Each year at Mother’s Day, an informal survey of the mums I know (particularly mums of young children) reveals a unifying deep desire: we all want some ‘time out’ for Mother’s Day.
On Mother’s Day we want to take one day out of the year when we don’t have to do all the mum stuff.
On Mother’s Day we want to be women first and mums second.
And then the guilt comes crashing in.
Because shouldn’t we be looking forward to spending time with the the people who make us mothers in the first place?
Isn’t it a time to be thankful as well as thanked?
There’s a reason we all so desperately crave a little time out.
In twenty sixteen, we are all feeling overwhelmed, overworked and frazzled. Not just mothers but all men, women and even kids.
But I think mums tend to feel frazzled the most.
Because you’re probably a joint bread winner (or even a single parent). And probably (statistically) also the primary care giver, the primary household manager, the primary kin keeper, the school volunteer, the taxi service, the carer of aging parents.
You are glue.
Without you, things fall apart.
But I bet, like most mums, you put your own needs last.
You’re all about meeting everyone else’s needs and getting the job done and there’s no time left for you.
And any ‘me’ time you do take comes with a large side serving of guilt. After all, part of our social narrative is that mothers are supposed to be self-sacrificing.
Here’s a truth we as mums need to take to heart:
Whatever you need to give to others, you must first give to yourself.
If you’re running on empty, then you can’t give yourself. If there’s nothing in the tank then everyone who’s along for the ride gets stuck along side you.
You need to fill yourself up first.
So let’s ditch the guilt that comes with self-care, taking time out or ‘me’ time.
Self-care isn’t being selfish, it’s a public service. When you fill your own cup, you’ve got more to give to others.
An empty lamp can’t shine, and neither can a drained mamma.
I think Oprah sums it up beautifully in this inspiring interview with Brené Brown:
I used to fear hearing the term “who do you think you are?” or “ you must be pretty full of yourself.” Now I work at being full. I want to be so full that I am overflowing…What you see is a woman so full that I’m overflowing with enough to share with someone else. I’m going to own the fullness without ego, without arrogance, but with an amazing sense of gratitude, that I’ve been born at a time when I am female on the planet and I have the great pleasure and freedom to fill myself up.”
Watch the whole interview with Oprah here.
How do you become so full that you’re overflowing and thus totally FULFIL your role?
Paying lip service to ‘me time’ by giving yourself a facial doesn’t cut it. You need to go deeper to the fundamentals that really fill you up.
HOW TO FILL YOUR CUP AND LIVE THE GOOD LIFE
1. TAKE YOUR TIME
Nobody is going to give you time out.
Your family is probably not going to say “gee, you look tired, why don’t we cook dinner tonight,” so don’t count on it.
Brewing resentment is a tea that will poison everyone who drinks it.
It’s called taking time out because that’s exactly what you have to do: you have to TAKE your time.
YOU ARE WORTHY of being able to spend time as you choose. You deserve it. You don’t need to meet any arbitrary internal or external expectations before allowing yourself to take a breather. You don’t need a reason or an excuse. You don’t need to be sick or at near break down to take time out.
Prioritise it. Put it in the diary. Schedule that time and set expectations. (This works both ways of course, your partner needs their time out too, so do your kids – be the role model).
Tell your partner to bring home pizza because mamma ain’t cookin’ tonight people.
Employ a digital babysitter once in a while to catch your breath and enjoy a cup of tea.
Go to the movies. Or out for coffee with a friend.
Find balance by taking time out.
2. QUESTION YOUR STANDARDS OF PERFECTION
Who has time for time out? There’s too much to do!
Do you lack time or do you carry around an unrealistic, self-imposed standard of perfection that won’t allow you to relax?
The perfectionist demon will flay strips of flesh until you’ve worked yourself to the bone. And it still wont be sated.
That to-do list will always eat away at every waking moment if you let it.
Before you can ‘take’ your time, you need to be comfortable letting your standards of perfection slide. The world doesn’t end if you haven’t scrubbed the toilet recently. But it doesn’t become a better world if you’re too exhausted to give the best of yourself.
And you can’t shine without regularly filling your cup.
No one has lived in service to others more than Mother Teresa. She’s on her way to being canonised as a Saint! And she took at least 4 hours of time out (which in her case meant prayer) Every. Single. Day.
“I’ve seen women insist on cleaning everything in the house before they could sit down to write… and you know it’s a funny thing about housecleaning… it never comes to an end. Perfect way to stop a woman. A woman must be careful to not allow over-responsibility (or over-respectability) to steal her necessary creative rests, riffs, and raptures. She simply must put her foot down and say no to half of what she believes she “should” be doing. Art is not meant to be created in stolen moments only.” ― Clarissa Pinkola Estés
3. PRIORITISE SELF-CARE
You’ve heard it before: on an airplane you’re told to fit your own oxygen mask first, before anyone else, before even your own child’s. The reason is because you’re no use if you’re unconscious in your seat.
In practical everyday terms that means prioritising the self-care you need to stay healthy.
It means getting enough sleep. It means taking a nap when the baby naps. It means eating nutritious food. It means prioritising time for exercise and play and showering. It means regular check ups with the doctor.
I’ll be the first to admit self-care isn’t always easy, especially when your children are very young or when you’re trying to balance work, home and everything else. That’s when it’s even more important to let go of unrealistic standards of perfection and choose self-care over busy work.
Do you use busy work to justify your existence? Are you worried about wasting time? Is busy work a shield against facing difficult emotions?
We only get one life.
A strong work ethic is all good and well, and maybe you have to work long hours just to make ends meet. But the slavery to economic growth that we’ve all literally bought into is a game nobody wins.
4. BEAUTY IS MORE THAN SKIN DEEP
About 15 years ago, my mum had (and eventually recovered from) breast cancer. She went through all the chemo and radiation and trauma of cancer treatment.
One of the support programs that helped her was the Look Good, Feel Better program. The philosophy of the program is that looking good (makeup, clothing, accessories etc.) is an important part of feeling good about yourself and therefore an important part of recovery.
But it’s also a good philosophy you even if you aren’t sick.
I’ve never been one for beauty stuff, I’m more of an ‘inside my head’ kinda girl. And I believe we’re all innately beautiful without cosmetics.
But there’s something magical about dressing up – it’s not superficial – it does wonders for your self-confidence and self-worth. Looking good DOES make you feel good.
And feeling good fills your cup.
I prefer natural products because the chemical stuff seems counter-intuitive. One of the best places in Australia for natural beauty products is Nourished Life – an Australian online store dedicated to toxin-free cosmetics. If your family are looking for ways to pamper you on Mother’s Day, steer them towards the Mother’s Day gift ideas (some great savings to be found), or the monthly sample box, which would be a delicious gift to receive and use every month.
But more than that, appreciate your beauty, both your outside beauty and your inner beauty. That’s particularly hard but super important in the Photoshop age. Look in the mirror with love not criticism.
And surround yourself with beauty, particularly natural beauty. There’s nothing more uplifting than a walk in the park, or a bunch of colourful flowers. Open yourself up to see the beauty around you and let beauty fill you up.
5. SPIRITUALITY IS NOT DEAD
The problem with busyness is it leaves you feeling like an existential rat keeping pace on a meaningless wheel.
Getting in touch with your spiritual side, regardless of how that manifests, reminds you you’re a part of something bigger. It reinforces the connection with the humanity around you and the larger universe. It can inspire us to strive to be the best version of ourselves.
In more concrete terms it might mean you spend some time each day journaling your thoughts. It might mean taking time out to meditate each day or spending time in prayer. Maybe you study a spiritual text or read an inspiring book. Maybe you walk on the grass barefoot or taking a mini-retreat in nature.
I’m not much of a religious person, but I have spent many years wondering if it’s possible to have a full cup with a life devoid of spirituality, or at least a connection to something bigger than ourselves. In my experience, there’s nothing that leaves you feeling more empty than asking the question: “what’s it all for?” and hearing the echoing answer that there is no meaning beyond the day to day grind.
6. GIRFRIENDS ARE YOUR LIFELINE
When I’m having a whingey moment, I have a friend who says “girlfriend, I hear ya!” with such sass and swagger, I can’t help but feel better. Just thinking about it makes me smile.
Sometimes the most powerful medicine is a sympathetic ear and validation. Someone who gets it. Someone who’s been there and understands. Someone who doesn’t judge you, who isn’t trying to fix you.
Someone to drink pink Margareta’s with until the early hours of the morning.
Those people are your tribe. They are your soul sisters. And they are your lifeline when times are tough.
Building relationships isn’t always easy, and when we’re so busy with work and family and everything else, we convince ourselves friendships aren’t important. But they are absolutely fundamental to the good life. And you are essential to them.
When times are tough and you’re super busy, too busy for socialising, take the time to nurture your friendships anyway; don’t let them wither because what blooms makes everything else worthwhile.
Mother’s Day is coming up, and while it’s nice to be treated special by the family for the day, one day a year is just not enough. It’s a good reminder that we need to take responsibility for our own wellbeing throughout the whole year, and by doing so, by taking time to regularly fill our own cup, we can give more, love more, serve more, and shine more brightly than ever.