Written by guest-blogger: Jennifer Helms
About six months ago, I was in bad shape. I weighed more than I had ever weighed (without being pregnant), I was drinking too many soft drinks, I was missing my friends, and I was not exercising at all. Oh, of course, my kids were in great shape – eating nutritious meals, having great playdates, and exercising daily. My husband was in great shape – exercising four times a week, hanging out with his friends, and eating all the right foods.
I was at a point where I was embarrassed to be seen. I skipped my 20th high school reunion. I avoided seeing my reflection in mirrors. And I refused to have my picture taken with my own kids. This had to stop.
So, when we started this new school year, I made a New Year resolution to pull myself together. Since late-August, I have lost 15 pounds, I am down to 1.5 diet sodas a day, I take vitamins every day, I have had 2 massages, I exercise 4 times a week, I have planned a spa weekend with a friend, and I taught myself how to ride a bike (again). And guess what? The world did not fall apart. My kids are doing great. I am more fun to live with. I have 3 extra hours worth of energy in each day. And I have learned several things about how to take care of myself along the way:
Lesson 1: It is okay to spend money on my own healthful activities. I sign my kids up (and pay) for so many children’s activities without thinking twice: tennis, ballet, art, music, therapies, and gymnastics, but I have always resisted the idea of spending money on my own personal health. Things like a personal trainer, workout equipment, facials, gym memberships, massages, etc. have always seemed so indulgent. Well, if my kids get it, then I get it.
Lesson 2: Do not rearrange your own plans to accommodate everyone else’s schedules. I began to notice I am always cancelling my own appointments when someone needs something. I stopped doing that. If my child needs to go to the dentist, then I just need to find a time that is not during my workout, my lunch date, or my own dentist appointment. My needs and my fun are no longer the lowest priority. Latest example: Today after work, I planned to get blood work done (per Lesson 8). The plumber called to say he could come today to fix our broken sink at the same time I was planning to get the blood drawn. Old me: skip the blood work; the family needs a working sink immediately. New me: Sorry, I have a plan. You can keep me on the schedule for tomorrow. Guess what – no one has even noticed our sink is broken!
Lesson 3: I get my own playdates. If my husband and kids get playdates, then I should, too. And newsflash: No one begrudges my playdates (okay, my three-year old does, but oh well). I have made time with my friends and my own down-time a priority. If I need to stay in bed and watch TV all day, then I do it. If I want to talk to my girlfriends over dinner on a Tuesday, I do it. If I want to spend 45 minutes browsing through the bookstore, then I do it. Which leads me to . . .
Lesson 4: Delegate and ask for HELP! I now realize it is completely unrealistic to think I could do four part-time jobs and still be nice, fun, attractive, and healthy. No one can take good care of two kids, a job, a home, a marriage, and a self. Impossible (at least for me). I began to ask my husband to help out more – with carpool, groceries, errands, breakfast, nights off, bedtimes, etc. He has done everything I asked - willingly and good-naturedly. He just did not know what I needed or how to help because I never asked! I have asked my mother-in-law to take each child one day a week (which is scheduled and on her calendar and on our calendar). This has been great for everyone. (Caveat: You cannot expect everyone to do it your way. Let it go. If they do it 65% right, that’s good enough. Good enough is good enough.)
Lesson 5: Let go of the guilt. For many reasons, our generation of mothers believes we should be doing everything with our children or they will not succeed in life. We read books and articles ad nauseam about how to care for their nutrition, their fitness, their education, their values, and their socialization. We are overwhelmed with the “have-tos” and are terrified of screwing up. The kids I grew up with who turned out the best had mothers who loved them and tended to them in a sensible way. Those moms talked to their friends on the phone and read magazines. They had lunch with their friends. They shopped for themselves. They went to parties on the weekends wearing pretty dresses and jewelry. Babysitters took care of the kids on the weekends. Those moms let us find our own way sometimes. And remember, children learn from other caregivers. They learn how to respect others’ rules and ways. They learn they are loved by someone else. This dovetails into . . .
Lesson 6: Find a great babysitter/mother’s helper – now. In order to delegate, you have to find someone to delegate to. Call a service, talk to your friends, ask your kids’ teachers for referrals. Then, once you have found this babysitter/mother’s helper, have her play with one child while you help the other with homework or prepare dinner, or take a nap! Have a babysitter stay with one child while you take another to sports. Have a babysitter stay with your children one weeknight, so you can go to dinner and the bookstore with a friend, or with your husband, or your mom, or by yourself! No, it may not be absolutely necessary, and yes, the homework probably will not get done correctly, but this is how you nourish yourself!
Lesson 7: Spend (quality) time with your husband. It does not count if you are comatose in your own bed with goo on your clothes and mascara smeared down your face after fixing three dinners for three kids, giving three baths, and conducting three bedtimes. Get that trusty babysitter, put on a decent outfit, pick a decent place to go, and smile and talk. After a few tries, your old self will begin to emerge. You will see that fun girl your husband fell in love with. And he will appreciate your effort and see it too. Bonus: This teaches your son that when he grows up, he is supposed to take his wife out on dates and it teaches your daughter that she should expect her husband to take her out on dates. It also reinforces to our children that we love each other and enjoy spending time together, which provides them a sense of peace and security.
Lesson 8: Take care of your body. Go get some multivitamins and take them when your kids take theirs. Go to the doctor when you make appointments for your kids. Go to the dentist when you make appointments for your kids. Sit at the table and eat a meal when your kids sit and eat theirs. If they want more water or seconds, they can wait until you are finished or get their own! And forget trying to cook from scratch. We are fortunate to have access to tons of prepared foods and prepared meals – buy them and try them. (Now, if one of your favorite things in the world to do is cook from scratch, do it! And make the kids help, or do their homework, or play quietly. And when they run in crying or whining, do not sigh and say to yourself, “I knew this would be impossible.” Try this instead, “I am busy cooking. You are welcome to help me. You are always so helpful. Oh, you don’t want to help me? Okay, then you have ten more minutes to play before dinner is ready.”)
Lesson 9: Get organized. Many of us type-A moms are natural-born organizers. If you are not, hire someone to help you (see Lessons 1 and 4). Plan your meals and delegate, get the store to shop for you (some offer this), or do the shopping on the weekend (while you delegate someone to watch the kids!). Put a family schedule up each week so everyone can see what is going on. Every detail of everyone’s life does not have to reside in your head alone. Plan all the ways people are going to help you this week (carpool help, playdates, mother’s helper, grandma day). Have someone watch your kids while you do all this organizing. Trust me, it makes the week run so much smoother and everyone does not have to ask you what is going on every day!
Lesson 10: Learn to say “no” to others. “Mom, can you get me some water?” “Mom, can you switch the TV channel?” “Mom, can we go play outside?” “Mom, can we go to the bookstore?” “Mom, can we bake a cake?” “Mom, can you help me with my homework?” It is okay to say no. Not never. Just not right this very second. They may as well learn to wait now. They will be waiting for stuff their entire lives. They can just wait –wait for you to take a shower, blow dry your hair, finish a chapter, make a phone call, read your People magazine. Then, when you are done, make the cake. Give it 100%. Have fun sharing those moments with your children.
Jennifer is a lawyer and a mother to three and a half year old daughter and 9-year-old son. She lives in Dallas, Texas and writes as part of her own self-care! Thank you Jennifer for sharing of yourself with us. If you would also like to guest-blog for CORE Parent Coaching please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org