We tell other women to take care of themselves. We tell ourselves to take care. But we don’t. Not usually anyway.
The closest I seem to come to self-care is staying up after my family has all gone to sleep to complete tasks and do things that I find difficult to do while they are awake. Maybe it is some kind of work I need to do, taking a shower, or even just watching tv–by myself without having to press pause every 90 seconds to answer a question or remind the kids to quiet down.
This kind of self-care fulfills my need to get something done and have some alone time (I’m a busy body introvert). Plus I am a night owl. Always have been, always will be the kind to happily burn the midnight oil. The problem is that this kind of self-care breaks one of the cardinal rules of self-care: get enough sleep. I know, I know, mothers don’t sleep. It is a running joke among mothers that we don’t sleep and coffee runs through our veins as some sort of life-blood.
This kind of schedule worked well before my husband and I had children. I would stay up late and rise late because my job allowed for that. And it gave some quiet time in the late evenings to work on my homework for college. My husband’s job required him to be the early to bed, early to rise type. This kind of schedule works well for him because he’s a morning person anyway and often falls asleep on the couch sometime around eight o’clock. It worked for both of us because we both got that little bit of alone time to do what ever it was that we needed to do to take care of ourselves. But now we have kids and my days of sleeping in are pretty much over.
My husband’s job still requires him to wake early. He drives a cement truck and needs to be alert for safety reasons. Usually he works every day but Sunday and averages 60 hours a week. He works hard and burns himself out. I don’t work outside of the home; so I usually take both the day and night shift with the kids. Now, don’t get me wrong, he does pitch in with the kids. He often lets me sleep in on his off days since sleeping past four in the morning is something that almost never happens for him. And he helps with balancing the craziness of those crazy hours from dinner time to bedtime during which the kids are bonkers, dinner has to be made then cleaned up, and the kids need to get into pajamas.
But all that he does doesn’t change the fact that I’m usually lucky to get four hours of sleep a night. Which means I am often cranky and dysfunctional and completely dependent upon a near constant supply of caffeine. I am short-tempered with my kids and husband, get overwhelmed easily, and I am so forgetful! All because I get so little sleep.
Easy solution: go to bed earlier. Right? I’ve tried forcing myself to go to bed early (this requires a strict refusal of caffeinated beverages after four p.m., a relaxation routine that includes soothing tea and a shower, and sometimes an actual sleep aid). This keeps me more functional, if I can actually sleep and don’t lie awake tossing and turning half the night. My house is cleaner, the kids are happier, I don’t forget to take care of all the things on my to-do-list. Maybe I can’t get to everything because there are only so many hours in the day, but if I can’t get to it, I remember to reschedule it.
But, after a few days, I feel like I am losing myself. Probably because I am. I totally and completely neglect the things that make me anything other than wife and mother. I can’t concentrate on writing when the kids are awake and dependent on me to kiss their boo-boos and get them a constant supply of snacks. And forget any crafting project that requires a large space to have materials and utensils laid out and undisturbed by small hands that shouldn’t handle large fabric shears. I start slipping into a depressive funk and end up cranky and forgetful despite being well rested.
Barring spending loads of money we don’t have on daycare or driving 30 minutes to my mother’s to drop the kids off and then driving 30 minutes back home only to have to turn around and make the hour long round-trip in a few hours, essentially wasting two hours of time (and a lot of money on gas). Time that could have been better spent working and money that could have been better spent on groceries or utility bills. It seems I am not left with many options. So where do I make cuts, trim the fat from my schedule, to make this all work? How does Mom wake up from the self-care nightmare?