Today’s Self-Care Month Guest Blogger is Jennifer McCullough. She is a 20-year PR and Marketing professional turned stay-at-home mom slash blogging fanatic. You can learn more about her and read her crazy mom antics at http://www.mommyhooddom.com. Please stop by and say hello. She’d love to meet you!
After my son was born in the fall of 2011, with the exception of two trips to the pediatrician’s office, I didn’t leave my house for a month. I mostly just cried all day and ate Peanut M&Ms. The idea of self-care, or taking even a minute for myself, was nowhere on my radar.
At the same time I was getting my sea-legs as a mom, I was mourning the loss of my mother, who had died a month before my son was born. In the course of a year, I moved to a new city far away from friends and family, had a baby and lost my mom – that’s a pretty good recipe for emotional upheaval!
One of the main reasons I didn’t go out more right after my son was born was because I wasn’t comfortable breastfeeding in public. My breasts were humongous and hard to conceal. Pumping hurt, so I didn’t like to do that either.
I didn’t much like breastfeeding in those early days, but my son LOVED it. It seems like he wanted to nurse every 20 minutes, around the clock. I found out what real sleep deprivation is like. It’s not the kind you experience when you’re having fun in college. It’s the kind that goes on for weeks on end and that is actual torture.
During that first month, I didn’t talk to many people. I rarely showered. I guess maybe that’s why they didn’t talk to me. I don’t know.
To say I neglected my needs for basic things like sleep, nutritious food, exercise, shampoo and emotional support would be the understatement of the century. I was a case study in self-care: how not to do it. Those first 30 days were tough to say the least, but things slowly got better.
I will never forget the first trip I made to the grocery store, which was also my first time out of the house alone, about a month after my son was born.
I guess my brain had forgotten how to process so much sensory stimulation because I remember being overwhelmed with all the colors and shapes lining the shelves! I couldn’t focus on any one thing. The barely audible overhead music combined with the sounds of shopping carts and occasional chatter from the other shoppers bombarded me like a Mardi Gras parade. I realized I needed to get out more often or else risk becoming someone who could not go out – at all. And that thought frightened me – a lot.
I wish I could say I started going out all the time after that grocery shopping experience, but I really didn’t. Living in a new place where I didn’t know anyone made it tough. The weekly trips to the grocery store and the occasional weekend trip to the mall were big adventures. Mostly, we stayed at home, my infant son and me, while my husband was at work. The long winter days melted together.
The next spring, my son and I did start having a few play dates here and there. It was great to connect with other moms. My son loved the social time with other little ones. We worked our way up to visiting the library.
When it warmed up, we walked around our neighborhood. I remember being so happy just to get fresh air. It was such a small thing, but after being inside for months on end, fresh air felt like such a luxury!
Eventually, I started getting my hair done again. For the longest time after my son was born, I either cut it myself or went to one of those drive-thru hair cutters for the easiest, most low-maintenance style possible. It’s called a pixie and it takes forever to grow out!
My son turned two-years-old a few months ago and to celebrate, I went out with one of my girlfriends and got a manicure and a pedicure. It was awesome! It was only the second manicure I’ve ever had in my life and it was my very first pedicure! I thought surely they’d give me a discount! They didn’t, but that’s ok. I’m still going to go back.
I still breastfeed my son several times a night and before his nap, and whenever he gets an “ouchy.” But, I do sleep a little more these days. I’m still looking forward to getting a good 8 hours of uninterrupted slumber. I know it will come, eventually.
I joined a health club last week. Crazy, I know! I haven’t actually worked out yet, but I don’t want to do too much too fast. They say you should start slow. I figure I’ll get ON the treadmill around the first of March.
I started a blog called Mommyhooddom. Writing is great self-care therapy for me. I like to write sad stories about missing my mom and funny stories about being a mom. Connecting with other parents online is a huge blessing! They make me feel human on the days I feel like a wind-up mom.
I have a long, long, long way to go before I can say I’m good at taking care of myself. But, I have high hopes that by the time my son starts pre-school in the fall, I’ll be well on my way to remembering what it was like to have both of my legs shaved at the same time. One can dream, even while awake at night!
©2014 Jennifer McCullough
In honor of my “sick day,” I am re-posting an oldie but goodie! Enjoy! – Stacey
Have you noticed that we live in an achievement-oriented society (at least those of us in the U.S.)? Many people feel like they are wasting time if they are not producing, attaining or completing something. It can get exhausting at times! Sometimes the only occasion we give ourselves a break is on vacation – and many times even those are meticulously planned out to the minute, leaving little real relaxation time.
When is the last time that you aspired to “underachieve?” I’m talking about taking a day off to do “nothing” like watching TV, movies, reading a book, staying in your pajamas, eating ice cream? Have a day to turn off your phone and computer, to not do any errands or chores, take a nap or go within? When is the last time you were able to take a whole day to “play it by ear?” I hope your answer involves some time recently, but if it doesn’t, why not try “underachievement” soon? When you give yourself permission to not do anything productive, there’s no reason to feel guilty. You may, however, feel a little pampered – and that’s generally a pretty good feeling!
For the past 20+ years, I’ve had a successful business in women’s health psychology. Two years before that, I became a mom and had no idea what it would be like to combine work and motherhood. The maid part has always suffered, although I was the main “cook” in my home especially when my daughters were young. From my journey as a mogul, mom and maid, here’s what I’ve learned:
1. You can’t “have it all” at once. At different times in my life, one of these roles has required more of my time and attention. My 25 year-old still reminds me how I missed her first “double-digit” birthday to attend a professional workshop out-of-town. Similarly, I turned down opportunities to promote my professional life because I wanted time with my children and family. As my children reached their tweens, I made certain to be home after school the days I wasn’t in my office to stay connected with them. Now, I have two twenty-something daughters who are caring, successful young women who are making their own mark on the world.
2. You can “have it all” sequentially. Since my children are almost launched, I have more time to devote to my business and service activities. Even with older children, I’ve learned that parenting never ends, but the concentrated time you spend and the energy it takes eases some. I still make certain to make time to talk when they call or be available when they need me, but I have more time for close friends, personal interests and my marriage. My “maid” part is happily de-cluttering our home because as I get older, I discover less need for stuff and more for simplicity.
3. Being “successful” is in the eye of the beholder. Earlier in my life as a mom and mogul, I wanted success to be all about me and how well I was doing at seamlessly combining motherhood and business woman. Of course, I wasn’t (no one can) but that was my goal. I also wanted more of everything, money-power-status-stuff. Everywhere it seemed, I saw other women scaling career heights never before imagined and they had children and families too. Then I realized that their families and personal lives were suffering (back to lesson #1-You can’t have it all), and instead of reaching for the stars, re-evaluated my definition of success.
4. Success changes at each life stage. While as a younger woman, I defined success primarily by what I’d achieved in my career and professional life, my feeling successful has much more to do with my role as a mom and person. Nothing is more important to me than raising my children to be caring, responsible, honest human beings who act with integrity and compassion. Likewise, it’s continuing to ask myself what I can do today to make the world a better and more loving place to live in. These are my current measures of success.
What are yours?
For the last four or five decades, women have taken on more roles in society. We can work outside the home in fields other than secretarial and nursing. There are female CEOs and upper managers, doctors, lawyers and sanitation workers. All of this is well and good, but it gave birth to the whole issue of “juggling” in our lives. Can we be excellent women, wives/partners, mothers, employees/bosses and homemakers all at the same time? Of course, this gives rise to a bigger question: why do we feel the need to strive to “master” this juggling act?
I’ll be honest here; I’m a bit of a rogue. I haven’t watched a news program in over ten years or a full commercial in over two. I don’t vote (no need to comment on this; I’ve heard the lecture hundreds of times) and I dislike organized religion. Basically, anything that society tells me I need to have, think or do, I usually do the opposite (with the exception of watching Breaking Bad and The Blacklist [recorded on DVR so I can skip the commercials], if I’m to strive for full disclosure). However, there was a time not so long ago when I was totally into the circus routine.
I experienced severe postpartum depression and panic disorder after my daughter was born. I had always been pretty “Type A” and a baby just blew away any predictability, structure and routine that I had for myself. It was a dark time, but I got better with treatment. I went straight back to the routine: I got up at 5:00am to get ready for work, get the baby up, fed and dressed. I’d drop her off at day care and then drive to the gym. I’d work out for an hour, shower, dress, and put make-up on and get to work by 8:00am. I’d work until 5 or 5:30pm, drive home, pick up the baby, make dinner, tidy up the house (unless it was Thursday; on Thursday I cleaned the entire house because I didn’t want to give up a weekend day to do it) and swap out baby care with my husband until I fell into bed, exhausted, somewhere between 10 and 11:00pm. I did this every day for over a year.
I think back on that time now and wonder how the heck I did it. I don’t feel particularly proud of that juggling act; it’s more like a feeling of disbelief. Not only how did I do it, but why? Now that I am older and have gotten in touch with my genuine self, that time in my life seems so shallow. In an attempt to please everyone, I was basically committing slow suicide by adrenaline. I was irritable all the time! Yet, the idea of “having it all” continuously played over and over in my head, and I believed I was doing it.
What I was doing was living for everyone else except me. Young children do need fairly constant attention, but I found that annoying. As a result, I didn’t really enjoy being a mother. I have mourned that time and have let it go, but that was really tough to accept. My daughter is a teenager now, but we’re pretty close. Thankfully, my lack of enthusiasm didn’t prevent her from loving her mommy anyway. I guess I was good enough.
Hindsight is always 20/20 and if I could do it all over again, I would make some changes. For all of you young mothers out there trying to conquer the world, here’s some advice from a seasoned one. Please don’t make the same mistakes I made!
- Excellence isn’t perfection. If you’re doing the best you can at the time, even if your best sucks, then you’re achieving excellence.
- Take care of yourself first. Believe it or not, the housework, dishes, etc. will be there tomorrow (unless you have an awesome partner or a maid).
- A cluttered house is indicative that children live there. It’s okay.
- If at all possible, find meaningful work in an area that you’re passionate about. Whether that means volunteering or outside employment, make sure that you love what you’re doing.
- Quit comparing yourself to other women. You’ll always lose. Plus, many women are great actors and are thinking that you’re more awesome than they are!
- Stop caring what other people think. You’ll never catch up to those “Joneses” because they do not exist. If someone doesn’t approve of what you’re wearing, how you act or how dirty your house is, then they don’t need to be in your life.
- Be honest with yourself. If you are resentful toward your kids or your spouse, work through it with a professional. It not only hurts your relationships, but it slowly erodes your self-esteem.
Of course, all this is easier said than done. However, I am living proof that it is achievable. It took time, honesty about myself, accepting some unpleasant facts about my childhood and rebuilding my esteem to fit my genuine self. There are so many wonderful Life Coaches and therapists out there that would be honored to help you find insight into your life!
Personal growth is a life-long process. However, it is very nice to be content with this phase of my life. It is my wish that you find your peace, realize how important you are, and jump off of that merry-go-round if you’re on it. You’re already excellent, my friend!
The holidays have arrived with fun-filled and stress-filled times sandwiched together, not unlike raising children, work, marriage and other life pursuits. So, here are some recommendations to make the holidays calmer and happier.
First, have realistic expectations of yourself. Many of us feel disappointed because our “fairytale images” don’t materialize. Instead, focus on feeling good from the inside out. Build a fire and roast marshmallows, shop with a friend, or take a long walk in the woods. Meditate, workout, read, or listen to music. Take time to feed your soul.
Second, have realistic expectations of others. No one’s family or friends are perfect, and the holidays won’t change this. Since we can’t change them, we need to rely on ourselves to gather what’s positive and let go of the negative. Experiment with creating new family traditions that don’t stir up bad memories. If a situation becomes too negative, leave.
In need of some immediate stress relief? Then click here to view Dr. Sanford’s 5-minute mindful breathing and 15-minute body scan relaxation on YouTube. After all, peace and love is the true meaning of the season and it starts from within.
Finally, if you’re looking for a gift for a pregnant or new or veteran mom, preview our books on motherhood and self-care at our revamped livingselfcare.com site. While you’re there, let us know what you think of our “new look.”
Thanks for belonging to our self-care community. We wish each of you all the best at the holidays and throughout the year!
Whether we are experiencing joy or adversity, each moment affords us an opportunity for growth if we are willing to learn from it. In life, our most challenging moments are often the ones we learn the most from.
When I was in my third year of graduate school, I failed my qualifying exams for my Ph.D. miserably, flunking 5 of the 8 questions. Returning to school the next semester, I didn’t know if I’d be staying or leaving after the completion of my Masters. After much deliberation, I’d resolved to do what I could to stay in graduate school even though I had panic attacks each time I walked up the stairs to our second floor classrooms. I felt totally lost and alone.
But like many of us, my story doesn’t end there. When I went back to school, I learned what I needed to know to make things different. Even more, I discovered an inner strength and resilience I hadn’t fully realized until then. An unexpected and most welcome gift.
In Stacey’s last post, she talked about mindfulness and how that’s helped her weather life’s ups and downs. Mindfulness is defined as paying attention to the present moment on purpose without judgement. In mindfulness practice which includes meditation, we learn to value each moment for what it brings us. Whether joyful or challenging, it always provides the opportunity for us to grow into the fullest potential of who we are.
As Rafiki says to Simba in The Lion King, “Oh, yes. The past can hurt but the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.”
What will you choose? Namaste.
This post was inspired by Day 6 of Oprah and Deepak Chopra’s 21-Day Meditation Challenge which we encourage you to join at https://chopracentermeditation.com/challenge.