new mom practicing self care with her feet up on window sill beside a cup of tea.
Guilt Mental Health New Mom

If I Don't Take Care of Me Who Will?

By Ceileigh Hammond

I used to have a crappy restaurant job. There was a career, lifetimer waiter who gave me a valuable life trick. He told me, "anytime you need a break at work just go to the bathroom, no one will ever bother you in the bathroom". I have used this in all the jobs I have had after this and it always has given me just a minute of peace… until I had my baby.

Now when I want that little break, my son follows me, or bangs on the door and cries, or I have to be as quick as I can because if I leave him alone, he very well will be on top of the refrigerator when I come out. Or if I bring him into the bathroom he wants to take all the toilet paper off, or break the child locks on the cabinet and somehow get the bleach spray.

Motherhood is a job where there is no bathroom escape and so then how do I get that much needed break if I can’t even go to the bathroom in peace?

Yet another 'to-do'

I was recently talking about this with my mother-in-law and she said that for her, being asked to take “me time” is just one more thing on her to-do list and she feels guilty if she doesn’t do it. But then if she ever tried to do it she said she would feel guilty about that too, like she should be doing other things than spending time with herself.

This seems to be very true of a certain generation that taking time for yourself is selfish. But I think it is important to look at what happens if you don’t take this time and what quality of parenting are you giving when you are exhausted and burned out.

I told my mother in law about my friend Laura, who asked for a day without her child. And with that day she ate fried food on the beach with a friend. And my MIL said, but how, how could she do that? Doesn’t she need to do laundry, or clean or answer emails? Doesn’t falling behind on what she needs to do cause more stress and guilt than the benefits of a day at the beach? And there it is, the word we mothers are practically asked to tattoo on our foreheads: guilty.

Finding time for yourself shouldn’t induce guilt

Guilt should be the result of the willful intent to harm, which when you take time alone is the exact opposite of what you are doing, so then why do we feel like we can’t win?

When my own mother was very sick and dying of pancreatic cancer, it fell to me to take care of her, which I did alone. It was easy to lose myself, my sense of anything other than the immediate care I was giving. I was so entrenched in what I was doing that I really don’t even remember a lot about that time, except the routines of care.

And I can see how this is happening in motherhood too. I am so deeply down in nap schedules and constant vigilance for my toddler that I am missing what is really happening.

Self care for new moms is critical

When my mom was sick my aunt came and kicked me out of my house for a night. Go, she said, come back tomorrow, care for the caretaker is essential. I hear that phrase often in my head now and purposely repeat it to myself when I need a minute: care for the caretaker is essential.

I am realizing I need to take care of me because it helps me refocus and realize this exhausting and beautiful time of my life is temporary. And that care may mean a day on the beach for my friend, a quiet minute to just stare into space on the toilet alone for me.

The time needed to recharge is as individualized as each one of us, so finding what it is you need is important. No one will thank you for being a martyr, but you might thank you for caring for the caretaker.

Related: It’s Possible to Hate Pregnancy, but Love Motherhood

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