On Self Care.. or,.. self management?


It’s that time of year again…  The time when we all vow to start doing this or stop doing that and be a better version of ourselves.  Typical changes might include diet, exercise, sleep habits, etc.  Or maybe this is the year you reach your goal of… whatever.  You might run a half-marathon, you might start your own business, change your career.  You might go on that vacation you always said you wanted to go on because last year your goal was a different budgeting strategy.  Whatever your resolution is for this year I genuinely hope you succeed.

I was recently introduced to the term “self-management” and it was a brand-new way of looking at things for me.  I’ve tried the past few years to improve my self-care and somehow, I keep falling short.  My resolution this year is to improve my self-management.  

I have three kids, ages 5, 3 and 1.  They are busy.  We also have four pets.  We have a busy house.  I find myself so busy that I don’t have time to care for myself the way I would like.  But honestly, who does?  Whether you have one kid, five kids, or no kids; whether you have one pet, several, or none at all; whether you stay at home, work full time, part time, own your own business, freelance, whatever, everyone is busy in some way, shape or form.  There are very few people that I know who are not doing something every day.  

I recently conducted a small experiment.  Yesterday, I didn’t do any of the things I normally do.  I made sure the needs of my children and pets were met (food, water, bathroom, snuggles) and the rest of the day I did nothing.  No laundry, no meal prep, no shopping, no dishes, no picking up or cleaning of any kind.  My house was an absolute tornado.  I took pictures to document the wreckage.  My spouse was not altogether pleased when he walked in the door, but keeping in line with my theme of doing nothing, I had also neglected to tell him of my experiment.

The next day, I did all the things I normally do, and I wrote them down.  Every.  Little.  Thing.  It added to my day, but I was genuinely curious as to what I could accomplish in a day.  Well, as I read through my list, I felt very validated.  I made small notes like, “first time I sat down,” and, “baby’s nap,” along with random time stamps noted in the margins for reference.  I was able to fill almost a full notebook page (and I’m talking a standard college ruled notebook) before noon.  

Now this largely depends on how specific you want to get.  Obviously “everything” is subjective.  For example, I did not include when I went to the bathroom.  But I did include when I had to let my dogs out.  I did not include the item “made coffee,” although I did end up doing that twice.  I was, however, very specific about what “clean up breakfast” meant; I wrote things like, “clean kids’ hands and faces,” “wipe down surfaces,” and “put ingredients/food away.”   

So, why did I do this experiment?  What was the point?

Firstly, I wanted to see what my house would look like if I didn’t do anything.  It was a call the Red Cross type of disaster.  I knew I was tired at the end of each day, and I’m not saying that my kids or my spouse never help with the clean-up process, but it was interesting to go from room to room and take pictures, and see the volume of toys, clothes, books, and other general kid and pet debris I pick up all day every day.  Secondly, I wanted my husband to see this also.  He comes home to a relatively clean house most days.  I’m an organizer and a neat freak by nature.  I appreciate a clean space for my own mental and emotional health.  But, the downside to this is that he doesn’t always see the effort that I put in, just the end result. 

The other reason why I wanted to do this was to validate myself.  Too often I find myself saying I’m “just a mom,” or, “I stay at home.”  I find it difficult to answer when people ask me what I do all day.  Well, even now that I’ve written my list, I still find it difficult to answer that question as “meet the needs of my children,” or “manage/run my house,” mean different things to different people.  And, of course, the work load is going to be or look different every day as well.  If I would have gone grocery shopping today that would have taken up a huge amount of time and I wouldn’t have taken up quite so many lines on the paper. 

As many of you reading this can probably understand, being a parent is more often than not a thankless job.  My toddler certainly never says thank you to me for picking up her pile of books for the 15th time.  My 5-year-old doesn’t thank me for putting her clothes neatly into her dresser.  And my 3-year-old is probably more irritated than grateful that I moved his trucks from the floor to the special cubby he calls his garage.  I needed to see the value in what I do every day.  I needed to see that it does take a lot of effort, I am tired at the end of every day for a reason, and what I do at home all day matters!  I knew I did a lot for my family, but seeing it all written down on paper was another way I was confronted with the volume of tasks I do every day.  It is not as insignificant as I feel it is some days.  

So, what does this have to do with self-management? 

I’ve been encouraged by many people in my life – family, friends, the cashier at Target – to take time for myself.  Practice some self-care.  Go sit down and relax, etc., etc.  First of all, when you have a to-do list as long as the one I made writing down my basic day-to-day activities, there’s not a lot of space left for self-care.  Secondly, I’m really good at making up excuses to not do self-care.  I’ll have to find childcare.  If I come home to a messy house then it won’t be worth it anyway.  I can’t justify spending that kind of money right now.  I simply don’t have the time because I have to do x, y, and z.  I get enough exercise just chasing my kids and pets around, I don’t have energy to do yoga in my living room or go to the gym.  In short, self-care is another area where I could use some improvement.  

When I was introduced to the idea of self-management, however, it seemed more realistic to me than self-care.  It seemed like it was something I could do, incorporating it into my day-to-day life, rather than stressing about what I was going to have to let go trying to carve out time for myself.  Not to mention the inevitable guilt I would feel for doing something for myself and leaving my kids and chores behind.

Self-management was explained to me like this: First, do something every day to enrich your mind, your soul/spirit/emotional well-being and your body.  Second, managing your life to help make these things happen.  

A business manager will oftentimes be the one to write everyone’s work schedule.  They may also oversee all of the different departments or aspects of the business to make sure everything is running smoothly.  Some employees will get more hours than others, some departments will require more attention, but overall, everything comes together to work for the good of the business as a whole.  

When I thought about managing myself the way someone might manage a business, the first thing I noticed was how guilt free it sounded.  This is huge to me, and I’m guessing it will probably be a big seller for you too.  Self-care always sounded, well, selfish to me.  Self-management was definitely more palatable, and even sounded less frivolous.  This is not to say that I think self-care is selfish or frivolous.  I think it is important to do things to take care of yourself and give yourself time to unwind, recharge, reset, whatever.  It is certainly not frivolous if it is helping you be a better you.  All I’m saying is that I personally have a difficult time doing something nice for myself, even if it would ultimately benefit me.  I can’t always afford a 60-minute massage.  Or a 30-minute one.  I can’t even afford one of those sit in a chair in the middle of the mall massages.  Self-management was altogether an easier idea for me to swallow.

What does my self-management look like?

This first thing I do is make sure I feel ready for the day.  I like to change out of my pajamas, put a little make up on, maybe go nuts and take out my messy bun and actually brush my hair…  Even if I’m not going anywhere special or particular that day, when I feel ready to go anywhere, I feel better about my day.  A new part of getting ready for the day is reading something I find inspirational. Whether it’s a quote, a phrase or even a short story, I try to look at something every morning to get myself to think.

I try to keep the same routine every day so the kids and I have expectations for ourselves.  Things may shift by a few minutes here, or a half an hour there, but overall, our day has a rhythm to it that is comfortably structured and flexible at the same time.  I do better when I have a plan or a schedule so, again, this is my own preference.  

My older two kids don’t nap anymore, but my 1-year-old still does.  We read books and I put her down for nap after lunch.  The other two kids go into their rooms for “quiet resting.”  The time is evenly split between playing quietly with toys and looking at books, and media.  This ensures they stay in their rooms and are playing at a reasonable volume, so the toddler can sleep and I can sit on the couch.  The management piece of this is that I have made it my personal rule to sit on my couch, watch a tv show or read a book, and drink a cup of coffee (while it’s still hot!).  It doesn’t matter that there is a basket or two of laundry to fold, or there are clean dishes in the dishwasher, and dirty ones in the sink.  It doesn’t matter that there are crumbs on the floors and counters.  I make myself sit down and take a break.  I used to work straight through their quiet resting time.  I figured it was a great time to get a lot of stuff done without the kids underfoot.  But an employee who is overworked is not going to be more productive because they keep working.  Without a break every now and then, eventually they are going to burn out.

After quiet resting is when we typically have snack and go outside.  Sometimes we make it outside and sometimes we don’t.  But the point is to do something together that’s quality time.  We’re not focused on chores or tasks.  We’re focused on spending time in each other’s company and hopefully getting some fresh air.  

Recently, when my spouse comes home from work, I have been getting into the habit of just leaving my house.  I used to view this as not being a team player.  However, I also realized that after being with my kids for 13 hours straight, being the only adult in charge, running around feeling like a headless chicken trying to keep up with all of my dependents… well, let’s just say I decided I deserve more than just the one midday break.  I like to go to the library to read my book or write.  It’s free, and it’s quiet.  It closes at a decent time (if I end up staying until close) and I don’t feel the least bit guilty for giving my spouse the opportunity to spend time with his children, playing, reading books and snuggling for bed time.  It’s nice and quiet when I come home, and I am usually better for it.

This has been a major shift for us.  This was definitely a long time coming, and I obviously needed the cooperation of my spouse to pull this off.  When he travels for work, I can’t leave for my library time; I grin and bear the double shifts I’ve been assigned that week, knowing there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, he will return, and I will go back to my regularly scheduled shift. 

Doing something for my soul/spirit by reading my morning inspiration, doing something for my body by sitting still and taking time to rest when my kids are resting, and doing something for my mind by observing my need for quiet time and mental stimulation through reading or writing has taken a huge weight off of my shoulders.  Initially, it was difficult to wrap my head around the idea of leaving my house every night.  It was difficult to feel justified in sitting for an hour doing nothing more than sipping coffee and watching Netflix every day.  It was difficult to get my husband to see that bed time by himself was an opportunity and not a chore.  But I am so glad I have decided to pursue the idea of managing myself – my time, my mind, my body, my emotional well-being – more than pursuing the goal of self-care.  I have found a way to incorporate my day-to-day activities, to take a step back and create experiences for myself that, while small, are encouraging and rejuvenating.  Based on the results of my recent experiment I now know without a doubt that I am definitely pulling my own weight in our family.  And like every hard-working employee I deserve a break.  And you do too.    

Doula Kara