Anyone who has been a mom for even a day can probably tell you that your own personal wants, needs and desires take a significant back seat after you have a baby. It is an understatement to say that the job of being a mom is all consuming. Between the 10-12 feedings/day, diaper and clothing changes (its amazing how many poop explosions one small baby can have!!), attempting to get the little one to nap, maybe some tummy time squeezed in there, most new moms consider it a good day if they have time to feed themselves with two hands and a bonus if they can fit in a shower. Nonetheless, once you start to feel more confident in what you are doing and can start to fathom a little time to yourself, finding “me” time is essential.
Why is it important for moms to have specified “me” time?
While this may seem like a silly question, often new moms become very isolated in their experience of being at home, caring for their baby and just focusing on the here and now. Sometimes we even feel like the entire responsibility of caring for our babies falls on us as moms and anything less, we feel guilty. The early months at home with a baby are very intense and require a tremendous learning curve to start feel a sense of mastery over all the things one needs to know about the 24/7 job of caring for a newborn. I often tell moms that the first year with a baby are all “on the job” training because you are constantly learning from and about your baby. It is all-consuming, and it can often be hard to trust that anyone can do it as well as you can. It is correct that no one will care for your baby in the same way you do, but that doesn’t mean that no one else is capable of providing the same level of care that you do as a mom. Burn out happens easily and sometimes without even realizing it. Feelings of depression and anxiety amplify all of these heightened emotions. Taking time for ourselves both by performing acts of self care (showering, blow drying your hair, putting on make up if you do that sort of thing normally, changing out of your yoga clothes) and doing things that make us feel like our normal selves actually helps moms be better moms. More on what this may look like for individual moms in a bit.
The other important piece of taking “me” time is that it gives your partner and other care providers an opportunity to learn how to care for your baby without you around. Babies respond differently to people who are not their moms. It is great practice for partners to learn how to care for their babies without mom around. Often partners may not have the weeks of leave that moms are allowed (which is also never enough but that’s a topic for a different article) so they are not putting in those hours of on the job training, learning through trial and error the way moms do. They need the practice! I encourage moms to leave their babies with their partners for a couple of hours at a time and give them an opportunity to figure out how to care for their babies on their own, just in the same way that moms have had to do during the week when partners are at work. No, it may not be pretty and to expect that it won’t look like a tornado hit your home when you return is asking a bit much, but your baby will be alive and cared for and your partner will have learned valuable insights about how to soothe and care for your baby in your absense. Sometimes this backfires and you return home to find that your baby slept the whole time you were gone, which is great but didn’t offer the all important learning opportunities. Sometimes you may receive rapid-fire text messages about what is happening begging for you to cut your plans short and come home early. Unless it is truly an emergency (it’s a good idea to review with your partner what constitutes an emergency ahead of time), I would encourage you to not change your plans and return early for the rescue. I would imagine that if you are having a particularly challenging day at home with your little one, your partner is not going to just drop everything at work to come home. Sometimes we have to learn things the hard way.
What qualifies as “me” time?
This is going to be different for every mom. Maybe it is something that you did in your pre mom life like go out for brunch with a friend, maybe you get a pedicure or better yet, a massage. Maybe it’s an exercise class that you love. You may even find that spending an hour alone mindlessly wandering the isles of Target feels luxurious. In the beginning, I’ll allow that this counts as me time. As your baby gets older, I would encourage you to think bigger. Maybe you aren’t yet ready to leave your house on your own, but there is something you can do from home that qualifies such as doing something that just appeals to one of your five senses, like lighting a candle with your favorite scent and spending a few precious moments enjoying it, putting on headphones and listening to your favorite band or podcast, eating your favorite food (preferably something you didn’t have to make yourself), or spending 30 minutes reading a book or magazine—ideally one not related to caring for a child. While the desire to take a nap is strong and also very important, this shouldn’t be the only thing that qualifies as “me” time. Most of us need more then this to feel both rejuvenated and cared for.
What is most important about taking this time is that you work on any feelings of guilt you may have. In the beginning, it is normal to feel guilty about time spent away from your baby. Trust me, she is going to still have a strong attachment to you even if you spend a few precious hours away from her. You deserve this! You are working hard every day to learn all there is to know about your baby and to understand what she is trying to communicate to you at all moments (is she tired, hungry, over-stimulated, gassy, or just plain grumpy???). This is constant and you deserve a break. Whether your future plans are to stay home with your baby or you are going back to work, this time you take for yourself is just as valuable. The more you practice taking “me” time, the less guilty you will feel. And guess what? It will make you a better mom because you will come back from your hours or minutes and feel more refreshed and renewed in your efforts to parent. So think back, how much time have you taken for yourself in the last day, week, month? Can you recall anything specific? If you can’t, it probably wasn’t enough. Start to make a conscious effort to find these moments. You will be glad you did!