I put this together as part of my life coaching practice, which I ran from about 2004 to 2009.
Breathe Mom, Breathe!
Survival tips for moms once the contractions are over, and life as you know it is gone …
Your kids can always take your breath away. It doesn’t matter whether they’re inside you squishing your lungs, stunning you with their beauty, scaring you with a fall, yelling hurtful things at you, saying they love you, announcing that they’re moving out, or calling to say they’re having a baby. They’ll always have that power to take your breath away, and it only goes to prove the strength and poignancy of the relationship.
When you’re ready to deliver your first child, lots of people will have opinions about how you’d best handle it. Ways to breathe, how to position yourself, where to be, who to have along for support, and what to take (or not) for the pain. The only advice you really should take to heart? Don’t forget to breathe! Slowly, quickly, pantingly, whatever feels good to you … and consciously if you can. Aside from keeping you alive, it can make all the difference in the world when it comes to how you feel! It helps put you in touch with your body, your thoughts, and your heart.
Try it right now. Straighten your shoulders, take a deep breath in through your nose, and exhale slowly. Try it again, more slowly, and feel the air coming in to your body, pause and hold it for a second, and then gradually release it. Feel it? Even a few conscious, slow breaths can make a huge difference in your focus, clarity, and feelings.
So how well do you do at breathing, really breathing, once you’re a mom? Nobody’s reminding you, and yet you need it more than ever! A few moments here and there to get in touch with yourself again. Listening to your heart, quieting your mind, and renewing yourself as a woman.
I’m here to remind you. It’s my passion to let as many women as I can know the potential joy, energy, and sanity-saving power of the seven things that give me a balanced, happy, and productive life as a mom and a woman (at least when I take the time to do some of them!) The things that help me stop and breathe. Seven simple but critical things, one for each letter of that utterly basic and life-saving word: breathe.
Sound like something you could use? Read on! These seven things have truly saved my life, my sanity, and my marriage since I’ve had kids. Get ready to BREATHE!
The first, and most important part of the BREATHE formula is to Be Alone Regularly. Without at least a few minutes to yourself, by yourself, without distractions, your day will not be the same. Guaranteed. You also need a regular chunk of time, weekly or monthly, that gives you a chance to truly recharge and reconnect with your own thoughts and feelings.
Next you need to make sure you regularly Root Yourself. I’m not just talking about connecting with your heritage and your background, thought that’s important, but know who you are at your core. What truly drives you, and what do you need to feed your heart? Don’t crowd your soul out of your daily life, start your day with it. Find your center, and touch it every day.
The next letter, E, gets a trio of reminders that keep our bodies humming … Eat, Exercise, & Energize! Don’t just eat, eat well. Know your body well enough to know what it needs to be tuned. Pay attention to how it reacts to different foods and eat what truly makes you feel good! Get enough exercise to keep your body in tune, and more if you want. Running after kids is great, but it’s not always enough! Energizing with sleep is one of the most often neglected things in parenting, and its effects run deep. Make it a priority, even if other things have to slide. The right food and moderate exercise help give loads of energy too, it all works together.
On to A, a critical piece for some, and not as easy as it sounds … Accept Your Life! There are many things about motherhood that can be hard to accept: changes in your appearance, your relationship with your partner, personal time, sleep habits, your living space, what’s required of you, and what you’re capable of. While many things are wonderful, the changes are often hard to accept! Many of them just plain have to be accepted, while others can be worked on and improved. Acceptance always comes first, however, no matter how traumatic it may be. Accept what is, moment by moment, and then change what you can.
The T of breathe is to remind you to Tend Your Passions. While motherhood incites many new passions that you may not have had before, it probably supplants a lot of other ones at the same time. Finding it hard to hit those parties, paint that canvas, grow that garden, or pursue that degree? Tending our children doesn’t mean neglecting ourselves. Accept the fact that things you were passionate about before kids may take a back burner, but find the times when they can be front and center. Scale, flexibility, and timing all play a huge role in successfully tending to your heart.
The overwhelm of parenting makes it essential to Have Boundaries, especially if you weren’t keen on them before kids. You might be told to limit visitors in the first few weeks after your baby is born, setting the stage for a new era in time management for yourself. Were you at everyone’s beck and call before kids? Kids take the best of us, and if you want more than the dregs of yourself to give to your partner, friends, and passions, then having boundaries is critical. You certainly need them to successfully take time alone, and it doesn’t stop there!
Last but not least is the letter E to remind you to Enlist Support. The old proverb “it takes a village to raise a child” is a very true one, and whether your village is a global one or not, you must have one! Even if you’ve always done everything yourself, you’re headed for hard times if you insist on that when it comes to parenting. You need emotional support for yourself, babysitting to some degree, a supportive partner and/or group of friends, and a helpful family can cover a lot of bases. The one thing you don’t need as a mom is the criticism of others; the job is hard enough without that in the mix!
There you have it, the seven critical things for maintaining your sanity as a mom and a woman!
B > Be Alone Regularly
R > Root Yourself
E > Eat, Exercise, Energize
A > Accept Your Life
T > Tend Your Passions
H > Have Boundaries
E > Enlist Support
Sound delicious but impossible?
Of course you can’t reinvent yourself overnight, and some of these things may be much more critical to you and your life than others. There isn’t a magic order either, each one has it’s own power and renewing effect. However, the beauty of the seven things is that they build on each other! Being alone enables you to think about who you are, what you believe, and what’s in your heart. That time alone helps you root yourself by clearing your mind and reminding you daily of what you live for. A rooted mom is clearer about her priorities, and more likely to find the time to eat well, exercise often, and energize wisely. Taking those bits of time for yourself is a huge help in accepting the changes in your life, and in deciphering which passions you can’t live without and must find time for. All of those things naturally call for boundaries, and the clarity and energy will help you set and maintain them. Underneath it all is your network of support, without which you’ll likely end up feeling insane and out of control.
It all fits together, works together, and weaves your day-to-day momhood together with your womanhood into something powerful, beautiful, and incredibly strong. You just have to remember to breathe!
B - Be Alone Regularly
Alone Time: Necessary, Addictive, and Oh-So-Healthy!
There’s nothing more important to my sanity as a mom than getting time alone. You may have more of it than you’d like, but for almost every mom I’ve ever met, there’s never enough. I credit setting up regular Alone (responsibility-free) Time with saving my sanity as a young mom.
Chances are extremely high that alone time is harder to come by than you’d like.
A few hours to do exactly what YOU want to do seem like a golden ticket?
I’ve found that setting aside alone time, for both me and my husband, has so far been a key to preserving our marriage.
In fact it’s right up near the top of the list. If I don’t have a few hours every week where no one needs or wants anything from me (whether I’m home or out), I turn into a rather unpleasant person very quickly. I need that time to clear my head, get away from the daily responsibilities, and be free for an evening. I go out with girlfriends, sit in the coffee shop with a good book, or go to a movie by myself.
What I do isn’t really important, but actually doing it is critical. The times that I let shoulds or guilt get in the way, we all regret it!
Everyone needs time free from all of their usual relationships and more importantly, free from responsibility for anyone else. For me, when I go out it’s not that I pretend that I’m not married or a mom, but mentally I have no ties to my family for that period of time. Truly free time. It’s delightful how little time it takes to recharge my batteries, even an hour or two can work wonders if it’s all I can squeeze in.
Sound appealing? Sound like a necessity but seem impossible? Chances are you’ll need to make a good effort, and have support, to find your alone times.
- Get your partner on board, or it will be very difficult to pull off effectively.
- Decide how often and how long. It can be twice a month, once a week, or 30 minutes a day, or all of the above! Make it be whatever you need to stay sane.
- Pick a fixed time, or plan as far in advance as you can. Work all your other schedules around it!
- Make sure *everyone* knows it’s off limits. You don’t have to give a reason, but mark it in your calendar, and tell anyone who asks that you have plans.
- Take it!
It’s not a selfish thing in case that thought flits across your mind (I admit to fighting that one occasionally), it’s healthy for you and for your relationships. You’ll be amazed at how quickly your head clears, irritations fall away, and peace creeps up on you. Being alone enriches both you and your relationships, go give it a try … you won’t look back!
R - Root Yourself
“You’re grounded!” While it might have been a hated phrase when you were a kid, or you say it to your own kids, it’s a necessary one when you’re a Mom! There’s no saner way to start your day than to get grounded. Connected to your roots, your core. Center your mind, your spirit, and your body first thing in the morning. Your day can spin out of control instantly if you don’t have your balance to start off with.
Before you do anything else in the morning, spend a few minutes alone and …
- Do yoga
Do whatever it takes to center your mind and greet the day peacefully. I’m sure we’ve all had plenty of days where things spun out of control, and we looked back in the evening and realized that we simply got off to the wrong start. Hurried, impatient, grumpy … whatever your mood, it’s guaranteed to be reflected back to you by your kids! If mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy! The few minutes it takes to touch your roots in the morning will set the tone for the rest of the day. Take ‘em!
E - Eat, Exercise, Energize
Take Care of Yourself!
Nobody takes care of Mom, except Mom. While this might not be true all the time, it’s true most of the time, so get used to it. It’s up to you to find the time to eat well, look good, and feel good about yourself. In the words of a favorite author of mine, Elizabeth Gilbert (See the Bookstore), at the very least you need to Eat, Pray, and Love or you’ll slowly go insane. Your time may be scarce, but you must take time for what’s important. To stay present in Body, Soul, and Spirit, you need to feed all three!
Eat well. Simple statement, and much easier said than done! Mac and cheese may keep your toddler happy, but it doesn’t keep Mama happy day after day. Keep healthy snacks around for you, not just your kids. Cheerios can only go so far, and your body needs a lot more than your kid’s.
Pay attention to how your body reacts to foods. Do you crash hard after certain foods, and feel sluggish after others? Do you spend too long in the bathroom, or break out? You need to spend the energy on figuring it out if you don’t feel good after every meal. Skipping meals? Indulging too often? Both have equally devastating results, and can play a big part in PPD (Post Partum Depression) and other post-baby illnesses.
If this means carrying groceries and diaper bags and babies everywhere you go, it’s a great start. Getting your heart rate up is good too though, and produces endorphins and other fun things that make you feel GREAT! That’s more than sane, and squeezing in a run or a workout or a game in can go a LONG way towards maintaining my sanity at least.
There are lots of ways to get energy, and eating and exercising are of course two of the most important ones. But there are many others that can have a HUGE effect on how much energy we have!
- Love your look. Wear things you like love, make time for that bit of makeup or hairdo that makes you feel GOOD.
- Declutter. Again, much easier said than done. I have friends that swear by Flylady and I think she has some great concepts. Whatever you do, the key to all of it is taking it slowly. Don’t try to reinvent your life or habits or closets in a day! Pick one counter, one drawer, one box. Get it done. Repeat :). Fit it in where you can, in small doses. That applies to EVERYthing as moms, doesn’t it?!
- Feed your heart what it needs. Don’t know? Haven’t checked recently? Spend the time to find out. Lots of the questions in the forums are designed to get you to think about what’s really important to you. If your values are way out of alignment with your day-to-day life, it can be a real catalyst for changing some things in your life.
- Love what you do. There’s nothing that will sap your energy faster than either hating what you do, or even just tolerating it. If you’re in a position you hate, you can either change the position, or your feelings about it. Sometimes it’s a matter of accepting, and then reframing. Sometimes it means you have to make a change in your circumstances. Getting perspectives from others often helps me, and can change my feelings quickly. When you love what you do, your spirit will thank you, and so will your kids!
A - Accept Your Life
Making the transition from woman to mom can be the hardest thing you ever do, and I’m not just talking birth here. We crave having kids, plan it, and wait impatiently for it, but when they arrive you’ll find (or found I’m sure!) that you really weren’t prepared for the reality. You can’t be! All the stories, planning, and best intentions in the world can’t possibly prepare you for the changes that come to every corner of your life and in every fiber of your being. Accept it. Every bit of it. Even the nasty bits. It’s the only way to stay sane! And acceptance is the first step towards loving it. It’s also the first step towards changing it, if it’s something that can indeed be changed. Either way, acceptance comes first.
It’s a good thing pregnancy lasts 9 months, because it’s a great indicator of the upheavals to come! Accepting our body changes is easier for some than others, I know I hated it the first time around and reveled in it the second. Accepting your body is a must, and the first step towards loving the changes.
Accept your limitations. Determined to be super-mom? Get it ALL done? On time? Over the top? Even if you pull off the look, chances are somethings taking a beating in the process, and chances are it’s you. The laundry won’t fold itself into monsters and beat you over the head. Things that don’t get done just don’t get done, and that’s that. Feeling guilty for it is the worst thing you can do, just accept it!
T - Tend Your Passions
A big part of being fulfilled is doing things that you’re passionate about, and chances are you’ve left a lot of those things behind in your motherhood journey. It’s remarkably hard to fit passion in the bed into life with a young one, let alone making the time and finding the energy for something that makes you want to jump OUT of bed and sing, create, laugh, or whatever it is that drives you from your core.
I watched the movie Into the Wild recently, and was rather struck by it. It’s long and slow, and ranges over the disillusionment of a college grad with middle-class America in the 90’s, a passion for the adventure, and a painful quest for identity. What touched me, apart from the tragic and seemingly unnecessary ending, was the unwavering passion of 22-year-old Christopher McCandless, who was the inspiration for the film. He had a passion for life and liberty that caused him to walk away from everything else, including family, money, and friends.
I’m betting we all know people like that, who have a passion for something that seems to fuel their very existence. I’m married to an artist, and I can almost visibly see him wither if he spends too long away from his studio. Do you have something that you must do, explore, play, or learn, and without which life is purely black and white? Perhaps you have an idea burning somewhere, that if given space and time would turn into a passion.
Whatever it is that gets your blood moving, focuses your senses, and gives you intense joy … make sure you find time to tend to it NOW, even if it starts with a notebook of dreams. Keep the fires burning, even if the flames are low for now. Don’t let them go out! Passions have a way of coloring everything we do, and inspiring those around us.
H - Have Boundaries
Take care of your own space. For moms like us, that term has all kind of connotations associated with it. In parent-speak, it’s defining the limits of where, when, and what your children are allowed to do. Setting limits until they learn to set them for themselves. But do we ever learn? I’m beginning to wonder.
While I’m all for freedom and infinite possibilities, at times we have to have boundaries for ourselves to keep things in check. I’m not talking about limits here, just boundaries. The difference? Boundaries define what you will or won’t allow in your personal space. Limits are finite points you won’t or can’t go beyond. Places you’ll never go past, explore, or reach, and chances are there’s a judgement involved, such as “I can’t”, “It would be bad if I …”, or “I won’t.” Boundaries look inward, and say what you’ll accept. Limits look outward, and say “I’ll never …”
I’ve felt the need in the last few months to set some boundaries for myself that I’ve never wanted or had to before. Juggling a job, a 4-year-old, another pregnancy, social events, school obligations, and all the other pieces I allow in my life mean that if I continue with my current pace, I’ll be dead before I’m 40. I have the tendency to not set any boundaries for myself and my time, and then end up frazzled and exhausted. The result is that for the last 2 months, I’ve put almost a complete stop to personal communication outside of my immediate family, and have been taking a break. Call it my hibernation if you will. It’s been wonderful, healing, and a rest that I didn’t know I needed until I actually saw how I was interacting, and realized it wasn’t healthy for me or my friends. I set a boundary, and reveled in the quiet. As I recover and rethink, I’m slowly coming up off of my couch and starting to reach out again. I have a new respect for the phrase “I’m not available right now” both in my own vocabulary, and in my friends’.
Are boundaries easy to set? For some of us perhaps, but for many it’s a struggle to carve out that space and stick to it. In the SAHMs coaching that started recently, I found myself once again listening to the frustrations of parents who find that kids have destroyed all personal space, and they feel unable to set boundaries, or too full of guilt feelings to stick to them. A few keys to setting effective ones …
- Give yourself permission to set them
- Be clear to those around you that you’re setting them, and ask for their support
- Start small, and keep it simple
- Know how solid/permanent of a boundary it is … is it a temporary line in the sand, or a brick wall?
I’m reminded of a comment a friend made to me the other day. He remarked on how some people can talk all day about what they don’t want, but can’t manage to articulate what they do want. Sometimes we have to start with the don’ts in order to clear our heads (limits) but need to then decide what we do want, and start reaching for it. If it’s a big change of some sort, chances are you’ll need some new boundaries to help the change get started.
E - Enlist Support
Heritage, Community, and Family: Where do you find your support?
Holding my newborn son a couple of weeks ago, I was suddenly struck with the realization that a long-term hole in my heart was no longer empty. It wasn’t the “wanting another baby” hole, it was the one shaped like “I want to be part of a community, and know and be known for what role I play.” Until my early 20s that hole was filled by my church interactions, but things changed and my role was no longer a clear or satisfying fit for the longing I had. Enter Fynn, and a life with 2 kids, and suddenly I knew my role and feelings as a mother would never change, no matter what happens, and that my role in my immediate family was my most satisfying label.
So what about the other categories like your nationality, traditions, neighbors, friends, and coworkers? How do they all fit together? Do you feel any missing pieces? Where do you find your support? How do you label yourself?
Aside from being human, I’ve chosen three broad categories, starting with the broadest label of heritage. For many, this means nationality. During the recent World Cup soccer finals, national pride was at a fever pitch … even for many who rarely choose to identify themselves by their nationality. Here in NYC, many choose to blend their nationality with their community, finding fellowship in the same neighborhoods as others who speak the same language, and share the same culture and traditions. For others, their primary heritage may be their religious roots (like mine) or their family business or skills that pass from one generation to the next. Your heritage is often a great place to look for emotional support, as you speak the same language, literally or not. There’s an automatic understanding and connection that can be very valuable and comforting.
The next category is community. This means more than just your neighbors next door, it’s your own personal set of connections, friends, coworkers, and even family … whomever you interact with regularly as part of your world. Thanks to travel and the internet, my active emotional support community includes friends who live in other countries, though I don’t see them often. Apart from geography, communities build around central ideas, beliefs, and causes. You are the center of your own community … what are you building? Community is the one category that we have the most control over, and has the most choices. It can also be the most satisfying in terms of finding fellowship and enlisting support. Your community is also at the very core of your physical support as a mom. Your village. Your babysitters, activity partners, playdates, friends, and business partners all probably come from your community, and it’s up to you to build it!
Family … probably your smallest label, and often a difficult and emotionally charged one. I had a friend refer recently to a discussion with her daughter over something that “my friends are allowed to do, why can’t I?” Her mother’s reply was “well, we are Smiths, and Smiths don’t do that.” She was reinforcing the family label, which may or may not be claimed by her daughter as she grows up. Family often includes more than blood and committed relationships, and encompasses anyone we choose to give that label (and the related privileges and responsibilities) to.
My final question (and the one that I started with) … what fellowship and support are you missing in your heart? If your heritage or your family doesn’t fill it, what community can? What faith? What relationships need creating or nurturing? At my core, I just completed the emotional shift from “I go to xyz church and depend on it for my sense of belonging to a community” to “I am Douglas and Fynn’s mother, and am building a family with Michael and my own relationship with God.” A satisfying answer to a long-term “hole,” and one that paves the way for me to keep building my own community.