As a single mom, I spent years working myself into the ground. Between a full time job and being the only one at home, I was pulled to give every last scrap of energy I had to my daughter. I came home at 5pm and made those three hours together every night full of laughter and adventure and routines and connection. I would obsess over how much eye contact I had made with her– was I distracted by cooking dinner or tending to a work crisis? Was I present ENOUGH? It was the right thing to do: I was learning how to be a mom and all of us try to pour everything we have into our children. I don’t regret it. But it took its toll on me.
Since then I’ve been learning the ways that work for me to ensure that my life is front and center so I can take care of myself and retain my own identity. One facet of my life is my relationship to my daughter and parenting, but I have many other needs, passions, and projects in the world. Taking my self-care seriously involves things like drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, and making sure I exercise. For sure, it means simplifying and delegating so that you aren’t the only one doing all the work. Also, self-care can include journaling, getting a nice cup of tea, or getting a walk.
Here are five of my recent discoveries about what works for me to take care of myself and keep myself central.
Get a babysitter for no reason
Ever had a friend ask you to lunch on Saturday and you decline because just the thought of texting around to find a babysitter was too exhausting? And the lunch date (though sure to be fun) wasn’t worth the effort? Maybe a night out for a concert or something but just lunch? Not worth the transaction cost. And then there’s the fact that I haven’t spontaneously asked someone to do something out of the blue in years because who does that when you’ve got a toddler in tow? I missed my single friends, I missed lazing around on a Saturday. I resented the toddler who unwrapped forty bandaids on the bathroom floor and ate one bite out of six apples she left like easter eggs around the house… all before 9am on a Saturday, giving me a picture of my whole weekend in one symbolic morning.
So now, most weekends, I get a babysitter for three hours for no reason. I get the babysitter and then I plan what to do with the time. It allows me to text a friend and say “I have a babysitter for three hours. Lunch?” or to take my book with me to lunch by myself and have a blissful hour of no demands.
Ask people to do things for you
Motherhood is the process of learning how to make a home and how to raise children and then being forever the only one who can perform those duties. For single moms, there are tradeoffs. On the one hand, there’s no one to help. On the other hand, there’s no one to resent, so it’s a tossup. I find lots of ways to bring people into our lives to help me with a huge variety of things. Some of those people are folks I pay to help with cleaning, babysitting, and the lawn. But there are a lot of ways I have had to get past my isolation and ask for help from friends and family, and that effort has been worth it.
Learn how to cure small ailments
One empowering and creative part of my life is learning how to be my own witchy medicine woman. You have a scratchy throat? I’ve got zinc spray. Babe can’t sleep? Lavender ylang ylang roller to the rescue. Tangled hair? Vinegar spray. Stomach ache? Peppermint oil. Mom caught hand, foot, and mouth from the baby? I have six different oils and a specific order to use them, plus elderberry syrup to build up your immune system in the meantime.
It used to be that I would discover one of us was sick WELL into the problem and now the rash has taken over her whole body or I am stuck on a Sunday night going to the ER because I think I have strep throat and hadn’t noticed until I couldn’t swallow or speak. When you have a closet full of soothing oils and a few reference books (and the internet) it’s easy to take self-care seriously and ward off lots of the little ailments with home remedies before it gets serious. It’s not only awesome to be able to take care of my health myself, but it does make me more aware of the early signs of sickness so I can be perpetually putting my wellness first.
Put your kids to bed, already
When my daughter was 2 years old she gave up her nap and I was devastated. All that good mid-day mom time on the weekends, gone. Goodbye to meal-prepping for the week on Sunday afternoon without an appendage. Goodbye, chickens getting their coop deep-cleaned every week. (Sorry girls). Goodbye, mom doing nothing as a break from the extended fort making session of the morning. Goodbye, mom time. Except… bedtime is still our time. So put your kids to bed already and take back some of that time.
I saw this handy chart about when you’re supposed to put your kids to bed, and I believe in it. My daughter goes to bed by 7:30 every night because we wake up at 6:30 on weekday mornings. Bedtime’s not always easy (amiright) so we start at 6:30 and I hope to be done by 7:30. Depends on the night. But reclaiming some time for yourself in the evening is really important, and the kids actually need their sleep too!
Have a hobby (or ten)
One feature of life without kids is TIME to do stuff that is extra. Extra curricular time disappears with parenthood, from reduced exercise time to giving up fun hobbies that gave your life meaning and joy.
As a person who has always had a thousand projects going at once, I really mourned the loss of my own personal projects in my early years of motherhood. I craved a good DIY project, a craft to lose myself in or a new dance class to join. Once my daughter was old enough that my hobby didn’t have to be figuring HER out, I started to add back those joyful activities that gave my life meaning and made me feel like myself.
The pace is slower. The volume is low. The number of projects you can do is far less than you remember. So when you’re scouring pinterest and find three related things to make, don’t get the supplies for all three because they’ll be in the basement for six months. Just do a small thing and treasure that effort and time. Get a babysitter weekly for that dance class or set up your art “studio” in a corner of the kitchen so you can get it in during the 15 minutes that you have. But add something back to your life that isn’t related to making life better for someone else, and you’ll find it’ll help to make your life more central