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This is an article I wrote many years ago now. The original was printed in the AMBA Magazine Vol 5, Issue 1, May 2010.  I was reading over it this morning when looking for something else.  It struck me as ironic that I wrote something all about looking after yourself and it is the very thing I neglected to do.  I ended up having a monumental breakdown of my own.  It would seem that I am probably not the person to give any advice on looking after yourself.  

Slowly, very, very slowly I am trying to dig my way out of the hole that I have found myself in.  I still find myself in.  I still find myself in the darkness most days but there are little glimmers of light and hope that sneak through every now and then.  Perhaps this time instead of just writing or reading I should try acting on some of my own advice.* 

When I wrote this article originally I asked Shiona Long a life coach for her five top tips for women on how to look after themselves.  Enjoy.

Guilt, guilt and more guilt is the primary feeling of most mothers today.  We feel guilty for not contributing to the family budget financially; we feel guilty for yelling at the kids; we feel guilty for not spending enough time with the children; guilty that our children aren’t reading by the age of 3 but others’ are; guilty for spending too little time with our partners; guilty if we take time for ourselves; we feel guilty for feeling guilty because that is self indulgent.  Ugh I don’t know about you but I find all the guilt exhausting!

I understand that my home functions better when I am at my best but it is can be hard to find my best when I am bogged down in the daily grind of laundry, nappies, cooking endless taxi rides to and from school or the multitude of extra-curricula activities that our children should do.  How can I find my best?  Is it even possible to remember the person that I used to be instead of the crazy woman that runs around trying to please the world and in the process forgetting herself?

1.  You cannot give away what you do not have for yourself … this includes health, love and time.  

Think of the airline safety talk here we are always told to put the oxygen mask and life jacket on ourselves first before we help the children.  It is impossible to help others if you have no air left to breathe.  You need to look after yourself.  If you don’t you are no good to anyone.  This is sometimes difficult to do, often women can be selfless by nature and we give more and more of ourselves until there is nothing left to give and then some.  The time is now to stop giving, save something for you!  For your family to be at their best, you need to be at your best.

2.  Know what makes you happy and do something for you everyday.  It is so much easier to cope with the little stressors of life when you have taken that 15 minute break to sit in the quiet, read a book, crochet, craft, meditate, watch tv, have a cuppa.  It doesn’t really matter what it is but take the time for you.  

This one is a little harder.  My husband often says to me – take time out for you, go and do something that makes you happy.  The problem isn’t that I can’t take the time because I am married to a great guy who understands that I need that time out.  The problem is me.  I don’t take the time, I don’t make the time to take the time and most importantly I don’t know what makes me happy.  I bounce from one thing to another with such voracity that I sometimes feel like I am a pinball machine.  There is a huge sense of responsibility that comes with “go, take time out for you, do something that makes YOU happy.”  I feel like I need to make it count.

For this to really work, you need to remove all the apologies from your language and set boundaries with family members.  It is amazing how quickly kids (even little ones) adapt to:  mum is taking 15 minutes to read, think, sew or knit whatever it might be.  Remember, plan your time wisely to take your 15 minute break.  It goes without saying that downing tools in the middle of witching hour is not going to be very relaxing for anyone.  However, there is no reason why your break needs to wait until the kids are in bed, children can learn to understand that this is mummy’s time, come back in 15 minutes unless there is blood.

3.  Pay attention to the little health niggles, accidents – your body and spirit is giving you a message to rest or take time out.  Avoid the tendency to take a panadol and push through it.  The message is there for a reason, so listen and you may just stop it escalating to something bigger.  

This is a big one.  How many of us go off to the doctor’s when we feel the little niggle, have a temperature or are generally unwell, not many!  We do however, rush the kids or our partner’s off to the doctor’s when they are sick.  Why is everyone else more important than you?  Most of the time it is just rest that will help us to get better, but remember, even though we don’t get sick days as a mum your partner can take the day off for you to rest up from being sick.  One day is much better than weeks down the track.

I know from experience this year that this is really important.  I didn’t listen, my brain had been trying to give me the message for a long time possibly up to 4 years before I finally fell apart.  When I did it was spectacular by all accounts, I don’t remember.  After five weeks in hospital learning to use my left arm and leg again and trying to engage my brain I came home.  My notes tell me that when I got home I needed help for everything.  There is nothing more humbling than your mother or husband needing to help you shower and dry yourself and then help you dress yourself because you can’t do it, to make you sit up and listen!  Don’t let things get to the place I did.  Reach out to a friend, your GP, your partner, someone anyone.  You will more often than not find out that they are walking a similar journey, feeling just as alone as you are.  They may have even noticed changes in you but didn’t want to intrude and were waiting for you to reach out.  

I am sure that you like me will be shocked and discover you have a lot more support than you thought and a much larger tribe going through similar experiences.  Our mental health needs to be a priority and often times instead of getting help we turn to alcohol, drugs, shopping, volunteering, exercise, affairs or a myriad of other things to dull the pain and give ourselves a “quick fix” to feel better and hide from the reality of life just a little bit longer.  Please reach out.* 

4.  Give up the guilt and know that it is OK to say no!  This includes to your children, your partner, friends and family.  Be mindful of doing something because you believe you ‘have to’ or ‘should do it’ or ‘must do it’, say yes because you want to.  It is OK to say to someone “can I just think about where that fits with my plans and get back to you later this evening?”  This gives you the opportunity to really consider whether it is something that you want to do and can do without impacting on other areas of your day.  This may take others a little longer to get used to.  However, they will soon learn that when you say yes – it is a genuine Yes.  

This is a good message for many of us to learn.  We over commit and then feel guilty about the time it is taking us away from our families or other commitments that we have already made.  Just because you have been asked to do something does not mean you are the only person who can do it.  Sometimes, your ‘no’ will mean that someone else, better placed with time, can step into the void.  And sometimes it may mean that whatever it is you say no to does not happen and that it ok too.

You cannot take that guilt onboard.  So what if the newsletter doesn’t get out on time, it will not be the end of the world if there is not some super dooper creative craft at playgroup – most kids I know are happy with a few crayons and paper anyway.  Remember, there is always someone else that can help out and if there isn’t and you can’t do it, the world will not end.  We can often be our own worst enemies by doing everything all the time we are asked some people find this intimidating and fear they can’t live up to the expectation set by you doing the job.  So if every now and then we say no it leaves room for others to step up.

5.  Ask for support and ask in a direct way.  Women are very good at implying what they need, especially with their partners and then wondering why their partner didn’t get it!  Ask for what you want … be specific:  “please take the kids to the park today so that I can have an hour to …”  It is perfectly acceptable to let your kids have a play at a friend’s or some extra time at day care if that is the support you need.  

Our partners are not mind readers, of course it would be great if they were but don’t assume that they know what you want and that just because you have been dropping hints all morning they will understand what you want.  My husband is pretty fantastic but he works much better with direct requests.

It is also important and OK to build yourself a network of friends that you can ring on those days when you really need a break.  Mainly because if you reach out to them, they will feel much better about reaching out to you!

As women we are constantly told that we have never had it better!  We have more choice about what we want to do with our lives now than ever before.  Our mothers and their mothers before us had to fight every step of the way.  My aunt only in 1970 was one of the first women to be allowed to stay working in her public service job as a married woman of childbearing age.  We have come a long way since those days.

However, in many respects life is so much harder for us now.  With education comes expectation that we will have a career, as women there is an expectation we will have a family (before we get too “old”), as women we are also still shouldering the bulk of the child rearing, housework and many other tasks associated with running a household.  We do this I believe because if we are not financially contribution we feel we “should” do all these other things.  “Should” is a word we need to banish from our vocabulary.

As women we can be each other’s greatest support but also our own worst enemy as well.  It is important to remember that we can have it all, just not all at the same time.  We don’t need to be trying to hold down a job, attend meetings in addition to raising the family for things to turn pear-shaped with children.  Life itself can be enough to throw you more than one curve ball on any given day.

If you have taken the time to prepare yourself physically and mentally to be in the best shape possible, then maybe you can catch it, if it goes through to the keeper just reach out to someone who can be there for you.  The juggle can be rewarding, just remember to take time out for yourself, to stop and smell the roses and enjoy life once in a while.

Hugs Kit xoxo 

  • edited to update with the new information

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