It’s taken me to the grand old age of 41 to work out how to look after myself. Which is worrying, when you consider that I’ve been a parent – and responsible for looking after other humans – since I was 31. But I can pinpoint exactly what has led to me this realisation – this light bulb moment of self-care.
Except it wasn’t so much a light bulb moment, it was more of a gradual process.
12 months ago, my twin babies were just three months old, tiny, and in complete and utter need of their mum to be focused on them 24/7. Everything I did revolved around them and their needs – I breastfed them, expressed milk, fed them that, sterilised bottles for formula top ups, burped them, soothed them, wrapped them up in a sling, wearing them around the house, wrapped them up in warm blankets to take them out in their pram – everything I did revolved around them and their needs. My whole existence was about them. It’s intense, isn’t it? Those first few months of caring for a new baby (or two). But since then, I’ve gone from being practically glued to my babies to being needed by them a lot less.
Clearly, they still need me and at 15 months old, they’re still little. But it’s a far less intense version of needing me, now. They can feed themselves (mostly… and messily), they can swig cow’s milk without any help from us, if they cry we usually know what’s wrong (tired/teething/poorly, pick one) and apart from administering ‘mummy cuddles’ there’s nothing that Mr P can’t do. So the past 12 months have seen me go on a weaning process – weaning myself off being this intensely-needed being, weaning myself off having my sole purpose as caring for these two babies – and in turn becoming reacquainted with being ‘me’ again.
I’ve had to get to know myself all over again. Learn what makes me tick and how I want to spend my time. When your whole life purpose temporarily shifts sideways, it takes a while to recalibrate. And because I was allowed to prioritise myself a bit more, I took the opportunity to start prioritising myself in new ways. Ways which probably seem daft to other people, but these things really do affect my mental health, so they come firmly under the heading ‘self care’…
- I’ve started looking after my skin better. Until recently, my skincare regime consisted of a quick face wipe before bed. On nights when I was going to bed really late, I’d often skip the face wipe altogether. Now, for the first time in my life, I make a real effort with my skin. I use a proper cleanser, I use toner, I use a good moisturiser. I know that real hardcore skincare fans are all about the double cleanse, the acid doo-dah, the ceramide whats-it, the retinol thingumy… and maybe I’ll progress to all of that, but for now, it’s a big step forward. Taking the time to look after my skin well has a direct link to my mental health – not only does it give me five minutes of calm every evening, once the kiddos are in bed, but it makes me feel like I’ve got my sh*t together (even if I don’t).
- I’m trying out as many new gym classes as I can. So far, I’ve been to Zumba, body conditioning, ballet, aqua fit and yoga. Next on my list is freestyle dance and pilates. I’m TERRIBLE at each and every one of them. Honestly – awful. My tactic is to find a spot in the back corner of the class and just go hell for leather. Whenever I catch sight of myself in the mirror, it looks like a baby elephant busting some moves, but I don’t even care. I’m there for the endorphins. And – another top tip – because I go to classes with lots of older women in them, no one seems to care what I’m doing! There are no young, body-beautiful people casting judgemental glances my way. Hurrah!
- I’ve started flossing. No, not the dance moves that all the kids were doing in 2019, I’ve started flossing my teeth. Am I late to the flossing party? Is it something everyone does? After a root canal at the dentist last summer (up there in my Top 5 best ever life experiences…) I’ve been flossing every day and it feels so grown up! Just like the skincare and gym classes, knowing that I’m looking after myself physically really helps keep my mental health on an even keel.
Maybe self-care for you is painting your nails once a week, taking the time to massage body cream into your elbows every morning and night, making sure you drink lots of water, cutting back on caffeine. Perhaps it’s writing a journal or listening to a mindfulness app every evening. It’s going to be different for everyone.
And even though my babies need me less, these days, I still need to look after myself to give them what they do need. We still have days filled with nap refusals, vegetable refusals, lack of sharing, missing the bus, getting caught in the rain, losing a sock… days that stretch on and feel hard. But as we all know, you can’t pour from an empty cup.
So definitely needed! I’m 29 and I remember there have been two moments like this for me; one after the birth of my son and the other after a miscarriage when then doctor pretty much asked how much time I had spent with my feet up and I was like ‘erm……few hours maybe?’ Now I am recognising when I need to sit still and not feel bad about it. And YES to the fitness classes, so much fun!