Mamasphere: Filling Up Your Tank

Self Care for Moms

By Melissa Snider // Illustration by Stacey Walker Oldham

I’m a crier, a fact well known to friends.

Last fall, after two years at home with my daughters, I jumped at the opportunity to return to work as an elementary school librarian. While thrilled to rejoin a profession I truly love, the shift back to full-time teaching resulted in more ugly crying than I thought possible.

My husband and I worked hard as a team to meal plan, read books at bedtime, and remember to bathe our children. We often finished washing dishes after 10:00 p.m., still with laundry to fold. I felt overwhelmed by the demands made on my body, my patience, and my time. (If you’ve ever referred to living through a normal day as “surviving,” you know what I mean.)

This fall, my older daughter goes to kindergarten and my younger daughter attends preschool. And as our kids get older, I’m beginning to recognize the symptoms of a “mama meltdown.” They go something like this:

1. Constant crankiness: Sarcastic and snappy; difficulty relaxing; sense of humor MIA.
2. Excessive emotion: Chronic weepiness; easily overwhelmed and frustrated.
3. Exhaustion: Foggy head; hard to listen, remember appointments, and find keys and phone.

However, I’m determined to nip it in the bud.

As a Teton County Wyoming School District employee, I enrolled in the Worksite Wellness program offered by St. John’s Hospital in Jackson. At my first appointment, my wellness coach, Natalie Stewart, and I discussed my three-month “vision of wellness” and set a first-week goal to cross-country ski twice and write 1,000 words in my manuscript-in-progress.
When I easily met that goal, I enjoyed a surge of confidence. Life was once again under control.

Week two was a different story. I had a flare-up of reality and didn’t even touch my stated goals. Frustrated by my perceived failure, I hesitantly admitted everything to Natalie, wondering if she ever dropped clients. She listened compassionately, and then asked, “If a friend told you everything you’ve just shared with me, what would you say to them?”

Obviously, I would wrap that friend up in a hug and tell them it wasn’t the end of the world. So, why was it so difficult to say that to myself?

Part of the problem was I didn’t know who that “self” was anymore. I had been so immersed in the tropical storm of giving birth, raising newborns, and getting back to work that I’d left key parts of who I am at the door marked “mother.”

“It has been my experience that mothers, especially working mothers, are so hard on themselves,” Natalie explained. “A common theme I hear is that they feel over-extended and [like] they’re not doing anything right.”

I related to this 100 percent, and realized that if I was going to thrive rather than just survive, I needed to take self-care more seriously. According to Natalie, “A mother who feels that she is at her best self has more personal resources for her family and job.” We began brainstorming ways to help me feel restored.

One of my major goals has been what the wellness folks call “sleep hygiene.” I know my kids’ sleep needs and always try to keep them on a schedule. But I’m a night owl and I thrive during this rare quiet time. Then when morning comes, I pay the price. Natalie encouraged me to practice similar sleep habits to those I try to instill in my kids.

Know how much sleep you need, start winding down ahead of time, and put yourself to bed as dutifully as you do your children. Like me, I predict you’ll find that when you’re well rested, you’ll feel the difference on every level.
Exercise is another essential component of my wellness goals. Planning to and getting to exercise are two separate things, however. You’ve probably experienced the thrill of taking your kids for a walk, moving at a glacial pace for one-tenth of a mile before one of them has either 1) a bathroom emergency or 2) an unhinged tantrum.

I decided to join Training to Be Balanced, a private fitness center in Jackson—as much for the sake of my pelvic floor as for my sanity. Their coaches high-five me every time I drag my exhausted butt into the gym, whether I’m ready to reach new heights or just want to run for five minutes without peeing my pants. They hold me accountable and cheer me on. And no matter how tired I am when I arrive, I always feel energized after a workout.

Natalie once offered me this visual: Dive into a body of water. (Muted sounds; the sensation of being held; solitude and peace.) Now, picture the surface. “There’s a storm, and you’re getting tossed by every wave,” she said. “You’ve got to go deep.”

I started making time to journal, a method of processing I had abandoned when life got full. Now I keep my journal on my bedside table and scribble down lists—things I don’t want to forget about, worries, groceries, etc.
Lifting even mundane things from my brain and laying them down on the page helps me sink into that calmer place. Dedicating time to creative efforts like writing, and restorative activities like reading, also help me relax and experience that slow drift through my mental sea.

What’s your diving bell? Maybe prayer, yoga, ceramics, or salsa dancing?
Make time for things you want to do, not just what you have to do, by distancing yourself from that churning surface.

As a mom herself, Natalie says she has learned self-care isn’t selfish, but that “self-care is vital and necessary for motherhood.” Caring for myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually has enabled me to become a more focused teacher, more loving partner, and more caring parent … most of the time. I’m still learning to give myself the compassion I try to give others and to remember that this is an ongoing process, not a one-time fix.
So, all you tired mamas—I feel for you! Give yourself a hug and a high five, and call a friend for a walk. We’re in this together.