Self-Care and Surviving The Holidays
What is self-care and what does it really look like?
For me, it’s this. Writing The Mom Report gives me the creative escape I so desperately desire in my new life as a stay-at-home mom. I love to write. I love to produce content. I love to create something from nothing to share with others. It’s a piece of me that was really hard to give up when I left my job as a news anchor. This platform has given me an outlet that allows me to keep my passion alive, if only on a small scale at the moment.
Mom life doesn’t leave much time in a day for us to focus on ourselves and our passions. We spend the whole day caring for others and can feel pretty depleted at the end of the day. I struggle with it every day because when a free moment finally presents itself I always feel like I should be doing something else like cleaning the dishes, folding the mountain of laundry that’s been sitting there for weeks, making a grocery list, taking an actual shower, etc.
It’s hard to find the time to focus on ourselves but we must.
Gracile Dawes is a licensed professional counselor who specializes in women’s health. She’s also a mom of three and totally gets it. She is here to help us understand the importance of self-care and teaches us how to make it a priority in our lives.
She also has some great advice for surviving the holidays without losing your sh*t!
What is self-care and what does it really look like?
Self-care is simply the things we do for ourselves that are essential for our health and well being. I tend to think of self-care a hierarchy. We start with the basics of sleep, nutrition, and exercise. We build up from there to things like spending time with friends, creative activities, and spiritual practices.
Why is it so important for moms to make this a priority?
You are your best gift to this crazy world. It’s not your kids or your career. It is how you, as a whole person, enter into all of the things of your life. It’s like the oxygen on the airplane. You will be no good to anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself. I often remind moms that their kids deserve the best mom they can be, but ultimately, I want moms to be their best because they know they are worth it. Period.
We’re not just talking about manicures and massages here. What are some important self-care things moms can do to for themselves?
Here’s the difficult part, self-care is not a one size fits all thing. Self-care is intimately connected to our self-awareness and and our self-understanding. Self-awareness is about knowing how you are doing in the moment. These are when those basic three things come in really strongly.
Are you exhausted and need go to bed early?
Have you been running around doing things for everyone else and not stopped to put one healthy thing in your mouth?
Have you been stuck in the house with sick kids and your body feels like it might explode from simply not being able to freely move?
Sleep, eat and exercise. These things are essential.
Self-Understanding is really knowing yourself as an individual, what restores and excites you, what nourishes you. A big challenge with self-understanding is that it seems like life was one big rush to accomplish things. College, career, romance/marriage, babies…It was exhausting just to get here. There is no way around it. We all need to slow down, even if just for a moment to understand what will really restore us.
Do you need to go out and walk or run alone? Do you need to have an uninterrupted conversation with a close friend? While we see other women a good bit, when our kids are around, our attention is divided and our ability to really be honest and vulnerable is so limited. Do you have a creative outlet, like art or writing? Do you love to go out and have a blast with friends? Do you love to dive in to a great book? That is mine. I love the crafting of words. I’m fascinated by an author’s ability to string together words to transport me, educate me, challenge me. I knew I was in trouble when I couldn’t remember the last book I had read, and I knew I was going to be ok when my husband gave me a biography of Thomas Jefferson. In that moment, it was like he really saw me and handed me this little key back to myself.
There is only so much time in a day and moms typically spend the whole day taking care of everyone else. How can we find/make the time to focus on ourselves?
Figure out how other people can help you have some time. Can you swap some childcare time with a friend? Is there a grandparent who can help out some? Is there a gym with childcare? Who can take care of your kids for a short period of time while they are awake? And please don’t run errands during this precious time. I know it’s tempting to go to the grocery store alone, but that is not self-care.
Utilize nap time and room time. Everyone needs some quiet alone time. Just because your kid doesn’t nap, doesn’t mean you lose this time. I was pretty passionate about this with my kids. I worked with teens who had no idea what the difference was between being alone and being lonely. Our kids need the skill of being content when alone. And moms need the time as well.
Practice focusing your attention for just a moment on something really great. Look for the sweet or beautiful small moments during your day. Take a moment to stop and let it sink in. Allow yourself to smile and let that feeling sink in with a few breaths. It only takes a few seconds, but its so good. Side note: Put the technology away on occasion while you breastfeed or join in watching a cartoon. If you are really worn out, the temptation to zone out on social media or reply to an email while you have a still second is strong. And it is totally fine to do those things, but if you put the phone down and allow some quiet time as you nurse or snuggle, your body will give you a better boost of oxytocin which is a really awesome feel good hormone.
How can we enjoy that “me time” without feeling guilty about it?
This is something I’m pretty passionate about. I am done with the submissive, servant, martyr woman archetype. Don’t buy into that line that you are selfish and run from anyone who speaks it to you! You are worthy and valuable. That body of yours made babies, or is raising babies. It a miracle and a lot of work. Honor that and take care of yourself. In the quiet moments, lean in to your own wisdom. What is that deep truth inside you saying? Inside of you there is a place where you know how valuable and worthy you are. Listen to that. Honor that.
The holidays can be completely overwhelming, how can we weave this practice into the holiday madness and why should we?
Oh gosh. This topic makes me sweat! It’s just so hard. Grandparents are so excited about having the magic of a baby or little kids for the holidays. And let be honest…It is pretty amazing. If we can let go of the idea of obligations, we are on the right track.
Sure there are great family traditions that have kept people connected, but they may just not work for your family this year. Remember that internal wisdom you have. Give that some space to help you make these decisions. If you are thinking through an upcoming event and you know it will exhaust everyone and just thinking about it drains you, don’t go. Figure out what you will say to decline or cancel and stick to it. “Mom, that has always been so fun in the past, but it just isn’t going to work for my family this year. I’m sorry” Don’t give extensive explanations or excuses because this just leads to arguments and guilt. Stick to your decision, and repeat yourself if necessary.
Once you clear your schedule some, look at the things you and your partner want to do. Time to edit this list too. Talk through the top priorities. Make sure you have time for them and then schedule in some margin. How many mornings do you guys want to stay in pajamas until lunch? What night are you going to bathe the kids early so you can drive around and look at lights? Figuring out your holidays is a process. Throughout each season and from one year to the next it is important to look at what is working and what isn’t.
What are your top tips to keeping our sanity over the holidays?
Lead with “No” unless it is a “Hell Yes!” If you tell someone that you are already booked and can’t make their thing work, you avoid arguments with your significant other about committing to too much, and if you think about it and decide it will work, it’s easy and fun to then go back and say yes.
Remember you can only control so much. As much as you try to temper the grandparents about gifts, they always seem to go over the top. Try sneaking some of those toys to the closet after the wrapping was off and pull them out on those rainy days in January and February. Little kids get sick over the holidays. They always do! At any moment, your entire schedule and plan may get tossed in the trash and in its place is doctor’s visits and sleepless nights. It will happen. It stinks. There is nothing you can do about it.
Be okay with disappointing people. You will disappoint people and in their disappointment, they may try to use guilt to try to change your decision. It’s ok, for them and for you. That person just loves you and yours and wanted to do something special. They can handle being disappointed and you can be strong in your decision.
Let YOUR TRIBE help keep you sane! You know those friends with whom you can 100% be yourself and it is just easy. I have to see these women. One friend hosts the messiest cookie party, we all pitch in toppings, the kids make cookies that look terrible, we drink wine. I’m generally in sweatpants. It’s good for my soul! Who is your person that gives you genuine friendship? What are easy ways to spend time together?
My tradition: My kids are a little bigger now, so one of the last nights of the holiday break, we take all the ornaments off the tree and put up all the decorations. But here is the fun part. With just the lone tree and white lights, we push the living room furniture back, and have a slumber party. We watch some cartoon holiday movie of their choice and then fall asleep with the soft glow of Christmas lights. My husband and I also have a bottle of champagne on Christmas eve as we wrap presents and prepare for Christmas morning. It helps remind us that we have so much to celebrate.
Thanks to Gracile for taking the time to help us learn how to prioritize ourselves. If you’d like to see more of her great work and advice you can visit her website here!