Find Time to Care for Yourself
Most know Joanne P. McCallie as "Coach P," the hard-charging head coach of the Duke women's basketball team. But in addition to pacing the sideline from October through April, McCallie also runs an off-court game plan to balance her demanding career with family responsibilities as a wife and mother of two school-age children.
Despite her hectic schedule, McCallie makes sure to prioritize time for herself. She says that "me time" makes a noticeable impact on the rest of her life, including increased energy and better focus. "I'm rested, happy and funnier," McCallie says.
Finding a way to prioritize time for self-care is a necessity for an enjoyable and healthy life, according to Dr. Sheila Allison at Southpoint Medicine and Women's Health in Durham. "We need to make sure we're making good choices," Allison says.
Allison targets exercise, sleep, nutrition and renewal time as four key areas of self-care that contribute to optimum physical and mental health. As welcome as this advice may be, moms know that making it happen in the real world isn't easy. It means navigating around the many roadblocks that stand between busy moms and self-care.
Guilt tops the list of reasons mothers sideline their own needs, says Stephanie Zizzo, a career and life coach from Apex. Whether it's feeling guilty about the time a career takes away from family or worrying that yoga class shouldn't trump the pile of dishes in the sink, women often find it difficult to put their needs ahead of others.
"Guilt comes from our belief system — what we believe is right or appropriate as a woman or a mom or an employee," Zizzo says.
As Cary licensed marriage and family therapist Lesli Doares points out, "We need to get past the point of self-care being selfish."
McCallie encourages mothers to communicate with their families and to underscore the benefits of their choices. "Coaching a team can be really fun for kids to be a part of, so I can blend it," McCallie says. "There's no doubt, guilt's going to creep in because the amount of time that goes into it is substantial, but we always try to point out the benefits of such a great life."
Carving out time to make it happen
Finding time to prioritize self-care is another common struggle. "We can't bank time like we can money," Zizzo says. "Once it's gone, it's gone and that's a big challenge."
Scheduling personal time on the calendar is the best way to make it happen, according to McCallie, who says that haircuts are even hard to come by during basketball season. Working six days a week leaves one day to get organized at home, catching up on laundry and grocery shopping, but she makes time to relax.
Zizzo also suggests looking at daily routines for time that could be better spent. "It's easy to go on auto-pilot and spend time doing things like watching TV or surfing the Internet," Zizzo says. "The key is looking at what you're craving and asking yourself if what you're doing is fulfilling that for you."
Being prepared to recognize free time when it presents itself is another absolute necessity, Zizzo says. She suggests looking for daily idle time, like sitting in carpool lines or waiting for dinner to finish cooking, and having at arm's reach what you need to take full advantage of the time.
"If you crave time to be creative, keep colored pencils and a pad in your car," she suggests. "If it's peace you crave, it could be inspirational reading material or a certain kind of music."
Recognize that self-care keeps you going
Raising three children and working as a weekend meteorologist for WRAL-TV keeps Kim Deaner on-the-go seven days a week. "I have to really work hard at winding down," Deaner says.
Because her kids are active in extracurricular activities and her husband travels, her options for personal time are limited to weekdays when the kids are at school. "I squeeze in coffee and a movie or coffee and a book or even a nap when I can, but it really takes more than that to recharge my batteries," Deaner says. "I will make sure I slip away for a few days here and there."
Deaner says eating right and exercising are critical to managing her responsibilities at home and at work. "If I didn't, there would be no way I could run as hard as I do with three children and a husband who travels."
She also puts a high priority on sleep. "I was in the emergency room with my 8- year-old recently and we didn't get home until 2 a.m. I paid my high-schooler to take my son to school so we could sleep in."
Don't let cost stand in the way
Money can be another reason why mothers don't prioritize their needs. Raising a family is expensive, and adding money into the budget for self-care isn't always an option. But cost doesn't have to be a roadblock, according to Zizzo.
"Moms will look back and say, 'I used to go to the gym and I was healthy and in shape, but now I don't have the money or the time,'" Zizzo says. "But it's not the gym that made you in shape; it was exercise." She says the key is evaluating what you need and figuring out how many ways you can do what you want for less money or no money.
"I tell my patients to be creative," Allison says. "The exercise fairy is not going to wave her magic wand and say, 'OK, here's your time to exercise.'" Allison recommends walking laps around the soccer field while kids are at practice, exploring the many trails in the Triangle or choosing a class on FitTV.
Opportunities abound for free or low-cost "me-time" activities in the Triangle, according to Arladean Arnson, a mother and Western Wake co-moderator for Triangle Mommies network community. "We have groups of moms who get together to knit, hike, play games, you name it," she says. "Some moms out there are really into exercising, training for marathons and doing triathlons together."
Planners with Triangle Mommies organize social outings based on group interest, but members also make individual connections. "We encourage them to create their own play dates," Arnson says, "groups like bunco, a spur of the moment fondue party, whatever."
Find, and accept, support
Enlisting support is necessary, whether it's someone to watch the kids or unload the dishwasher while you enjoy some "me time." According to Zizzo, getting support is in part asking for help, but also being willing to accept it when people offer.
McCallie, the Duke basketball coach, credits her support system for making it possible to find time to take care of herself. "I lean on my husband a lot," she says. For example, McCallie gets up early to fix breakfast and pack lunches for the kids, but her husband takes them to school so she can sneak in some exercise before heading to the office. She has also used babysitters to provide additional support.
"The first step is identifying what kind of support you need," Zizzo says, whether that is physical help with household chores, someone to act as a sounding board, or accountability support when working toward personal goals. "We think if we ask for support we're not succeeding," she says, when support is actually what's necessary to succeed.
Raising four kids ages 6 and under has taught Shannon Grabowski, a stay-at-home-mom from Chapel Hill, the importance of leaning on a support system. "My husband probably helps more than the average dad," Grabowski says. She goes to the gym every morning at 5:30, leaving him to handle breakfast for their early-risers. Dad is also on call one night every month while she meets friends for book club. "It's my escape — a whole evening without getting a call to come home." Grabowski feels lucky to have her in-laws nearby and receives help from babysitters too.
Positive benefits for the family
The entire family benefits when mothers delegate responsibilities and make self-care a priority. Children gain self-sufficiency and improved self-esteem from pitching in around the house, according to Doares. "Teach them how to make their own beds or run the washing machine," she advises. "In reality, that's what true self-esteem is about — taking on a challenge and conquering it."
Prioritizing your own needs can also have a positive impact on your children when they are adults. "You're teaching your children what to expect when they're raising a family," Doares says. "You'll be teaching your daughters and sons that the role of mother is not all about sacrifice."
So go ahead and let Dad fold the laundry. Sending wrinkled kids to school isn't so bad. And let the kids unload the dishwasher. The misplaced bowls and spoons will turn up eventually. Do everyone a favor and give yourself the gift of self-care every day.
Mary Parry is a freelance writer and mother of three who lives in Chapel Hill.
Follow these tips when prioritizing your needs:
* Exercise and sleep impact our ability to handle stress. "When you are getting enough exercise and getting enough sleep, mentally you're less irritable and it's easier to negotiate even little things like fights between your children or a difference with a co-worker," says Dr. Sheila Allison at Southpoint Medicine and Women's Health in Durham. She recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise at least four days a week and at least seven hours of sleep each night.
* Prioritizing nutrition can be as simple as paying more attention to what and where you are eating. "Don't get too many fat grams, and be cautious of portion control for overall general health," says Allison, who recommends a Mediterranean-style diet that focuses on whole grains, vegetables and fruits.
* Renewal time can seem elusive, but Allison advises moms not to put time for themselves on the back burner waiting until the kids get older. "Teenagers require as much from you, if not more," says Allison, who suggests a minimum of 30 to 60 minutes of daily renewal time.
— Mary Parry