Learning to look after myself

Leo went back to school today, so the Christmas holidays are officially over.

We had a lot of fun. It was nice to have both boys at home together and not be always hurrying to get out the door for school or waking Clem up from his nap to pick Leo up in the afternoon. I am looking forward to having more time to blog and show our book to a few bookshops.

Over the holidays I started to read Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Daily Lives. It gave me a lot to think about and spurred me on to think about habits I’d like to keep, lose and begin in my life. But I felt a hopeless about implementing her suggestions into my life, to be honest. It sounded like a lot of work and I didn’t have the energy. Clem had just been really sick and I was tired and run-down from the frenetic lead-up to Christmas.

Then! In January I went to the dentist and he told me that I have been grinding my teeth in my sleep. I have never ground my teeth before, so I felt really freaked out to have started. What was it all about?!

With Gretchen’s words fresh in my mind, I decided that I needed to assess my life and ask myself some questions. Things needed to change.

I want to share the questions with you, because answering them has been very clarifying for me.

  1. What I need to do to look after myself
  2. Why do I need to look after myself? What’s at stake?
  3. What if? Then… (if I fall off the wagon this is a plan for how to get back on)
  4. Potential excuses and responses to them
  5. Why do I find it hard to look after myself?
  6. What’s not on the self-care plan i.e. not important
  7. Who can I check in with?
  8. Why can’t I get off the hook?
  9. Resources
  10. Treats that are good for me

Answering these questions I learnt that I totally do know how to look after myself, but I just don’t put it into action sometimes. I know all of my excuses and how to counteract them, but I choose not to.

After writing up all my answers with pen and paper, I made a one pager that I can stick up on the fridge and remind me what my mission is. Writing up this plan feels like I have a mission in life and everything else flows from here.

self care plan

It’s all about fitting your oxygen mask before fitting anyone else’s.

Women especially are taught to look after others before themselves, and I definitely struggle with that. If I’m depleted myself I am terrible at looking after others, and yet I’ve done it all the time. Both before and after having children (I used to always be the friend who looked after everyone in high school for example).

When we were writing You’re Doing Great, Baby we had a line in there that we eventually took out, but it’s very relevant here:

I have all these parenting books on the shelf,
But sometimes it’s hard to look after myself.

The things on my list of things I need to do to look after myself are things I already did to varying degrees, but now it feels more binding. It’s powerful to have recommitted to why I want/need to look after myself.

It takes the element of decision making out of when to do yoga, for example, because I’ve written down the potential days and times I have each week and set myself a minimum number of times a week to get on my mat.

I’ve discovered there’s a great strength and self confidence that comes from choosing rules and then sticking to them. It’s not going to be perfect, and it will evolve over time, but I get excited every time I look at my one-pager. It’s all my favourite stuff (that it’s easy not to make time for).

Since committing to this self care plan things have felt like they’re falling into place. I am excited for the year ahead.

Wishing all of you a healthy and happy 2016. Have faith that you are where you need to be right now. You’re doing great.

Things are going to turn out fine

Leo has a big head (literally) and it took him a little while to be able to hold his head up as a baby. I remember starting at our mothers’ group and everyone else’s babies holding their heads up and me worrying that he’d never do it.

Intellectually I knew that he would learn to hold it up, but I was worried because I was a first-time Mum and a Virgo. Jeff (ever the diffuser of worry) bet me $5 that he would learn to hold his head up (easiest $5 he’s ever made).

I made a resolution with myself that I would remember this and never be worried about him meeting another milestone again because otherwise I saw a big worry career stretched out in front of me… I’ve mostly keep to it but there are exceptions 😉

I figure that it can’t be just me who’s worried before, so in the interests of sharing our vulnerabilities rather than just saying how easy/perfect/fun everything is, here are some things I’ve stressed about that have eventually turned out just fine.

  1. Potty training. I read books about it and heard horror stories and then when he was ready it gradually happened.
  2. Leo learning to swim.
  3. Having another baby. How would I manage? How/where/when would the little one sleep?
  4. Transition to pre-school/school.
  5. My mental health after having another baby, having had such a scary experience first time round.

The big theme of these worries when I look at them is the worry of you or your kid being seen as a failure. Or that you do something that scars your kid, or that they get made fun of, or that your friends/family think you’re not a good parent.

A big factor that can diffuse a lot of those worries is doing stuff in your own (or your kid’s own) time. It sucks when there’s an external force dictating when something needs to happen but that’s modern life I guess. Wherever possible it’s awesome to be able to cut yourself some slack and let things unfold in their own time.

In fact, I am always amazed at how elegantly kids solve all sorts of parental concerns by just being themselves. They are much better at adjusting than adults.

Having Leo come into my life has helped me conquer a lot of my own fears. I’ve learnt to speak out, say ‘no’ when I need to and look after myself. I’ve also learnt to open my eyes under water and jump into a pile of foam blocks at SkyZone.

They are amazing teachers.

You deserve a break

I had a realisation the other night that I’m living in survival mode a lot of the time.

It’s a very privileged version of survival mode. My family and I are safe, sheltered and fed. There’s space for yoga sometimes and deep breaths and a lot of laughter, but there’s also times when I raise my voice, lose my patience, tell Leo to hurry-hurry-hurry, and berate myself about being late or not getting something done.

I often feel like I’m constantly lurching from one thing to the next. Frazzled.

I am often doing multiple things at once and there’s also a lot of weighing up of different priorities going on in the background: Clem’s sleeps, keeping us all fed, clothed and bathed, correspondence, shopping lists, logistics planning, school-related admin, general life admin, calling people back because my phone is always on silent, family wellness, work deadlines, Kickstarter reward fulfilment, social commitments, Leo’s needs and wants, Clem’s needs and wants, Jeff’s needs and wants, my needs and wants, SLEEP…

There’s a lot of ‘I’ll just do this’, which leads to ‘I’ll just do that too’, which means I often don’t get to the bit where I feel a sense of accomplishment and give myself (or my kids) a moment of pause.

And I’m not the only one. A lot of my conversations with friends lately include talking about how torn we feel.

A big giveaway that I’m in crisis management mode is that I hoard food. I started hoarding food when I was very pregnant with Clem and having had a taste of it (haha), I can’t stop. Instead of buying one packet of corn thins I buy a box of them. We have 10kg of flour under the kitchen table and many, many tins of tuna underneath the bed. We rented a chest freezer a while back and I don’t know when I’m going to be ready to say goodbye to it. It’s all a bit crazy-cat-lady (minus the cat).

When Clem was brand-new-little and Jeff has just gone back to work, I had a sign on the fridge to remind me that all that mattered was: love, rest, play and food and drink for everyone. I was trying to manage my expectations of what constituted a good day because I am notoriously overly ambitious about what I can accomplish each day. Tabitha wrote about this beautifully.

Just because your day isn’t newsworthy or the fodder for great anecdotes, doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. You are accomplishing something monumentally important, but quietly. Every one of those days when you have nothing to report, or no goals kicked, you have been chaperoning a little human through dozens of amazing little milestones, most of them imperceptible to us, and certainly not worthy of retelling, but life-changing for these tiny babies.

But once our babies are no longer newborns and life gets a bit easier, it’s tempting to throw more and more things in the mix. Our book and everything that’s come from it: this blog, the kickstarter, my talk – are all good examples.

I thought my days of holding onto being busy as a badge of honour were over, but I am still doing it. Enjoying the buzz of lots going on. Loving a lot of what I’m doing, but also feeling stressed out and stretched a lot of the time. I’m sure you can identify. We are busy-o-holics in our culture.

Our house
Our house looks like this a lot of the time

Cutting corners

We need to celebrate the corners we cut! The things we don’t do!

I don’t hold the key to simplifying, but in an efforts to take the pressure down in our household I’ve tried:

  • Lowering my standard of tidiness.
  • Sharing household chores with Jeff: cooking, tidying, washing, shopping etc.
  • Having cleaners once a week.
  • Embracing odd socks and crumpled clothes i.e. no ironing
  • Wearing a uniform on the days I’m home (black pants, t-shirt, woollen hoodie) so I don’t have to think about what to wear.
  • Online shopping.
  • Rotation of meals and snacks (hummus, vegie sticks, muffins, creamed corn, egg mayo, croissants, melted cheese and corn thins are key).
  • Freezing big batches of soup/stew for my lunches during the week.
  • Washing my hair once a week (I used to do it every day).
  • Hanging out the washing with as few pegs as possible (surely not that much of a time-saver but it feels very efficient).
  • Having things going overnight so they’re ready first thing in the morning: washing machine, dishwasher, bread maker etc.

I know you have your list of these things too. Please share them in the comments or on the Facebook page – I’d love to hear them!

Something I majorly need to work on in order to simplify my/our life is saying ‘no’ or ‘not now’ … to myself when I want to add another thing to our schedule, to other people when it’s something that’s going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I’m getting better with this but I still find saying ‘no’ really hard.

If you’re anything like me you have really high standards for yourself but beating yourself up about life being too messy/full on/not organised enough isn’t actually going to help.

I’m going to make an effort to tell myself I’m doing great this week, because I’m obviously feeling like a need a break, and the best person to give ourselves a break is us.

WE ARE DOING GREAT. Tell yourself. Tell a friend. We really are.

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