I came to the realization yesterday that I've moved into the "veteran mom" category. I've been doing this for nearly 14 years, and admittedly, I have struggled through a significant portion of those years. I didn't sleep. I erratically ate. Some days I'd get the itch to exercise, but then I'd go months without doing anything at all. I consumed too many sweets. Had a few too many adult beverages. Never took time for myself.
I became a shell of who I am...and not for just a sliver of time.
Can you relate?
I suspect it was quite early in my mothering years when I veered off-track. I had dreamed of being a mother for years and wanted to do it right (whatever that meant). After wrapping up the last few weeks of the school year after my maternity leave was up, I devoted my life to raising our family. Little did I know how isolated I would become.
When our son was born, we hadn't yet lived in our home for a year and I had no local social circle, let alone one that included new moms. It was winter and I essentially spent each weekday alone with my infant son in our house. In hindsight, I'm quite sure I had postpartum depression, but I would have never alluded to a soul that I was struggling.
I had a miscarriage a few weeks before his first birthday. It was heartbreaking, but I shoved those emotions down after a few weeks and carried on. We went on to have two more children, born within 17 months of each other, and then added one more a few years later. My life was babies, babies, babies and as much as I'd love to say I thrived, I did not.
I grew resentful.
When our younger son developed difficult behaviors and responded to none of the traditional child-rearing techniques used to squelch those behaviors, I grew frustrated and angry. When the school wouldn't accommodate our older son with nut allergies, and later, not even acknowledge our younger son clearly had disabilities impeding his education, I grew increasingly overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed. And I stayed in that state for a very long time. Years, in fact.
Which brings me to the present. 2020 was an incredibly challenging and emotionally-charged year, but once I got over the initial shock of our world literally being turned upside down, it was the year where I finally took time for myself. It helped that my husband's typical hectic travel schedule came to a screeching halt and for the first time since I had kids, he was home every day. I read and adopted the principles from The Miracle Morning and for five months, I stuck to the plan. I felt like a new person.
And then I stopped. My husband returned to the field and I let myself fall back into old habits. It didn't take long to morph back into the less-than-ideal version of myself. I was no longer starting my day with a full tank and it showed. My patience grew thin. My energy level decreased. The depression crept in and took hold.
I've had enough. I'm going back to my routine, though a modified version, and I fully expect to see a significant change in my mood and energy level within weeks, if not days.
I created a tool, Today's 3 to Take Care of Me. Each night, before I go to bed, I will write down three things I will do the next day that will fill up my tank. Those three activities are non-negotiable. It could be as simple as taking a walk, reading for a half hour, and practicing the guitar or it could be a little more involved and include meeting a friend for tea, going to the beach for a few hours, or shopping.
As a veteran mom, I know deep down in my core I need to breathe. I need space to grow as an individual and an identity outside of "mom." I wish I would have learned this lesson before I gave birth to my first child. I think our entire family would have been much better off if I had. We're human. We have limits.
If you're raising an exceptional child, your tank may have run dry years ago and never been refilled. It's not sustainable. Take it from someone who has learned the hard way. We are not designed to be under constant stress. We are not designed to be on the clock 24/7. It may be hard to get out of the house and engage in activities that fill you up, but you must find a way.
We are better mothers (and spouses, significant others, friends, daughters, sisters, aunts) when we do. We can find a million excuses why we can't, but we simply need to find and accept the one reason why we should: it is an absolute necessity.
I hope you'll give this tool a shot. Print it off, place it in a sheet protector, laminate, or cover in contact paper to make it reusable. Hang it where you'll see it first thing in the morning and throw all of those excuses out the window. You can do it. I believe in you!