Every new mum will know that you’re so focused on doing that job you can easily neglect yourself (body and soul). If you ignore self care for too long it’s inevitable your mental health will be impacted in some way. Here are a few things I’ve learned over the years to help me stay sane(ish) as a parent.
1. Mood diary
First of all I keep a mood diary to log my thoughts and feelings on a daily basis. The aim of keeping a mood diary is to get a better handle on practising mindfulness and achieving more balance and resistance. I want to find a distinction between me and my thoughts and be less reactive to my experiences/ emotions. I also wanted to keep a diary to remind myself that everything changes and thoughts come and go (basically trying to put things in perspective and try and not sweat the small stuff).
2. Eat and Sleep
‘Tis true that you are what you eat and when you’re so busy feeding your tiny human(s) you can find yourself in an unhealthy place with food easily. What I was eating was always last priority and my concern was always to just get Annie fed first and worry about what I was having later (sound familiar?). More often than not I found myself getting to the end of the day having had nothing really substantial all day. I’ve grazed, I’ve eaten Annie’s left overs, OR the hunger pangs were silenced by the copious amounts of caffeinated drinks I was consuming. I wasn’t hungry because I was wired.
Now everything is different. I make it my priority to eat well. Now, I do Hello Fresh and it is a god send. I no longer have to worry about big food shops – all my recipes are delivered to my door, it’s all fresh produce, there’s no waste and no hassle. It means I’m cooking healthy balanced meals and I’m no longer stuck in a cooking rut. The other big change is that I eat all my meals with Annie now, and we eat the same thing. This also saves a lot of time, which I will come on to later…
As for sleep, well not much to say. With a toddler in the household it’s not always easy to get 8 straight hours sleep but I try my best to get to bed by 9:30pm during the week to give myself the best possible chance. Annie is an early riser and is usually up by 5am, so an early bed time is essential for me, especially when I have a full day’s work to contend with! It’s simple; with sufficient sleep you are a rational human being, so I make sleep a priority to keep me as sane as possible!
3. Exercise – no more excuses!
It’s safe to say that as a single mum I struggle to get to the gym, but I’ve stopped using that as an excuse and I now do online workouts at home after Annie is in bed (and cancelled my gym membership completely). Online workouts are just as good as classes at the gym, and I can be flexible in terms of the time. This is about getting my body moving and it can be anything from 25 mins to 45 mins, depending on what else I need to do that evening and how energetic I’m feeling. There’s no travel time required, it’s just about rolling out my mat and grabbing some weights. In that small window I’m solely focused on me, and I listen to my body and what it needs. By the end of the workout I’m in a completely different head space from when I started.
4. Put yourself first
Everyone knows you need to nurture and love yourself to be emotionally and physically well. Sometimes life can be so busy, so stressful, that you don’t have time to recognise the triggers/ external factors/people that are contributing to stress/ making you feel a bit loopy. For me this means I have had to recognise the people in my life that aren’t necessarily good for my emotional well being and put the necessary boundaries in place. This isn’t about cutting people out of my life, it’s more about trying to surround myself with positivity when I am feeling particularly vulnerable or low. The last thing you need is people draining you emotionally when you’re already feeling emotionally drained!
It’s also about saying to yourself it’s OK to want to escape occasionally. It doesn’t make you a bad parent for wanting the occasional day/night off to spend some time being you again. I recently managed to swing a child free day and night, which was exactly what I needed to re-boot. Occasionally you need to take those few hours to go and get your hair done, to go work out, to take yourself shopping or to lie in bed and do sod all.
5. Don’t take too much on
This one is a difficult one for me because I always feel the need to say yes to everything, but in truth having too many plans can lead to me feeling quite overwhelmed and stressed. If I decline something it doesn’t mean I don’t want to do it, it just means I’m trying to balance my life and give myself some breathing space. When you have a baby it takes some time to accept that your life has changed and you can’t do everything you used to do. Of course, I sometimes get frustrated that life is no longer simple, and I’m restricted, but I absolutely would not change it.
I think I’ve managed to find some sort of balance with life now, and as an example, at the weekends we might make plans for one of the days and then the other day I will keep free so we can have a leisurely morning, catch up on household chores, and just be free to be more spontaneous/ less pressured. Besides driving yourself crazy, perfectionism and over-scheduling will leave you and your child cranky and exhausted. So, really, what’s the point?
6. Make new friends
Being a new parent is overwhelming, and you can use all the advice you can get. Especially if your old friends don’t have kids or your family lives far away, it’s time to add new “mummy friends” who know what you’re going through.
I met some of my new mummy friends through pre-natal classes, baby classes and through friends of friends. Especially when I was on maternity leave, and felt like I was going insane on a daily basis, my baby classes and seeing my mummy friends was a lifeline. Our kids played and we chatted over coffee and quite often vented.
Being back at work I see my mummy friends less regularly now, but they’re still there. We get together when we can, and we’re always on the end of the phone if indeed there’s a need for the occasional vent or supportive ear. My next door neighbour is also a single parent (of 3 children!) and this friendship has proved to be a huge support for both of us. Annie is friends with her youngest child and we help each other out as much as possible.
7. Time Savers
As a mum who works full time my free time is valuable and I don’t want to have to waste my free time on unnecessary supermarket shops or browsing shops. When I’m not working I want to spend quality time with Annie, and do fun things with her, not be dragging her around running errands.
Of course real life gets in the way sometimes, and you can’t avoid the mundane bits of life completely, but it’s amazing how much time you can save if you get creative.
My phone is my friend and I do all my researching and shopping online – where ever possible I get things delivered, or make sure the item is in stock before travelling to collect it. I’m always thinking of ways to save time – As mentioned I order Hello Fresh recipes so I don’t have to worry about using up half a day at the weekend on a “big shop” or meal planning, I do all my banking on my mobile phone, I rota my cleaning and have a daily “hinch list” (does everybody follow Mrs Hinch on Instagram? If you don’t you need to right now – it will change your life!) so I don’t have to spend hours cleaning at the weekend. All these little things add up to a huge amount of time saved, and in turn this means I have more time to spend with my little family.
To summarise all of the above I think the key to staying sane as a parent is to make your life as easy as possible. Don’t over-complicated things, don’t take too much on; be realistic. Try not to compare yourself to others – their circumstances are completely different to yours, so of course you’ll be living your life differently. The list above might not work for you, but it might inspire you to take a step back and identify the areas of your life that might need tweaking – what would make your life easier as a parent and, in turn, help you stay sane(ish)?