As I look back at 2015, at the many, many lessons I’ve learned in the past 12 months — did I mention there were a lot? — one seems to stick out among all the rest. It’s taken the entire year, but I finally learned that if I want to take care of everyone else, I have to take care of myself first.
I’ve seen articles everywhere on how to be better at self-care, how to make self-care a priority, and ways to incorporate self-care into your daily habits. It wasn’t until I actually made it a priority that I understood how it helped me be a better caretaker to the other people in my life.
I always thought self-care was just a way to pamper yourself, not something that was necessary. Then in January, I went back to work after maternity leave.
I was not prepared for the reality of working motherhood. It was all I could do to keep up with pumping, work, washing bottles, housework and showering — in that order, unfortunately. I tend to be a rather type-A sort of person, so this feeling that everything was on the verge of not getting done was very unsettling and very unwelcome. So I stayed up later and made more lists and ignored anything that pertained solely to myself for the first half of the year.
It was my husband who finally encouraged me to take some time for myself. He would run a bath, light candles and pour a glass of wine, so when I finished putting the baby to bed, I had no other choice than to go take a bath. He would tell me that he would put our daughter to bed if I wanted to go to the gym after dinner. And bless his heart, I actually went.
I started to see that if I worked on my peace of mind, I had more room for thinking about others. I felt better and had more energy when I was able to focus on nothing but myself for even a couple hours a week. Once I started to see that taking care of myself helped me take better care of everyone else, I started to make self-care a habit.
I now take my daughter to the gym with me at least once a week. Do I feel bad if she cries when I leave her in the child care room? Yep. But if it means I’m a better mom for her for the next couple days? It’s worth it. I also take a night or so every week to bake something, read a magazine or take a bath. Does it mean I miss out on time with my husband? Definitely. But if it means I have more energy to do dishes and help him with house projects the rest of the week? It’s worth it.
It took me an entire year to start learning this lesson. I knew it was going to take a long time to learn how to take better care of myself. Old habits die hard and all that. The surprise came when I saw how it made me better at taking care of everyone else. As someone who prides herself on being a good caretaker, this has been — and continues to be — the biggest benefit for me. I still sometimes slip back into my old habits of burning the candle at both ends; I worry about the dishes not getting done before I go to bed, or I skip the gym because I don’t want to deal with an annoyed baby. But it only takes one bath or one gym visit to bring me back.
I’m a better person now for having learned self-care, and the people I love are now getting my best instead of my leftovers. I’d say 2015 did good by me.