Doing This One Thing Will Make You a Better Parent
September 6, 2017
I hit my limit two weeks after having my second child: I was so sleep deprived and tired from around-the-clock feedings that I could barely function. I burst into tears frequently and found myself fantasizing (hallucinating?) about falling into a deep REM cycle, where I didn’t have to swaddle or diaper anyone. That’s when I said, the heck with it, and called in a baby nurse. For three blissful nights, I slept hard. I woke up feeling like a new, fully functioning human being. The world looked brighter, and so did the bags under my eyes. I was ready to nurse, burp, and sponge bath that little child in my arms with gusto.
After reaching bottom, I realized: I need to prioritize my own needs from time to time—or else I will end up parenting on fumes (half-conscious, super cranky) and that’s not good for anyone. Turns out, I’m not the only mom to have this epiphany. Paula Mallis, a birth doula and founder of the new WMN Space in Los Angeles, puts it this way: “Self-care for me is not a luxury. I have learned the hard way that I must take care of myself before I can be of service to anyone.” And kids do require a lot of service—it’s exhausting making sure they’re healthy, happy, well-fed and semi-dressed that, by the end of the day, our batteries are totally drained.
Highly functioning moms, I learned, find ways to get mind-body balance, so they’re better equipped to handle kids. Mallis, in fact, created an anti-burnout plan with her husband soon after her daughter, Madeline, was born. “Once a week, we each have a self-care day that we are committed to,” she says. She can do anything she wants to unwind—meditate, take a salt bath, write, cook foods not meant for toddlers—while her partner is “responsible for holding it down.” Afterward, Mallis dives back into her mom duties feeling “present, connected to myself and coming from a place of love.”
A spiritual boost can come in many forms, though. After having my two daughters, I had a hard time adjusting to life without regular workouts. Running was my meditation but between pumping, meeting deadlines, and organizing play-dates, my sneakers just collected dust in the closet. Erin Bried, the founder and editor-in-chief of Kazoo, a new quarterly print magazine for girls, can relate. “I love to swim laps, and I never used to take the time for myself to do it,” she says. “There’s always something that takes priority: work, kids, errands.” Recently though, her (super thoughtful) wife gifted her 10 swim sessions to use at the pool anytime, “guilt-free.” Now Bried is now doing laps in the early a.m. before the craziness of the day sets in. “I feel more clear-headed and energized, and starting my morning with a mile-long swim makes me feel strong,” she says, “Like I can do anything.”
Self-care can also be a team effort that benefits both parents. Clémence von Mueffling, the Paris-born founder and curator of the online publication Beauty and Well Being, has a Saturday morning fitness ritual with her husband. “We leave the children for an hour with a sitter and head to a swimming pool for a few laps,” she says. Afterward, “we feel so relaxed and ready for a weekend full of activities. It’s well-used ‘me’ time.” My solution? My husband and I bring the girls (toys and all) to the gym with us on the weekends—the $7 fee for drop-in child-care is nothing compared to the feel-good, post-workout vibes that last all day.
Even on insanely hectic days, a little me-time is better than none at all—just try to find it on the fly. “It’s all about stolen moments, and being able to drop into deep rejuvenation in the midst of chaos,” says Amanda Chantal Bacon, the wellness entrepreneur and founder of Moon Juice in Los Angeles. “On a plane, in a car ride between meetings, after the kids are asleep—don’t be too precious.” Bacon, who has a five-year-old son Rohan, meditates daily, no matter what. This “usually means I’ll pull over and take 20 minutes in my parked car,” she explains. “And I always spend five minutes deeply nourishing myself by making an adaptogenic smoothie. This is only 25 minutes total a day, but it’s life changing and sustaining!”
For supermoms, it’s tempting to fill any bit of downtime—when the kids are at school or napping—with “important” things on your to-do list (groceries, laundry, blah). But give yourself a breather in there. New York fashion stylist and green thumb Marina Muñoz spontaneously decided to plant an herb garden rather than clean the house recently (“I like little things you can accomplish and see instant results from—that’s so relaxing to me,” she says).
And Christine Chang, co-founder of K-beauty website Glow Recipe, milks her shower time to apply masks and treatments. “ Pampering makes me feel put together and in control of anything life might throw my way,” she says. With clear pores and smoother skin as the added bonus. And who says you can’t make a pit stop on the way home from a birthday party for an important beauty fix? “I totally bring my little one to the threading spot for 15 minutes while I get my brows shaped,” says Aliya LeeKong, a New York City chef and cookbook author.
When you really need to get away from it all? Do just that, and book a trip. “India is my yearly adventure without Rohan,” says Bacon. “It feeds me personally and professionally, reminding me why I do it all.” Yes, this requires some major support from a partner or family members who will step up and watch the tykes while you’re miles away. But the reward is that you come back infinitely more rested, rejuvenated, and ready to crush your #momgoals. And your kids will love you for it, too. “I find there’s a sweetness between my son and I when I return, like he actually appreciates me more,” says Bacon. Smiling, she adds, “That lasts about a week!”