How can we take care of ourselves while also caring for babies and toddlers? Image: Thinkstock.
Feeling guilty won’t help your kids, but it sure will fuck you up.
It started when my wife saw an old Facebook post of hers, one which equated sleeping in with self-care, saying something to the effect of, “wow sleeping 12 hours was exactly what I needed!”
It was 5 a.m.; she did not have to be to work until 10. We had only slept for a measly four hours the night before, and yet, there we were, awake, making coffee, swearing like sailors, and trying desperately to laugh it off.
Why? Well, we have a baby.
And babies, while awesome in so many wonderful ways, do not give a single shit if you really need another hour of sleep.
If the baby is up, you’re up. So we were up.
Self-care has become a bit of a buzzword — but unlike most buzzwords, I don’t actually mind it.
People deserve to take care of themselves, and they should take care of themselves. Anything that opens up the conversation so we can make that happen is a good thing in my book. Learning about self-care has made me a better person, a better partner, and a better friend.
The problem is, everything I knew about self-care went out the window after I had a kid.
OK, that’s not strictly true. I desperately needed to heal from my intense labor and C-section, so I was able to exercise some of my self-care rituals a tiny bit during the first two weeks of his life. My partner was off of work to fuss over us, and our kid couldn't even lift his head, let alone get into mischief. The self-care I was able to do still wasn’t enough, but it helped.
But children have a way of taking over your whole life.
Of course, no one is denying the importance of self-care for parents. Just google “self-care for moms” (I did) and you’ll get a ton of hits. They’re all “for moms” because our culture assumes that moms are the ones doing the brunt of the parenting, but that’s another rant for another day.
My issue is that the vast majority of these articles don’t offer much in the way of a solution.
Either they blame the problem on the burnt-out parents themselves (why is it that moms just don’t know how to take time for themselves?), or they offer ideas that frankly just sound like yet another item on my already too long to-do list. Also, while some of the ideas presented might work great if you have school-age children, it is another thing for those of us with kids in diapers.
My kid is 11 months old and requires near-constant interaction. I can’t afford daycare, and when my wife gets home at seven it’s dinner-bath-baby’s-bedtime as quick as we can swing it. Once the kid (perfect angel) is asleep, I often have to work until I go to bed.
When exactly am I supposed to take that “well-deserved me time?” Do you have any ideas? I’ll wait.
So let’s have the conversation: How can we take care of ourselves while also caring for babies and toddlers? We know that we need to, how do we get it done?
I have more questions than answers, but here are a few ideas that I’m going to try to incorporate into my life — because frankly, I could use a week without any breakdowns.
Googling self-care tips for moms didn’t help me, but the following list draws from two articles: Sam Dylan Finch's “10 Tips That Made Me A Better (And More Productive) Writer” and Stephanie Land's “Making It Work: Freelance Writer” (geared more towards people with kids).
OK, let’s go.
1. Get a good water bottle and keep it with you like it’s the One ring to rule them all.
We all know we should be drinking water, and I know I feel like total shit when I’m dehydrated. Dehydration happens faster when you’re breastfeeding — which isn’t a thing all parents do, but it is a thing I’m doing.
So drinking water is important!
But! I find that now that my kid is mobile, keeping a water glass near me is next to impossible. There’s no question about whether or not he’ll dump it; the question is when.
In my efforts to keep it away from him, I end up putting it where I forget about it. I vow to get a really big-ass water bottle and slurp on it without ceasing.
2. Keep your blood sugar up, no matter how sneaky you have to be to do it.
I feed my growing baby at least three solid meals a day and breastfeed him around the clock.
But honestly? When he’s not eating, I often don’t notice that I’m hungry until I start to get a nasty headache.
By the time that starts, it’s already kinda too late.
I’m really really bad at this, but what I have found really works is to have some easy, healthy-ish snacks in the fridge, and to sneak little bits of them throughout the day. That means setting the baby up with some blocks, stepping over the baby gate to use the bathroom, and making a pit stop in the kitchen to stuff my face before rejoining playtime.
On the days I remember to do this, I feel a thousand times better.
3. Speaking of bathrooms: You get to pee alone sometimes!
I know, I know, parents of little kids love to joke about how many years it’s been since they’ve gone to the bathroom alone. I get it. It's funny! ...Sort of! And dropping the kid in a Pack N Play or well baby-proofed living room while you take a quick whiz is probably the antithesis of attachment parenting. (I don’t know, I haven’t read the books.)
But come on, if you're not going to get any real alone time today, those two minutes by yourself matter. They will make you feel more human.
Plus, we are allowed to assert our boundaries and teach our children about how to have healthy boundaries of their own.
Say it with me: “I don’t have to pee with an audience if I don’t want to.”
4. Take kid-free time when you can.
This one is hard because not everyone can afford a sitter, not everyone has a great co-parent who will take the littles, and not everyone has family members willing to babysit for free. It can be really tricky!
And often, getting time away from your kids is an act of leveraging whatever privilege you do have.
But if you can work this into your life, even just once in a while, please do.
Recently, my in-laws started taking our baby to their house for a couple of hours on Sunday mornings. At first, I was nervous and anxious about him being away, but goddamn, it is worth it.
5. And when you manage kid-free time, loaf like your life depends on it.
Because my wife and I both work, household chores are always piling up. They have to get done, we’re always behind, we need clean socks, and the tub needs to be scrubbed, and all of that.
It’s tempting to see the little bit of time when the baby's away as the time to do ALL THE THINGS, and I have definitely fallen into that trap.
But for the love of everything that is good, no one can be 'on' all the time.
Watch a movie. Cuddle with your partner, if you have one. Make a phone call without having to apologize for the screaming infant in the background. Play a stupid video game if you like those. Eat a whole pint of ice cream on the living room floor because there are no grubby hands reaching for it. Go ahead.
6. When it gets to be too much, remind yourself that this is not forever.
Someday, that child will be able to walk into the kitchen and get their own graham crackers. Someday you won’t have to change diapers anymore. Someday the kid will know that hitting the cat with a plastic shovel is probably a bad idea. Someday that kid might even be able to help out around the house a little.
That doesn’t mean your life won’t still be hard then — it will be — but the daily struggle you are living out right now is not the rest of your life.
7. Refuse the guilt with as much gusto as you possibly can.
If you don’t have time to do the extra laundry required for cloth-diapering, if your baby isn’t enrolled in any swim or music classes, if you gave them off-brand mac 'n cheese instead of a balanced dinner last night — our culture is going to do everything it can to make you feel like shit.
Know that that is a form of oppression. Resist it. Stand tall.
Unless you are abusive or neglectful (and I’m hoping that you’re not), you are probably a pretty awesome parent, all things considered. Feeling guilty won’t help your kids, but it sure will fuck you up.
And while we are on the subject, they’re also going to try to make you feel guilty for not taking more time for yourself and having more of a life outside of little kids.
Don’t let them. Radicalize yourself against all that bullshit.
♦ ♦ ♦
We live in a society where many parents live isolated lives with little to no real support. This is a travesty, and it creates burn-out that we can’t fix ourselves.
But we do need to be kinder to ourselves in the meantime, and we need to show our children what it means to take care of oneself.
I haven’t been able to do as well as I would like in that arena for quite awhile, but I believe that I have to try.
Join me. We fucking deserve this.