Hindsight. It gives us great perspective once we can step out of the thick of a situation and reexamine. Now that my oldest daughter, Hanna, is heading off to college in the fall, I can reflect on what I would have told my younger self when my daughter was still playing with Barbies and taking naps: You don’t have to do it all right now.
When I was in my late 30s and my girls were little, I was stressed and the definition of “wired and tired”. I was doing too much and really burning myself out. I was up at 5:30am to work out; then get the girls ready; then myself; then off to work and school; back home; next activity; cook a healthy dinner; homework and bedtime; laundry; chores; and finally pass out around 11:30pm. Rinse and repeat.
I see a lot of moms in their 30s and 40s who have sought my functional medicine program because they are doing the same thing and have made themselves sick and miserable. I was so tired and stressed that I missed opportunities to play with my girls and be in the moment. You can’t enjoy the moment if you are frazzled and always trying to get things done. It took me a while to understand that this is a phase and it will change and it’s OK if the dishes don’t get done right now. Motherhood is a marathon not a sprint. It is also OK for the kids to have some screen time because mommy needs to work out and have some time to herself.
With the benefit of hindsight and getting to the other side of being a mom with younger children, I can honestly say it is a losing battle to try to always keep up and do “all the things”. Here are the top five pieces of advice I would give my younger self:
Rest is Necessary
Our bodies thrive on rest and recovery. If we are going all the time, there is no opportunity to rejuvenate and that’s when we get into a state of constant stress and fight or flight.
Consider Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. At the very bottom, which is the overall foundation of health and wellbeing, is food (good, whole food, not the leftover chicken nuggets from your toddler’s plate), water, warmth and rest. Without these things you will be running on empty or at least half a tank.
Quality Time vs. Quantity of Time
Focus on quality time not just quantity. I thought I had to be around for everything my girls were doing but it was in sacrifice to the time I needed for myself. Once I found more balance between mom time and me time, it was important for me to teach my girls that mommy needs time to take care of herself so she can be healthy for you. This does not always mean a bubble bath (although those are nice too), it means taking time to work out, meet with a friend you can talk to, or taking a walk to center your mind.
Your Body Will Come Back… But it Doesn’t Have to Be Right Now
Women have so much pressure to “lose the baby weight” and look the same or better than they did before they were pregnant. This is an unfair expectation. Your body goes through so much when it is pregnant and the hormones are all different after going through that experience. It will be fine. You can do more as your kids get older and are more independent. You will get your body back, or a healthier version of your new body eventually, but your stress levels will kill you well before that extra 15 pounds will.
Ask for Help
You can’t do it all. I mean, you can if you want to be miserable. It can’t be all you, 24/7 with no help. There is a reason for the saying “It takes a village to raise a child” because raising children is hard. We used to live in family groups with our moms and sisters and aunts because help was key to survival. My mom came up from southern California once a month when my girls were little and my mother-in-law lived close and could help too. With COVID that option was eliminated for almost all young moms. It made isolation so much worse. But with the vaccine and things opening up, do not get stuck in that pattern. Lean on friends and family, hire a nanny or helper, or house cleaner, or lawn service. Whatever you need to feel like you have support and can breathe.
Stay Away from Social Media
Social media is not real and it is not a real connection. Stay off of it as much as you can, especially if you find yourself comparing and trying to keep up. We already have enough instances where we judge ourselves as mothers, we don’t need outside influences giving those negative thoughts an extra boost. Power down, play with your kids and don’t take a single picture to post.
Life is just one phase after the other. Be present for each phase, because a minute can last forever, and a year can pass in a moment. I am grateful for my new perspective and if you are a young mom reading this, give yourself a break, leave the laundry, and know it only gets better.
Photo credit: Taylor Benedickt Photography