Getting over mom guilt
Do you do something for yourself every week? What about every day? Can you name the last three things you did that were just for you? Did they make you feel happy, relaxed, excited? Do you feel guilty when you do something for yourself?
As a mom and a manager, there are days and weeks that every single thing I did was for someone else – my kids, my husband, my team, my boss.
When I feel good about my work-life balance, I get natural satisfaction from those things, and I can go a long time without any self-care. When things get rough and I feel off-balance, that’s when I really feel that lack of self-care.
Trigger warning about miscarriages and infertility.
In September 2015, at 10.5 weeks pregnant, I miscarried. I was pregnant with our second child. It happened 3 days before my oldest son’s second birthday. It was devastating and overwhelming. But with my “good girl” attitude and my A-type personality, I took only one day off work. We had gotten pregnant very quickly with the first two pregnancies (my son David and this baby that I miscarried), so while I was overwhelmed by grief, I am a planner, and I focused on the next steps – I wanted to be pregnant as soon as possible. I got clearance from the doctor and we tried again immediately. And I got pregnant again! It felt like this huge relief – my life plan (to have our kids 2.5 years apart) was still close to being on track. Then at 6 weeks, I miscarried again. I was sad, I was angry, I was confused. But on the outside, I didn’t skip a beat, I went back to work the next day. I didn't even cancel my work trip to Geneva the next week. No one knew. I had it all under control. We tried again, insanely we got pregnant the next month. At 5.5 weeks, I had my third miscarriage. I couldn’t even really process it. I was numb. But again, I kept going. I went to work the next day, I didn’t cancel a single meeting or miss a single deadline. But my body was screaming at me that I needed to take care of myself. I had been sick 8 times in 3 months (strep throat, eye infections, colds, the flu).
Even after 3 miscarriages in a row, I naively believed that I would get pregnant and keep a pregnancy. But life does not go as you plan it, and after getting pregnant easily 4 times in a row, we struggled with infertility for a year before we got pregnant with Michael. As devastating as the miscarriages were, a year of infertility was exponentially worse for me. It felt like this uncontrollable battle and I was powerless. All of my planning and organizing couldn’t solve this problem. I found amazing, incredible resources, like Beat Infertility.
“Adversity introduces a [woman] to herself” - female adaptation from Albert Einstein quote.
That year I learned a lot about myself. I grew in ways I could never have imagined. Things were all falling into place in my life (except for getting pregnant), I was happier, calmer, meditating daily, less stressed by work and home life, but I still wasn’t doing much for me. This idea of self-care kept coming up, I read articles and books about it, but nothing really resonated. It all seemed vague (e.g., do something for you) or like something I wouldn’t enjoy (e.g., get a pedicure). One night I decided I had to be able to figure out the things that made me happy and were just for me. I took a shower and told myself I had to stay there until I had an answer; I have my best revelations in the shower. And it came to me, faster than I expected: EBMIQ (exercise, blogging, meditating, intellectual conversations, and quilting).
It doesn’t matter how much I don’t feel like exercising, when I actually go, 100% of the time, I return and tell my husband “I feel so good, I’m so glad that I did that”.
I keep a blog of our family, like a family history, with photos and stories, it’s private and there’s less than 30 people who read it, but I love doing it, since I get to relive the moments in our lives, and it’s wonderful for people who live far away to get to feel like they know the daily ins and outs of what is happening here.
I try to meditate everyday with mixed success, but I am calmer, happier, everything looks better through my post-meditation eyes.
Some days at work, all I do is solve problems and review documents. Every meeting and every interaction is an issue people bring to me, while I know that’s part of the job, the intellectual conversations are what inspire me. So intellectual conversations, even if it's part of work is a form of self-care for me. As I started developing this blog, I started reading all about the research behind these topics and talking about it with friends, it might seem strange, but those all felt like self-care, conversations that makes me think really hard and consider other perspectives.
This is one of my hobbies, I love to quilt, especially designing really complicated quilts that involve intense amounts of math.
Every day, I ask myself whether I’ve done any of these. Can I do another one? When I’m feeling down or frustrated, I just say EBMIQ and think of which one will make me the happiest in that moment. It also helps me reframe the activity sometimes. For example, sometimes finishing a quilt or writing another blog post can feel like a chore, but when I decide to do it because that’s the thing that will make me happiest, it can transform the experience.
Self-care is so important in helping us find balance, we can't just take care of other people, we need to take care of ourselves. Actually making these changes can be hard, we seem to feel so much guilt when we focus on ourselves. Sometimes when I'm stuck in that mom guilt cycle, I try to think about how activities that make me happier and calmer are also make me a better mom, a better wife, a better employee, and a better manager.
What is your self-care acronym? Do you do something on that list every single day? Are you putting on your oxygen mask before you put it on those around you? It’s so hard to do, but every little step forward helps you create a better, happier, more balanced life for you and your family.