A blog from one of our Founders and mum of three, Kelly Slaughter, for Mental Health Awareness Week 2019.
If you’re on social media (and who isn’t?!), the chances are you’re inundated with multiple quotes and memes each day about positive thinking and ridding yourself of toxic energy. You know the sort of thing I mean. And if you’re a parent on social media, you’ll see the same stuff along with a giant dollop of lovely photos with guilt inducing captions about how much people love spending time with their children. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love seeing cute photos. I feel genuinely pleased for people who love spending every minute with their children but something I’ve realised (and not without a lot of self-criticism and soul-searching!) is that I don’t.
There, I said it AND I wrote it down!
(Some people will get to this part of my blog and judge me. But something else I’ve realised over the last four years is that the only people allowed to judge my parenting skills are my three children. And they are far too young to communicate anything other than a banana to the head or a tantrum over a tutu at this stage so ignorance is bliss!)
Mindlessly scrolling through Instagram or Facebook filled a small void during the long days I was at home (shock horror it’s boring singing baby shark for the 590th time!). But every time I saw something overly positive or lovely that I couldn’t relate to, it was like a little tick that I wasn’t doing a good job.
Add this to the other classic mum-guilt triggers we’re exposed to; competitive ante-natal group ‘friends’ (oh my 1 year old can count to 10 in French now), the confusing advice from different generations (in my day we dipped the dummy in whiskey), self-help books (and all the anecdotal mummy blogger ones too), child development timelines (basically a chart of how behind your child is), official guidance that changes yearly (can I eat smoked salmon or not?!) along with the sleep deprivation and you’ve got yourself a pretty clear confirmation that you’re a bad mum.
Mum-guilt. What a shitter.
We live in a pretty scary time pressuring ourselves to do EVERYTHING. Good mum, good wife, good girlfriend, good step-mum, good housekeeper, good gardener, good worker, good PTA fundraiser, good chef, well-dressed and well-presented, always smiling, always happy, always upbeat and positive. And what makes this even more terrifying is that social media has added to this pressure by presenting tiny squares and updates as a lifestyle when actually what we’re seeing is little snapshots, and something that’s often not even close to the truth.
Stop the world. I want to get off.
We end up doing so much for anyone and everyone else in an effort to prove we’re doing a great job, that we stop thinking about ourselves. Now if you’ve been reading any of those terrible inspirational quotes and memes we spoke about earlier, you might have seen a few about self-care. Those ones are worth paying attention to.
I recently saw one by an American poet and feminist that said: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.“
As mums (and wives, and girlfriends, and carers and PTA fundraisers and all that other stuff) we have to give a lot. But we can’t do that if we’re on empty ourselves. It’s that old cliché about not being able to pour from am empty cup isn’t it?
I couldn’t find a definition of what constitutes good self-care—it could be a date night with your other half, going to the gym, a spa day with the girls or even a coffee on your own for half an hour. But experts suggest it’s finding whatever mix of activities leaves you feeling balanced and like ‘yourself’ again. As mums (and dads too!) we lose our identity the minute we become parents (I’ve lost count of the times I’ve accidentally called my husband ‘daddy’ in a sleep deprived state!) and it’s so important that we remember the people we were before our children came along.
Our children should know those people too.
I really want my children to know the me before them. The fun me and not always the shouty mum! The person who was always ambitious and determined to make something of herself. I especially want my beautiful daughter to know this. I want her to be inspired by me and for me to set a good example. It would be my dream for her to want to be like me one day.
So, twice a week I dedicate two whole days to self-care. And for me that means getting dressed up in nice clothes (and sometimes heels!), packing my work bag and heading into the office.
I know it sounds insane.
But work is my self-care. I love running a business alongside my husband. I love the energy of our office and the dedication of our team. I love getting up two days a week and knowing I don’t have to hoover up rice-crispies and that I can go to the loo without a toddler trying to sit on my lap. Believe me, work-work is by far a much easier job than mum-work!
Work resets me each week. And I’m a better mum for it. On those days I look forward to doing bedtime instead of dreading it. I look forward to story-time instead of rushing it. I look forward to the cuddles that turn into tickles because I’ve missed hearing their laughs.
It’s not quantity of time that’s important to them, but quality of time.
And one of the best bits? When I walk through the door after a day in the office or half an hour in costa and my children rush to give me big cuddles just like they do their daddy on other days.
It’s not that easy for everyone I know.
Some mums aren’t lucky enough to be able to work (I wouldn’t be able to afford the costs of childcare if I didn’t work for myself) or have the support network that makes self-care easy for them. But there are a few things you can easily do to begin thinking about self-care:
1. Start small
Even if it’s just 15 minutes, if you can get it to yourself, take it! There’s almost nothing that can’t wait 15 minutes so pick up a book or make a cup of tea. You’ll be surprised how refreshed you feel afterwards.
It can be daunting to talk to other mums, especially if you’re on your own, but it will be worth it if you find someone who shares your interests. You might make a friend who’ll be happy to take your little one to the park while you have an hour in the gym, and then swap with you afterwards.
Putting things in the diary means you’re more likely to stick to it. It’s that simple.
4. Say no more
I’m really terrible at this but when I actually put it into practice, I notice the difference in how I feel immediately! It’s one of the hardest things to do but that’s because it brings big rewards.
5. Be conscious
If you feel like you’re at risk of running on empty, talk to someone before you reach that point. Talking about things really helps, even if it’s just a little moan to the lady in the library about how much you have on, you’d be surprised where you’ll find a sympathetic ear or offer of help!
6. Remind yourself
You are important. You need time too. You cannot do everything. You are important.
I teach my children that there’s nothing that can’t be undone with a fresh start. So think of self-care, 5 minutes with a hot tea or 2 days in the office, as time to reset yourself and fill up again.