At a company outing a few years ago, a pregnant colleague asked me about parenthood. “Are you happy? Everyone talks about being so tired…”
“Yes, I’m happy,” I answered and meant it. “It’s amazing…” I added, perhaps a little too quickly because she looked at me expectantly, sensing hesitation in my voice. “…but it’s hard.” I admitted.
I didn’t want to explain how much self-sacrifice is involved and I don’t mean jiggly abs or cleaning spit up. I mean lack of sleep…sometimes to the point of hallucinating and a long, emotional struggle to reestablish even a modest level of self-care.
What Did You Give Up?
Typically, to make space for the new you have to give something up. Before eagerly tossing everything out to make room for parenting, what were the ‘weight bearing walls’ of your happiness frame? Whatever habits you relied on to recover, relax, recharge or nourish yourself pre-kids probably don’t work (reliably) post-kids.
Erosion of self-care, like geological erosion, is so subtle you almost don’t feel it. It took a long time of feeling fraught for me to realize how unsustainable my life had become. I was forced to reexamine daily choices and reinvent my routines.
Do NOT Give These Things UP!
• Getting enough sleep (overall, day to day it’s not always possible)
• Regular exercise and movement
• Healthy habits – i.e. regular medical visits, nutritious meals
• Learning new things and acquiring different skills
• Creative outlets and hobbies
• Professional development (if you’re working)
Resist the societal norm to invest energy in our families at the expense of reasonable self-care! It’s not good for parents, children or communities.
Prioritizing & Making the Time
Even when I knew I wanted ‘more’ for myself… more learning, more unwinding, more peace and more growth, I couldn’t immediately find a path. I had to think deeply about what I wanted life to look like for myself and my family. I had to restore pausing to think and reflect before I could see life through the lens of possibility again.
It’s been a process, but I’ve set significant new habits in the past year that enable me to align my actions and intentions.
The 5 Highest Impact Changes I’ve Made
Meditation and Mindfulness: Everywhere you look there’s information about the benefits, yet when you’re getting started it’s challenging to maintain motivation and focus. It helped me to learn that everyone stumbles through and I meditate first thing each morning.
Sleeping More: Anything you read about productivity (now) emphasizes the importance of quality sleep. According to the National Institute of Health the average adult needs 7 – 9 hours per day. I’ve moved from a sketchy 5+ hours per night to getting 6 or 7. I rarely attend night events and make my children’s adherence to their sleep schedules (so I can stay on mine) a priority.
Boosting Daily Movement: The benefits of regular exercise are well documented. Although I run daily, I needed to bake more movement in throughout the day. After my run, I now turn a few quick cartwheels before I get ready for work. After seeing Margaret Moore speak about the book she co-authored, Organize your Mind, Organize Your Life (which I later read) I began using regular movement breaks during the day to boost energy. It works! I typically walk outside during lunch 15 to 20 minutes and get up for a 5-minute walk after 2 hours of computer time.
Scheduling Myself: We ‘schedule’ our kids and we ‘schedule’ meetings at work so I (initially) resisted the drudgery of further scheduling. However, it saves time and precious mental energy for better things. I began with morning and bedtime, then moved to ‘theming’ my work days (much of the time) i.e. Mondays prepare for meetings during the week. I also plan thoughtful work (writing, research, analysis) in the mornings when I’m most clear and push meetings, email replies and other tactical work to the afternoons or late evenings.
Reading More (& Diversifying Reading): As a child, I would return from the library each week with a stack of books so high that it was hard to carry. Yet, I went through a book drought for years… I was only reading business articles. I have returned to reading about life, productivity, leadership, health, food, science, neuroscience, biographies of incredible thinkers, et cetera.
Resources, Tools & Tips I’ve Relied On:
Helpful Tools & Tricks:
I loved this book for actual meditation guidance, Turning The Mind Into An Ally by Sakyong Mipham. For a rational explanation on why (and how) to get ‘out of my own head’ A New Earth, Awakening Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. My favorite guided meditation app (that I also use with my oldest child) is Stop, Breathe & Think.
Outlook/Google calendar: I have a daily ‘meeting’ with a reminder to start preparing for bed at 9 pm. Do I ignore this sometimes? Yes. However, the reminder has helped curb constantly going to bed well after 11 pm.
Exercise & Movement
My personal tools: gym membership (within a 10-minute walk from home), a running stroller and treadmill at home. Take the stairs whenever stairs are available.
I originally listened to this on the Productivityist podcast, however, it’s nicely explained in this blog post.
Audible for my commute and I keep physical books and magazines on my nightstand. I try to spend 30+ minutes before sleep technology free and reading a real book is a wonderful wind down.
Did I magically fit all of this in? Certainly not! It’s been a process of (always) examining my priorities and closely monitoring how I spend time. I now wake up extremely early (at least an hour and a half before my family) and have put many activities I used to enjoy aside (manicures, watching TV with my hubby, shopping at physical stores, getting to inbox zero, complicated meal prep, et cetera). At least for now.
Are you inspired? Where will you begin on your path to self-care?