own well-being is investing in the well-being of your family.