It’s Mother’s Day again this weekend and the quest for the best Mother’s Day gift is on. This time, I want to inspire mothers around the world to give something to themselves, and you can help.
As a mother, I find it very hard to take time for myself. I am so used to giving and giving and giving, maybe I forgot how to take. You see, I am self-employed and the balance between work and life is mine to control. Some say it is easier. I think it is harder.
I had my first business straight after I graduated from college and I was already a mother by then. It was tough, but it made me efficient. When my kids were young, I never protested. I accepted that giving was part of my role. Over time, I learned to take time for myself in the spaces between being with my kids, my husband, housework and my job, and gradually increased it.
Time for ourselves is short in our society and as hard as it is to admit, mothers have even less of it than anyone else.
In our society, mothers are in charge of many aspects of family life. I do not really like the stereotypical jokes about what mothers do in the time it takes dads to say “Jack Robinson”, or what happens when mom is sick vs. when dad has the Man Flu, but there is a lot of truth in them.
One of my clients protested this for a long time. She was in charge of her household and family life for 4 years. When she was ready to get back to work and asked her husband to be with the kids for one evening a week, he did not manage.
I told her it was hard to blame him after three weeks of three hours a week, while she had so much more experience. The formula was easy: 365 days a year, times 4 years, times 12 hours every day (17,520 hours of experience) vs. 3 days times 3 hours (9 hours of experience).
No wonder women can do it better! Practice does make perfect. Every Mother’s Day, when my children write me notes of love and appreciation and give me their best Mother’s Day gifts, this reminds me that the thing I was missing most was time.
Time for myself was very short for many years and I was OK with that. Then, about 10 years ago, I worked almost around the clock. I had an active life coaching practice, I had a big contract, I traveled away from home and had to work some weekends. The time I used to take for myself in-between the cracks of everyone else’s busy schedule shrank to zero.
I felt I could not breathe. I could not think properly. I hardly saw friends or went to the movies. The only artistic thing I did was using colorful pens on my diary, which was full of things to do. We still had to eat, coordinate school activities, help with homework, clean the house, the fridge, the toilets, go shopping, shower, wash our clothes, vacuum, mow the lawn, weed the garden and sleep.
Mothers know that “something’s gotta give” and that is usually sleep, social interactions, fun, romance, creativity and even meditation. 95% of what I had to do was for others and the message, as hard as it was to admit, was “I am less important” or “You are more important than I am”.
During that period, my to-do list was huge and every morning, when I got up, it was bigger than the day before. I did not like the message I was sending myself and my family. I did not like modeling this self-sacrifice for my daughters or for my son and showing them that a mother’s job is to give and that she has many roles and duties that make everyone around and their needs more important.
If you have ever been on a commercial flight, you have heard the instruction clearly state “Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, before assisting other passengers”. There is giving from abundance and giving from lack. During that period, I gave from lack and I knew something had to change!
Set goals to remind yourself you are important
Using my life coaching skills, I started a “me, myself and I” project to put me at the center of my own life. It did not take me long to get over the social “selfishness” title people put on parents (mothers and fathers alike) who do things for themselves. Whenever I heard social criticism, I reminded myself of the oxygen mask on the plane and my own philosophy, “Happy parents raise happy kids” (or “Parents who think they are less important raise kids who think they are less important”).
Use your happy list to let go of the “spare time” illusion
So I checked my happy list for the things that were my oxygen. I realized I was saying to myself, “I will do them when I have some spare time”. When you have kids at home, you never have spare time! When you have your own business, you never have spare time! Spare time is an illusion. We do not have it. We make it by prioritizing. Something’s gotta give and the illusion that one day we will have the time must go.
Add self-care items to your to-do list
The things for years, I thought I can do only in the cracks between others’ needs were on my goals and to do list. I had action steps and I scheduled them in my diary. I scheduled time with my friends at a cafe, I registered to an art class, I established regular Skype conversations with my sisters, I spent time reading, I played some fun games on my smart phone, I started gardening, I insisted on going to the movies and inviting friends over weekly.
My to-do list kept piling up, but my priorities changed.
Remember your tombstone
In one coaching session, I told my client, a mother stressed to the max about her own to-do list, that if she dedicated her life and all her energy to that to-do list, she would be rewarded with a carving on her tombstone “died after completing her to-do list”.
She smiled and let go of this attitude straight away. After she left, I kept on seeing my own grave. Every morning, looking at my huge list of things to do for others, I thought about my tombstone and let go of the desire to be a superwoman with an empty to-do list.
Celebrate! Care for yourself! Do it now! Do it regularly!
Every week, I counted the things I did for me! If I met a friend for a cup of hot chocolate, I gave myself a pat on the back and reminded myself I was important. Every time I talked to one of my sisters, I charged my batteries through self-care. Every time I did some art, I felt creative and kind to myself. Every time I played on my smart phone, I felt I deserved that time off, not thinking of what I needed to do for others.
Was it easy?
Because for years, I had trained myself and everyone around me to think it was my role to put others first. They had been appreciative, do not get me wrong, but appreciation is not a sustainable reward. If time is a tank, then appreciation cannot fill it up, just like kind words cannot compensate for lack of sleep.
So this Mother’s Day, kind words and appreciation can help, but the best Mother’s Day gift is to encourage your mother (and yourself, if you are a mother) to start taking care of herself. Remind all the mothers in your life that they need to be important in their own mind and that time to themselves is like oxygen. Nobody else can do their breathing for them.
Happy Mother’s Day,