“Since I became a mother, even going to the grocery store on my own feels like a holiday!”
Have you ever said this in jest? Or something similar? Makes you laugh right? But pre-kids would you ever have considered a trip to the supermarket to be a bit of “me-time”? Nope. Didn’t think so.
So what is it about motherhood that so drastically skews our concepts of “time out”, “self-care” and that all important “me time”? Why do we as mothers feel the need to be so grateful for any time spent on our own, even if it’s just to do mundane tasks?
I get the feeling that it comes down to one very important misconception: that we are only “On Duty” as mothers when we are WITH our children, and that any time we are away from our children is a break from our motherhood role.
This couldn’t be further from the truth. To explain this further I want to introduce you to a concept called “co-occupation” – which is an Occupational Therapy term referring to “the interplay of the occupations of two or more people”*.
Motherhood is the perfect example of a co-occupation, because motherhood is all about the intrinsic linking of a woman and her child. Without a child there is no mother.
So how does the co-occupation of motherhood impact us? At first thought, we might presume that the role of motherhood only occurs when we are physically with our child – “doing with” such as playing games with your child, reading a book together, eating meals together, going for a walk or bike ride: “doing to” such as changing a nappy, administering medication, or rocking a baby to sleep; or “doing alongside” – such as watching your child play independently, driving them to school, or extra-curricular activities.
These are generally the times when we see ourselves as being “On-Duty” as mothers.
But what about the co-occupations that occur when a mother and child aren’t physically together? The “doing for” and “doing because of”? Those times we fold mountains of laundry while watching our favourite TV show, or book dentist appointments in our lunch break while the kids are at school, or bake a batch of muffins for school lunches while Dad takes the kids to the park, or listen to a parenting podcast while on our morning walking, or yes, doing the groceries alone while someone else cares for your child.
These times aren’t “me-time” – but sometimes I feel like we’ve been led to believe they should be. That we should be grateful for any opportunity to relish some time alone without our children – even if we’re still doing stuff “for” them, because all time spent without our children present is equally as restful and rejuvenating.
Because these things are still “co-occupations” – things we do for, or on behalf of, our children. Certainly they might have been things you would have done, or would still have to do if you didn’t have children. But now that you DO have children, tell me, have you ever managed to do a grocery shop without thinking what you need to feed your child? Or have you ever taken an hour to go shopping for yourself, only to see a million things you’d like to buy for your little one?
Even when we do things without our children present, they are still at the forefront of our mind. And that’s why it feels like you never get a break from motherhood – even when you technically “took a break”.
I want mothers to understand the difference between “time away from their children” and “time off”. Because those two things aren’t the same.
But why do you need a break? Isn’t motherhood enough?
Nope. Sorry, I know sometimes we think it should be. But we are all more than mothers. We are individuals first, and we deserve to have an identity apart from our motherhood status.
So what’s my suggestion? How can you actually take a worthwhile break?
You need to find something to do that is just for yourself – something that doesn’t classify as a co-occupation, and something that has these few elements to it:
- It should be something that you do, just for you – 100 percent. Not something that you do for yourself that your kids also benefit from, like baking food for their lunchboxes or crocheting them a beanie. And not something you do with your children present – such as Mums and Bubs Pilates, or coffee with your Mums group. That’s not to say you should stop these things. They’re all great – they’re just not enough!
- It should be something active. Now, I love passive “time out” activities – such as getting a massage or a pedicure, as much as the next mum, and they’re often touted as an excellent “me time” activity, but they’re not especially engaging. They don’t require any effort on your part, but they do give you lots of time to think about how nice it is to have time away to yourself, without the kids – it’s a kind of escapism. But that’s not the point. For me, these tasks fit into the realm of self-care, which is lovely, but they’re not as rejuvenating and fulfilling as truly meaningful, engaging activities. It’s a subtle difference between “self-care” and “me-time”.
- Which brings me to the third factor – it has to be something meaningful to you. We OT’s love, love, love the concept of meaningful occupation. It’s what our whole profession is built upon – the notion that engagement in meaningful activities is what makes a person truly “well” and what makes life truly worth living. But what makes something meaningful? Well that’s completely up to you. Broadly speaking a “meaningful occupation” is something you do which is important to you, or that you enjoy and which benefits your life in some way. So what is meaningful to you? Maybe it’s dancing, maybe it’s reading crime thrillers, maybe it’s bushwalking, or surfing, or painting, or running marathons, or yarn bombing, or restoring vintage cars, or playing the piano, or growing prize winning orchids, or poetry slam nights, or roller derby, or tap dancing, or surfing? It could be anything. Can’t think what that is for you? Here’s a tip. Think back to what you loved to do as a child, or a teenager? What is something you used to do and love that 21year old you would be devastated to think you no longer do? THAT’S your meaningful occupation.
Have you figured yours out yet? Do you know what it is? Then go out and do it. As much as you can, whether that’s once a day, or once a month. Find a way to fit it into your schedule. Make it a priority. Because until you do you won’t find time for it.
Motherhood is all-encompassing. If we let it, it can swallow us whole. We need to have something that reminds us of who we are – without reference to our children. Something that isn’t a motherhood co-occupation.
You matter, and what you love matters. And I’m sure there’s something in this world you love doing more than the groceries.
So go do it.
Until next time, Sarah xx
One of the best parts of my job is that I get to spend a lot of time talking to women.
Talking one to one to clients, chatting to Facebook followers, communicating over email to women I’ll probably never meet, and also making presentations to small groups on a regular basis. I’m a talker, I love to talk. I get it from my Mum. Who got it from her Mum, but that’s beside the point.
The point is I love talking, especially to other mothers, because it’s how I can best support the clients I work with, how I can get the message I want to share out into the world, but most importantly, it’s how I learn so much about this wonderful client group I work with.
Yesterday I was excited to be the guest speaker at a meeting of the Australian Breastfeeding Association here in Adelaide, where I was asked to talk on the topic of ‘self care for Mums’.
Now it’s true that phrases such as ‘self care’, ‘put yourself first’ and ‘find time for me time’ can often feel like massively cliched buzzwords in today’s motherhood environment. They’re a dime a dozen and I bet they’re sprawled all over the sponsored ads clogging up your news feed on a daily basis. It seems everywhere we turn Mums are being told to take better care of themselves, meditate more and eat more kale. Hey, I’m one of those people saying those things!
And while most people would agree that taking care of your own wellbeing is an exceptionally important task, both for your own sake, and that of your family, there is also another consideration to this ‘make me-time a priority’ message, as one of the women in my presentation yesterday pointed out.
Her comment was that this drive for mothers to prioritise self care can often feel like another big unachievable task on that never-ending ‘to-do’ list. Something that women already know they should be doing, and desperately want to do, but for whatever reason it just doesn’t happen.
What she was questioning was this: why is it just the responsibility of the mother to look after her own wellbeing? Where’s her support squad? Shouldn’t we expect our husbands, partners, parents, friends, aunties, grandmothers, or whoever else we have in our lives, to also step up to the plate. To be there to help us look after ourselves, just as we support everyone around us to look after themselves.
It’s a valid point.
Certainly we shouldn’t expect other people to look after us and cater to all of our needs. It’s not the 1950s after all.
But surely we deserve a little bit of consideration? Especially in those early months (or even years) of motherhood. It’s okay to want our village to step up. But here’s the thing. What we might actually need to do first is invite that village in. To reach out and seek support, to let our tribe know that we’re really focused on supporting our own wellbeing and that we’d love any help they could offer up. They’re not mind readers after all.
I know asking for support is not always on our list of top five favourite things to do. It can leave us feeling open, vulnerable and perhaps even weak. But it can also open us up to truly receiving love and compassion from those around us, and to feel sincere gratitude for those people in our own little village when they step up.
Which brings us back to the question of “are we wholly responsible for our own wellbeing”? Well I guess the answer is yes – because our own wellbeing is too important for us not take the reins. It is ultimately up to us, but that doesn’t mean we can’t sub-contract the task out to those we know and trust as well. We just need to have faith that those we ask will respond. But it starts with asking. And that’s on us.
What about you? Do you have people around you who support your wellbeing? How do they do it? How would you like them to help?
Let me know in the comments, pop a note below this post on facebook, or even email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next time.
There’s so much said these days about how difficult it is to regain your health and fitness after having a baby. People talk about how tired new mums are, how time poor, how sleep deprived, how gym memberships are too expensive for those of us on maternity leave. And you know what. That’s all true.
Absolutely true. If you’re a new mum you probably are sleep deprived, you probably do have less free time in your day and less disposable cash in your back pocket.
So yeah, the time and money needed for getting fit, healthy and well are likely to be a lot more scarce than they were pre-baby.
But you know what. None of that matters!!!
Because at the end of the day, time and money are not the most important factors in whether you’ll get healthy or not. Think about all those super-rich or commitment-free people you know in the world (or that you used to be!) Are they all super-healthy? Not necessarily. Because it’s not actually about time or money.
Want to know what it is about? Inspiration and commitment.
Last week I was talking about inspiration, and how it’s so much more powerful than motivation. Go check out the post if you have time, but basically what I said was that having something that INSPIRES you to improve your health, rather than just a kick-up-the-backside short term motivation blast, is a much more effective path to health and wellbeing.
New Mum? No time for exercise?
Now what’s more inspiring than being a new Mum?
All of a sudden you have this teeny little bundle of preciousness in your care, and he’s relying on you 100 percent to look after him. To be there for him. To keep him well. And the only way you can really do that, is if you’re well yourself.
I’ve never met a mum who doesn’t want the absolute best for their child, who doesn’t want them to be as well and healthy as possible. The trick is to shift that thinking over to yourself as well.
So rather than seeing your children as your barriers to exercise, eating healthy or taking some “me-time”. Use them as your inspiration for exactly those things.
Which brings us to the second part of the equation: commitment.
You can’t just be inspired to be healthy and well. You have to be committed. Dedicated to creating and maintaining a lifestyle geared towards optimal health and wellbeing.
That’s why it doesn’t matter if you can no longer find two hours in your day for your back to back RPM classes. Because if you’re committed to being well, then every decision you make within your 18 hours (or more!!) of awake time per day is helping you get there.
It’s about eating nutritious, satiating food. Building movement into your whole day on a regular basis. Getting sufficient rest. Drinking enough water. Reducing your toxic exposure. Being kind to yourself. Gratitude. Mindfulness. Socialisation. So much more than just time and money. If you don’t know where to start, don’t worry. That’s exactly what this blog is for. We’re going to be covering all these topics and more.
But for now, just remember. NOW is the time. The perfect time to change your life for the better. For your own sake, and for the future of your family.
One of the best things I’ve done for myself this year has been to start a regular meditation practice. It’s something quite new to me – and to be perfectly honest, it’s something way outside my comfort zone! But over the past several months I’ve come to realise what an incredibly powerful tool meditation is for new mothers.
As mums we can easily become overwhelmed by the enormity of our role. Every decision seems impossibly important. We find ourselves busily plowing through days – doing lots, but somehow not achieving much. Our minds suddenly cannot seem to be quietened.
If this sounds like you – meditation could be a wonderful solution.
Uncertain about meditation? Don’t be.
Meditation doesn’t need to be scary – we don’t need to climb to the highest mountain in our village and sit upside down cross-legged on a bed of lotus flowers in order to meditate.
We can do it anywhere, anytime, and there are several different forms of meditation you can try.
At its core, meditation is about allowing the mind to be still, calm, to focus. By allowing our mind to quieten, we also quieten our body and soul. Letting go of stress, anxiety and other negative emotions is the key benefit.
Here’s a few different meditation strategies to consider.
- Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit. Stop everything you’re doing and simply focus on your breathing. Focus on breathing deep down into your belly, not high into your chest. Focus your mind on the breath – in and out.
- When you notice your mind wandering – which it will! – Just be aware of this wandering, let the thought go and bring your attention back to your breath.
- Try this for a few minutes every day.
- I find this is a particularly good technique to use if you need a “time-out” from a crying baby. Put the baby in a safe place – on his or her back in the cot – and walk outside to try this technique for just a minute or two. It could be just enough time to break the cycle of stress and anxiety you feel building up, which allow you to go back to your baby with a calmer focus. Babies pick up on our emotions – if we can remain calm, it will help baby to learn how to be calm.
2: Your Mummy Mantra
- A mantra is similar to mindfulness meditation, but it can be used for a shorter period and you focus on a word, sentence or phrase which has meaning to you and calms you.
- It could be a simple word such as “calm”, “peaceful”, “relax”, or it could be a more meaningful sentence such as “this too shall pass”.
- Silently and calmly repeat the word or words to yourself, for as long as you need. Don’t try to change your thoughts, just allow the process to calm your mind.
- This is a great technique to use when your baby or child is upset or causing a scene in public – such as at the supermarket!
3: Moving meditation
- This is a great one for people who don’t like to meditate or “can’t handle” sitting still – great to practice while walking bubs in the pram.
- Find a calming, peaceful place to walk – along the beach, a park or trail is great to increase your connection with nature.
- Before you start your walk – stop for a moment to appreciate your surroundings, then bring your focus to your body. Feel the weight of your feet on the ground, feel the movement of your legs striding, feel the lift of your torso holding your body up. Raise your face up and feel the sun on your face. Concentrate on how your body moves and the sensations of this movement as you walk.
- Mindfulness is key here – being aware of your body and its surroundings.
4: Guided Meditations.
- There are literally thousands of guided meditations on the internet – some better than others. My advice is to simply google the sort of meditation you’re after, eg. “guided meditation for stress relief”, “guided meditation for confidence”.
- Listen to a few and choose some that you like. You can then download your favourites to your iPhone – you can listen to them anywhere – take your baby for a walk in the pram and take a few minutes to sit at the park and meditate.
- I quite like Meditation Station on iTunes – lots of free guided meditations for different topics.
5: Take a class
- A formal class is a great way to get the maximum benefit out of meditation, as you can be led by someone trained in meditation techniques.
- Most yoga classes will include some kind of guided meditation at the end, which is always great. Also, many massage practitioners will include some form of guided meditation at the end of their treatment.
- Another great option is an actual meditation classes – there are several around Adelaide – just google meditation in your local area – you might be surprised what you find!