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If you’re a mom with young children the word CALM may not be the first thing you think of to describe your daily life…..but Kelly Newsome Georges of Ritual Care proves it is possible by teaching self-care skills to cope with motherhood. Kelly’s online platform, Ritual Care offers programs and courses that help women around the globe find that balance we all crave. We're thrilled to bring you her tips for finding time and staying calm during the chaos of early motherhood.
Tip 1: Create your choir circle (instead of trying to do everything yourself). This helps you keep perspective, and remember you aren’t alone, in the juggle struggle — and that’s a big part of staying afloat. I first learned the 'choir' concept from my teacher, Maria Sirois, when I was training in Positive Psychology. She’s an expert on resilience, and taught that everyone should be supported by a choir — the people who always sing for you. I loved the visual, and it’s a big part of my own work with moms — especially if I’m helping them prepare for postpartum — when your community is critical. It doesn’t have to be a lot of people, just dependable ones. It doesn’t have to be free — I’m a huge advocate of hiring help (postpartum doula, babysitters, home cleaner, etc.). It doesn’t have to be family — many moms prefer to seek support from other brand new mom groups, for instance, rather than their own mothers or other family members.
Tip 2: Help your babies sleep independently every night. Preferably around 7 pm. Baby sleep is one of those topics that we could talk about (and often do) for years. It also splits parents up into two main groups: (A) those who are laissez-faire about it, and (B) those who believe a bedtime schedule is religion. If a more relaxed approach is rocking your world, awesome! You can advance to go, collect $200 and move on to Tip #3. But I’m in the second camp, and whenever a mom asks me how she can possibly find time for herself because she has NO FREE TIME, I usually find that she’s putting her kid(s) down too late for bed, and/or spending up to hours of extra time every day getting them to sleep every night (and nap!). Newborns are an exception because they’re often up all night anyway, but once your baby is around 4 months old or so, you can start helping them learn to fall asleep independently. The end result is this: not only does your baby get more of the uninterrupted sleep that (s)he needs, but you also get more time (and sanity) for yourself. A lot more. For instance, the difference between a 7 pm bedtime and a 9 pm bedtime for a 2-year old isn’t just 2 hours — it’s 2 'witching' hours, because by then, everyone. has. had. it. by then. Earlier bedtime = better baby sleep = more mama time = happier everything.
Tip 3: Learn what self-care really is — because that opens up a world of possibility into how you practice it. This is huge! Many moms think that they have to get to Soul Cycle, or book a mani-pedi, or have coffee with their girlfriends every week to check self-care off the list — but self-care can look like a lot of things, depending on the day. The wellness industry sells us this idea that our care has to be one way — this one new trend we need to learn, or the must-have product we’ve gotta’ buy from that Instagram ad that keeps creepily popping up in your feed. We’re also sold a lot of quick, feel-good fixes. But when you believe that you need all of that, you overcomplicate our care (and create a barrier to getting it done!). Real self-care doesn’t require any parts or props or even money — and the goal isn’t just feeling good, it’s building resilience for your life. I describe it as 'No-Cliché Self-Care,' and it’s ridiculously simple. Self-care also isn’t just what you do, it’s also what you say and what you think. That means you don’t have to jog 3 miles, or hire the sitter, or even change your schedule. You can start a warm solo shower ritual each evening, or pay attention to how you talk to yourself. Those qualify, too. I want every mom to know this. That even if she’s taking care of her baby all day and working long hours at night and doesn’t have room in her budget for regular babysitting — she can still take self-care. It’s flexible, customizable, and something that we each define for ourselves.
You can’t. Ooh, that’s not the right answer, is it?! *smile* Okay, maybe some moms never ever ever lose their cool, but I don’t know ‘em. What I’ve seen over the years (and experienced myself) is that we cannot stay calm 100% of the time as mothers. Expecting that of ourselves is a direct flight to feeling like a failure. Because, while your tiny people are the cutest humans on the planet (says every mother everywhere), chances are they have a way of knowing exactly how to push your buttons and pull your triggers (even the stuff you thought you’d dealt with or never knew you had). And that’s their job. They’re supposed to find those little rough edges and areas within you that you can work on… and working on them? That’s your job. You work on yourself by noticing when you’re reaching your limit. You put the right self-care rituals in place to help relieve some of that pressure (like using a deep breathing app, putting baby in a safe place and walking out of the room for a moment, sending a text to a mom friend who gets it, turning on a Janet Lansbury podcast — love her!). And you remind yourself that the real goal isn’t to stay centered 100% of the time — it’s recovering appropriately, and coming back to center, to your core, over and over again. It’s the same way to you learn how to swaddle, or speak a new language, or train your brain for anything else — through regular repetition of the habit that you want to become second-nature.
Okay, first of all, I LOVE that you say 'sneak in self-care time,' because that’s what we all say — but it’s actually one of those subtle reasons that we don’t take care of ourselves! The word 'sneak' implies that we’re getting away with something that we shouldn’t. 'My toddler sneaks into the snack drawer,' 'I’ll try to sneak out of that meeting at work,' etc. The truth is, though, that keeping your self-care on point is one of your biggest parenting responsibilities. Just noticing and shifting how you think about your care can help make it more possible. That said, one of the all-time simplest way to take self-care when you’re taking care of tiny people, is actually mantra (positive, repeated messages). I know, I know — it’s not a spa trip — but it’s simple, free, and it’s about mindset, which can be your #1 ally, especially on rough days. That’s because repeating the right mantras can help you build the resilience that you need for everyday mom life. For instance, one of my favorites is right on the front page of my my site (ritualcare.com): it says 'it’s time for less ‘I need to get my sh** together’ and more ‘I can do this.’' See the shift there? Just noticing what we’re saying to ourselves in the middle of that insane diaper change can be an opportunity for self-caring. I know it’s crazy at first to think 'message over massage' — and I love a good body treatment as much as the next girl — but in terms of long-term happiness, mindset wins every. Single. time. And mantra helps make it stronger.
Enjoy a hot cup of coffee in the morning (which sometimes means pouring it into a sealed thermos and, then, into my mug 1/4 cup at a time, so it doesn’t get cold while I’m distracted with filling sippy cups, or 'more cereal, please!' or wiping someone's nose (or bum) every 3.5 seconds). Monotask like a MF. This is one of my all-time fave strategies: and all it means is that you do one thing at a time. In other words, when I read a story to my daughter, I just read the story (not think about the grocery list). When I make dinner, I just make dinner (not respond to email while the water's boiling). When I'm watching the babies, I just watch them (not fold the laundry). To be clear, this is not my norm and doesn't always feel good — productivity is important! — but sometimes, moving more slowly makes a difference. Lay down for 5 minutes, alone. Sometimes when the fray has settled (or, ahem, while it's still going on), I put the kids in a safe space, head into the bedroom, close the door, throw on some white noise, and just. lay. still. (PRO TIP: If you can't escape to lay down, just being still consciously for a few minutes helps a lot, too.)
If there was just ONE self-care strategy I'd want you to master, it would be letting go of what other people think and stop trying to keep up with other moms who seem to be doing it 'so much better' than you (pro tip: everyone’s got their something, girl). It goes back to the all-mighty power of a resilient mindset, and when you get this one, it’s HUGE. Letting go of other people's thoughts, expectations, and ideals has the ability to drastically change every aspect of your entire life. Not deep breathing. Not meditation. Those things are awesome, but they often help you deal with the stress of not being able to let go of what others think and live your life for yourself. This is infinitely more valuable.
Again, more mindset (i.e., the best-kept self-care secret that I wish every mom was talking more about)— When your day starts to get screwy, first notice what’s going on and try to focus less on what’s happening in the present moment, and instead ask yourself It's 'what happens next?' What often happens for me on day day, for instance, is that I choose to go with the flow, instead of forcing what clearly isn’t working. It happened one morning to me recently — I was hit with a work disaster, tantrums from sleep-deprived kiddos, and family outings that kept falling apart— and it sucked. But instead of dwelling on what felt miserable, we changed course (literally, we took a spontaneous road trip) and had a great day exploring a nearby village — playing in wet sand on the beach, eating ice cream, and riding ponies (thank g*d for Water Wipes). Everyone is different, but you see what I'm getting at.