I’ve often thought of myself as a bad mom. Who doesn’t? My older son Jeremy didn’t sleep for the first three months of his life, preferring to protest loudly if he was put down even for a nanosecond. Breastfeeding was an absolute disaster, involving hours of warm facecloths, frozen cabbage leaves, melon-sized breasts, an unhappy baby, an even unhapppier mom and a very bewildered dog. Those times were a deep, dark hole for me – to be honest, a bit blurry now, probably thanks to my PTSD of that time.

So from the start I was *obviously* a bad mom because I couldn’t keep my baby happy – or my husband, but we don’t have time for that novel right now!

Then, as my kids have grown older, they have become needy in other ways. (And I say needy in the nicest way, because they are kids – I get that, but that doesn’t make it easier).

For my sins, I have two boys. They are physical, energetic, loud. When I manage to sit down for a moment, one or other boy will make their way to me, to sit on my lap or touch my face or or rub my tummy or jump on me. All those jokes about “mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy” are about my boys.

I love them for that. But I suffer.

I need space, quiet, calm. I am a quiet, introverted person, but throw in two young children, two little dogs, a larger-than-life husband and a very healthy social life and my limits are reached quite regularly. I get touched-out and overwhelmed. I get snappy and annoyed and I often just want to run away from the circus to a deserted island.

As moms are so good at doing, I’ve always considered myself to be the root of the problem. Maybe I was just the impatient mom, the frustrated mom, the mom with no parenting skills. Surely wanting to leave my tantrumming child on the floor of the supermarket was not normal? Did other mothers daydream of being in a car accident so they could get some alone-time in hospital? Surely longing for the life I left behind is not how I should feel? Surely other mothers don’t feel like that?

I’m a sensitive person. I don’t mean that I cry when I see puppies in toilet paper commercials – though I have been known to do that, but I have sensory issues. I am that person who turns the radio down when I’m trying to find parking. I can’t have a conversation with you if the music is too loud. I can’t sleep if I am the small spoon, only the big spoon. And don’t you dare ask me to wear socks in bed.

You’d think this would have been a bigger part of my life but it hasn’t been, until I had children. Suddenly, my senses and sensitivities were working overtime. Everywhere was noise, people (tiny humans, but still), touching, holding. The music, the talking, the crying – oh the crying is enough to drive anyone to drink wine with a straw.

As a parent, you are likely to be sleep-deprived and mostly powered by caffeine (or, unleaded, as I once ordered at Seattle). You carry the mental load of constantly considering your children’s moods and well-being, and not just your own. You are always thinking of past behaviours, assessing current mental states, and predicting what is going to happen in the next 30 seconds. You have decision fatigue from the hundreds of choices you have to make every, single day.

Parenting is an extreme sport.

With the current climate, when it comes to parenting you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. No matter if you’re a helicopter parent, a tiger mom, a gentle parent or a crunchy mom, you’ll take flack for how you are bringing up your children. And that’s exhausting.

Which brings us to self-care.

Mental health and self-care: such popular buzz words at the moment. Especially for moms (sorry, dads), we are encouraged to take time out for self-care, away from our households (and the dirty dishes), away from our children (and their noisy chaos), and sometimes even away from our partners (and their snoring).

I am a firm believer in self-care, but not how it has been popularised. 

When you think of self-care, you probably imagine having a massage, followed by a bubble bath with a glass of wine, surrounded by candles (because Eskom). And yes, that is self-care, but for me, I subscribe to the belief that self-care is a long-term investment.

Last year I was diagnosed as having a mood disorder, as well as generalised anxiety. Cyclothymia is the fancy name for a cyclical mood disorder which is basically the more-boring cousin of bipolar. If you know me, you would understand that this explains a lot about my life (hello, rollercoaster!).

Now, it has taken me over ten years of therapy to reach this diagnosis and understand myself better. I can’t say whether or not it has influenced my parenting massively but understanding this diagnosis, taking medication for it and being in therapy, has changed my life, my marriage and my parenting.

This is self-care.

Looking after myself, mentally, physically and emotionally.

How does this look in reality?

Having the time to go to therapy on a regular basis. The time to think about myself, my needs and my wants. To talk about what is on my mind, without feeling guilty for my thoughts and feelings.

If I find I’m snapping at my kids or getting impatient with them, I know I need a break – and probably some sleep. I make a plan to go out with friends for dinner, or I ask Granny to babysit for a couple hours so I can have a nap.

If I am feeling overwhelmed with work, I know I need to get away from the chaos to allow myself to breathe, so I can focus. I regularly take a few days away from home to catch up on work. I’ll stay at my parents’ house or rent an AirBnB, get comfy on the couch, eat take aways and write until my eyes close.
It’s my absolute best.

If I am getting irritated with the Beard, I know we need some time apart. He will go out with friends or I vent my anger with my friend over champagne. Space and time is all we need to avoid a lengthy custody battle.

If I’m feeling rundown or sick, and I can’t make a plan with the kids, I’ll put the TV on so we can have some relatively quiet time in the house until the Beard gets home – even if it’s a Tuesday!

I’ve realised the importance of regular exercise – oh how it pains me to say that. But I choose to do exercise I enjoy. I walk as often as I can, or I’ll do the odd yoga or pilates class. Next weekend I’m going to a Secret Sunset session, to dance on the beach with a whole bunch of strangers. Imagine: a whole hour of peace and quiet, not having to answer a million questions about dinosaurs.

I do things I enjoy. Yes, watching movies with the kids can be fun, but having a glass of wine while watching an Art Noveau movie at The Labia is next-level. Sure, having a coffee while the kids play at the PlayStation is handy, but wandering about vintage markets without a shouting child hanging on me is so
much better.

As parents, it’s easy to neglect ourselves. After all, we’ve been taught to always put our kids first. But we do that naturally. It’s just as important to look out for yourself. Pouring from an empty cup and all that. 

Family on couch in garden

This is self-care.