Putting your best self forward requires intentional choices (especially for busy moms), even if that means stepping outside your comfort zone and putting yourself first. But you can feel healthy, look great, and live a joyful life, all while juggling a family and a career. The key? Designing a balanced life through purposeful choices that feed your body, mind, and soul.
Easier said than done, right?
Julie Burton, author of The Self-Care Solution: A Modern Mother's Must-Have Guide to Health and Well-Being, understands that struggle all too well.
"Most moms feel this damned-if-I-do, damned-if-I don't pressure relating to their decision to work or stay home, and almost all mothers, regardless of work status, struggle with feelings of guilt when they take time away from their children to practice self-care," says Burton, whose four kids range in age from 12-22. "Moms have a mile-long to-do list, and by default, they often put themselves at the bottom of the list. Sometimes, they don't even make the list at all."
Burton's own struggle with balance, joy, and motherhood prompted her to survey more than 400 moms, asking for their insights about finding balance and practicing self-care while raising kids. Their common challenges and success strategies helped shape the practical advice in her's book. But the common thread for everyone? You can't neglect self-care.
"The moment you become a mother and commit to caring for your child, set an intention for yourself: I will honor and respect myself by regularly taking care of my needs. This will make me happier and better able to care for my family," Burton says. "As moms, we have an enormous opportunity to set a great example for our children of how to be kind to ourselves, and in turn, how to be kind to others. As the saying goes, we can't pour from an empty cup."
But where (and how) do you begin—especially if you've been at the bottom of (or completely missing from) your own "to-do" list for a while? "Put yourself back on the list," Burton says. "Start by penning in 10 minutes a day just for you. Be patient with yourself, keep your dreams alive, and treat yourself with the love and compassion that you show others."
To help you kick off your year with a self-care mindset, focus on these six simple self-care ideas and activities to make yourself a priority.
Whether you need to exercise more often or just want to shake up your regular routine, choose activities that motivate you to exercise consistently. Take an outdoor yoga class. Sign up for a 5K race. Hire a personal trainer. Try your hand at Tai Chi. Buy a Pilates DVD to do at home. Burton advises adding an element of fun, like having dance parties in the living room with your kids or going roller skating.
Good food fuels your body, so make sure you eat and drink high-quality ingredients. "It's a natural tendency to put your children first," admits Sara Haas RDN, LDN, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and mother of a 4-year-old daughter. "But you need to nourish yourself with proper foods. It's great for your kids to see you practicing self-care because you're modeling healthy behavior." Some simple ideas to make healthy eating a habit? Go vegetarian once a week. Shop at farmer's markets for organic produce. Cook from scratch more often. Drink water instead of soda. And take a few minutes to plan what you're going to keep in your fridge each week so you can make quick, healthy, easy meals.
Don't let your busy schedule squeeze out time for family and friends. If weekly date-nights aren't going to happen (and really, #relationshipgoals, right?), then try to at least schedule some time to connect on a regular basis. Make the first Friday of each month date night, for example, or schedule a one-Saturday-morning-a-month coffee date with your friends. Make it a goal to invite neighbors over for dinner at least once a month—and plan on pizza and a movie with everyone's kids, so you don't feel the need to full-on "entertain."
You wouldn't let your kids miss their annual check-ups—so don't let your own health fall by the wayside! Burton says she's heard too many stories of women ignoring their body's signals and neglecting to seek medical attention, resulting in serious health scares. The bottom line? Schedule annual checkups, appropriate tests, mammograms, skin exams, pap smears, flu shots, and vision screenings. And get to the dentist for an annual exam and cleaning.
Moms often get sucked into the "get-stuff-done-before-the-kids-wake-up" mentality. But Alon Y. Avidan M.D., MPH, the Director of UCLA Sleep Disorders Center, cautions moms not to skimp on sleep. "We know from research studies that chronic lack of sleep has adverse health consequences: people who consistently sleep less than six hours experience increased appetite, which causes weight gain and increases the risk of depression, cardiovascular disease, and Type 2 diabetes," he warns. Things to avoid close to bedtime? Dr. Avidan says stay away from food, alcohol, emotionally upsetting conversations, and stimulants (such as caffeine and nicotine). He also advises establishing a regular, relaxing bedtime routine and to "remember that the bedroom is for three S's: sleep, sickness, and sex." (Hey, remember that?!)
As a mom, it's easy to lose yourself in the day-to-day routines of family life: car pools, laundry, preparing meals, paying bills, cleaning, etc. Before you know it, 10 years have gone by and you're a shell of your former self. The antidote? Pursue hobbies. Journal. Meditate. Stay abreast of industry trends if you left the workforce. "My book lists self-assessment questions regarding what brings you joy, and this might change over time," says Burton. "We are evolving throughout our whole lives and staying connected to our inner-most passions is what keeps us fully alive and joyful."