It’s taken me 12 and a half years of motherhood to realise: it’s a marathon and not a sprint.
Before my eldest was born, my NCT teacher shocked me and the rest of the antenatal class by recounting an anecdote about her own mother. When asked at what stage she worried most about her daughter (now in her mid-forties) she had answered “today!”
Now, I can relate: there is always something to worry about. Plus, always something to do, fold, read or plan.
Although the weight of responsibility of being a newborn’s entire life support system has reduced, and I no longer need to have eyes in the back of my head or “eyes on” my children, they are never far from my thoughts, even when we are apart. I’m beginning to understand the adage “bigger kids, bigger problems”.
The vast majority of my mental load is taken up with ensuring their physical and emotional wellbeing, from meal planning, to diary management, supporting their learning and personal development, procuring clothes and kit, and soothing sibling strife and friendship frictions.
Oh, and did I mention we are a dual full-time working household?!
Recently, with additional anxieties about the pandemic layering on top of the personal ones, I have clocked myself really over-worrying at times, and have found it helpful to reframe it more positively as as the flip side of overwhelming love and a strong bond.
I’ve also realised that everything runs a lot smoother if we lighten up, that anxiety is a highly transferable skill we may prefer not to pass on, especially in our uncertain times.
But I only managed to reach this vantage point of self-awareness and wisdom by giving myself the space to gain some perspective.
Giving myself space and slowing down didn’t come naturally to me. Like many entrepreneurs, I’m relentlessly ambitious, excitable and distractable, exacting and self-critical. I also like to be generous, but can often be a giver to the point of self-depletion.
Through my 20s and 30s, I worked hard and played hard, finding a seemingly inexhaustible reserve of energy to meet tight deadlines, juggle workstreams, take on personal projects and support others. I could easily work nocturnally when I needed to to find those extra hours in the day.
My eldest was a great sleeper when small, which lulled me into a false sense that I didn’t need to make adjustments to my own self-care routine - i.e. I should have banked all available hours of sleep for tougher times ahead!
Along came my second, unwittingly armed with the grenades of silent reflux and dairy intolerance which we didn’t fully understand or medicate until month 5. At that point, we were so worn down by next-to-zero sleep that my husband came down with pneumonia.
Suddenly I wasn’t superhuman. I noticed I would regularly come down with a minor cold due to chronic lack of sleep, yet I still tried to push on through, going back to work quicker than after my first maternity leave and hold myself to the same standards as before this pressured period.
I hit burnout a number of times without reading the warning signs, until my body or mind held up a giant TAKE A BREAK sign. I’ve had to consciously learn the concept of capacity, how to create boundaries and set a sustainable pace. In short, I’ve learned the art of marathon running.
How did I begin? Attending a yoga class was the first step. I’ve practised for 23 years now, on and off, and it’s been my entry point to a bigger focus on self care. By allowing myself those regular weekly moments of me time, I could see the stabilising nourishing effect: the transformative power of deep relaxation and prioritising my wellness.
Some friends and I started a weekly yoga class (still going 5+ years later!) then started the tradition of an annual yoga retreat weekend, within a couple of hours’ drive from home but in all other respects, a world away. I then discovered an incredible local massage therapist giving affordable treatments in her home, and I started showing up, with my tangled knot of shoulders, a couple of times a year. I noticed that I could show up at work and at home far better when I carved out more time and space for myself. Then came a traumatic bereavement and the knocks and blows of every day life, and I could see that these self-care practices were essential engine maintenance to keep my motherhood machine on the road. During moments of acute pressure, such as this pandemic, or if mine or my husband’s work gets particularly busy, I now take a step back, and appreciate that kittens won’t die if I don’t do a certain task or if I order in some ready meals or encourage positive online activities to keep the kids engaged and out of my home office.
What’s been really revolutionary, however, has been getting to know the Nourish app. Its bitesize content and activities are so much more feasible to slot in to a hectic working parent’s diary, that I manage to take those ‘moments for me’, far more regularly. What started as me guiltily taking 3 minutes out has now grown to me using the app up to 3 times a day and seeking out longer audios to enjoy in a different room to the family and before going to sleep.
I’ve finally realised it’s not selfish to self-care, it’s our own holistic life support system - and underpins our family dynamic and relationships.
Mums may be superheroes but we aren’t superhuman.
About the author
Liane Katz is Co-founder & CEO of MAMA.codes, a parent-powered creative coding school for children aged 3-11: www.mama.codes
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