It’s harder to look after myself now than before motherhood. It’s also more important. I can’t be a good mama when I’m all outta spoons. Also, seeing what a different and less cool person the little dude is when tired or hungry reminds me that I’m the same: I need rest, to eat well, time to myself, exercise: I need all these things to remain on an even keel.
Being able to function without taking time to care for yourself seems to be considered a virtue nowadays. Folly! Energy efficiency is important quality in electrical appliances, not in people.
My grandmother would often reproach my mother for not looking after herself well enough. This would make my mother irritable, for obvious reasons. Now my grandmother and my mother both tell me how I really must look after myself, really, I must, am I eating properly? Am I getting as much rest as I can?
I had glandular fever in form two. I took an entire term off school. Not long before I got sick, my mum woke up at 6am and found me on the computer doing homework in my dressing gown. I’m not a naturally early riser. Hmmm, she thought, how do I rein in the over-achieving impulse? Throughout my childhood I had seen my mum look after me and my brother, and hold down a demanding job, and do other work on the side (lecturing, writing a book, voluntary work), and run the house. She was often a bit frazzled. As are many women. In the perverse way of a teenager, there came a time when I would be annoyed at her for not taking better care of herself! Only a fifteen year old can say with a straight face “you shouldn’t have picked me up from rockclimbing, you should have gone to the gym, I could have gotten the bus!” instead of “thanks”. Funny thing is, I was a little bit right. Apparently some people, particularly men people, don’t have this constant automatic response to put other people first. We get very mixed messages, us women people, we’re told that we should look after ourselves and also look after everyone else, until looking after ourselves becomes just one more thing on our to-do list and probably well down the list, and then it’s the thing we neglect. Stupid messages be damned. What the mixed messages imply is that we should be able to run a thousand miles on a half tank of petrol, that we shouldn’t really need to do much to look after ourselves.
I reckon I need to start thinking about looking after myself the same way I think about looking after the little dude. I would never send him to creche without breakfast. If he’s interested in playing with a cool toy but it’s time to start the bath-story-bed routine, tough cookies cowboy ‘cause I know you need your sleep. Simple rules of eating and sleeping that I let slip in relation to myself. (Yes, I’m aware of the irony of writing this after 10pm).
One further thing. I’m struck here, as in so many areas of motherhood, by the fact that this is a very privileged conversation to have. Some people don’t have the luxury of worrying that they might be taking on too much, they have to just do it and not stop to think about being on the brink of collapse. This is all the more reason that the stupid messages need to be made more sensible and the ridiculous standards need to be challenged by those of us with some energy left to do so.