Before having kids, treating myself wasn’t really on my agenda. Treating yourself was just, well, life. They weren’t treats, they were just nice things you did or bought because you were a grown up with full autonomy over what you did with your time and money.
Six years later and two kids down the line, my mental health and my bank balance have both taken a severe battering. My time is no longer my own and what was once everyday life, now seems like a scene from an episode of Sex and The City.
Before Children a normal working week would include buying lunches every day at work, a stroll around the shops during lunch break, a couple of meals out a week or takeaways. Weekends would often be spent in cafes, brunching over the Sunday papers, (have I just invented ‘brunching’?) or dashing off on a city break. Sometimes I would head to the pub on a Saturday night around 9 o’clock.Last weekend I was on a rare night out and I was on the bus home at eight thirty. So there it is, a rare child free night afforded me the opportunity to return to the BC days and I did not take it.
From the time I had my first child up until returning to work after my second child I really lost my identity in the fog of early motherhood. Obsessed and stressed by the minutiae of every day life with two small children, I had genuinely forgotten who I was. I can actually remember thinking , who are you ? I didn’t recognise myself. I was at the bottom of my list and if I’m being completely honest I probably got some kind of perverse reward out of playing the martyr. But I didn’t get a reward for being a martyr. No-one does. It helps nobody if you put yourself at the bottom of the list. I was often miserable; moody with my husband and shouty with my children. This is not to say that there weren’t genuine difficult circumstances which contributed to my low mood (dare I say it, depression); namely financial pressures and my son’s behavioral problems. It is too simple to say that if I had found the time for a massage and a night out all would have been well, but I was not taking care of myself. I didn’t even recognise that I wasn’t taking care of myself, that’s how far off my own agenda I was.
I’m not really sure why the turning point came when it did, but certainly when I returned to work after my second maternity leave I was spent. There was nothing left in the well. I wanted to carve out some space for myself. Time was always going to be in short supply as myself and my husband both work full time and he studies two evenings a week. Money, also, is too tight to mention. So I really was going to have to learn the art of taking pleasure in the small things. No weekends away, no retail therapy splurges, no spa massages. Self-care has become a bit of a twee cliche now, one of those terms bandied around at any opportunity, but the idea behind it is genuine and important and something we should all be doing on a daily basis. If you’re a new mother reading this I urge you not to leave it as long as I did to put yourself at the top of your list. Ignoring yourself becomes a habit that is really hard to break, so even in the early days find five minutes to do something that is only for you and remember who you are.
Here’s a few of the things I like to do, which are only for me. There’s nothing ground breaking here, but when you’re in the middle of the fog, you can’t see even the simplest of things.
I was never really into beauty or skincare Before Children, but then via Mumsnet I discovered Caroline Hirons blog and the ritual of the ‘double-cleanse’. To the uninitiated double cleansing is basically washing your face twice. With a couple of nice products thought it can turn from a chore into a de-stressing ritual performed at the end of a long day. Many beauty bloggers will recommend products which are beyond the price range of mere mortals but I have discovered a couple I love which will not break the bank. I have developed a real love of facial oils, either as part of cleansing stage or instead of a moisturiser. I love Una Brennan Superfacialist Rose Miracle Makeover Facial Oil (available in Boots for €20.99) but my absolute favourite has to be, from Boots again, Botanics Smoothing Facial Oil Triple Age Renewal with Purple Orchid (why do they all have such ludicrously long names?) I’ve also started wearing eyeliner and red lipstick. Get me.
Reading was something I always loved and I used to tear through books at break-neck speed. Again it was something that had fallen by the wayside, partly because of time, partly because new books are so expensive. If I did read it was on the kindle app on my phone as I was sitting in a darkened room whilst a child tried to fall asleep. Not exactly relaxing. So, I pledged to myself in a blog post that I would buy one new book every month and make reading a pleasure again, and not just a time filler. You can keep up with my reading list, here.
This has been a revelation. I didn’t know I could write anything more meaningful than a text message. I didn’t know I cared so much about so many things. To be sharing stories with other women experiencing the same thing (or not, often the joy is in the difference) is amazing. Blogging (and Twitter, in my case) allows us to connect with people across the world and make what can be for some a very small world, infinite.
Gin. I spent thirty six years of my life ( well, lets say 18 years, I’ll start counting from when I could legally drink) thinking I didn’t like Gin. What a fool, what a fool.