When I became a mom, I looked forward to my first Mother’s Day. In my mind, the day would unfold something like this: I would sleep in and then someone would make me breakfast. I’d drink my coffee while it was hot. After, I’d head off for a mani-pedi or perhaps a massage. Maybe I’d also go to yoga and take my sweet time after class instead of rushing out early to help with dinner prep and bedtime.
None of that happened.
My family tried—they really did. My husband bought flowers and my son gave me a cute card he’d made at daycare. We attempted to go to brunch, but by the time we’d changed my son’s diaper, packed the diaper bag, changed our clothes after being spit up on, then changed the baby’s diaper again, all of us needed a nap and it seemed easier to just stay home.
This is when I realized that Mother’s Day was not the solution to my problems and that even if everything in my fantasy had happened, one day of self-care was not going to be enough for me to refresh and recharge from the daily marathon of motherhood.
Also, let’s be real: Moms deserve more than one day.
Fast forward a couple of years and another kid, and my husband and I have enacted some strategies to ensure we both have the time we need to take care of ourselves year-round, not just one day out of 365. Here are a few things that have worked for us.
Establishing Clear Ownership of Family Responsibilities
As parents, the list of domestic responsibilities is never-ending. But it can seem even longer if you have to have the same conversations with your partner every week about what to have for dinner or who’s doing school pickup.
The solution? Establishing a clear owner for all the regular responsibilities like grocery shopping or trash day. This helps avoid scrambling over the basics (e.g. the age-old “But I thought you were getting milk!” conversation).
This leaves the one-off tasks, which are up for negotiation but are always also assigned a clear owner (“I’ll buy the birthday party decorations this week if you can call the handyman to fix the sink.”).
The trick with this system is full ownership of tasks. For example, my husband is responsible for the kids’ dental health, which means he not only makes the appointments, but he also takes the kids to those appointments. Me? I have only a vague understanding that all is well in my little people’s mouths—and that’s fine with me. It’s not my responsibility.
Likewise, if I’m the family grocery shopper, that means I am the one inventorying our current stocks and keeping our list updated. This way, I’m not texting my husband from the store to see if we need more Goldfish (The answer, of course, is that we always need more Goldfish).
Is this system foolproof? No. But it’s certainly done wonders to ease my mental load.
Having Our Own Hobbies
Especially with young children, the idea of adding another activity to your schedule can feel overwhelming. However, having something that belongs only to you that you look forward to every week can go a long way to recharge your batteries. Even if that hobby is a simple walk around the neighborhood listening to your favorite podcast for an hour, making regular, uninterrupted time for it can be a huge mental health boost.
I prefer activities with other people, like tennis, because it makes it hard to cancel. But I have friends who make dates just with themselves for things like a long run or painting class.
The trick is to pick something and stick with it. Put it on the calendar and keep it there. The things we do for ourselves are often the first to go when we feel crunched for time, but they are the things that keep us sane and make us better parents.
As a parent, the amount of things you need to get done divided by the number of hours in the day is an unsolvable math problem. One way to alleviate this is to get help—as much and as frequently as you are able to. Help can mean babysitters, but it can also mean family and friends.
We have wonderful friends who are always willing to take our kids for play dates, and we do the same for them. And while it might feel awkward to suggest this the first time, I promise your friends and neighbors are also wishing there were more hours in the day and looking for a solution.
This is not to say I have it all figured out. There are weeks when everything feels out of whack, and I’m tired and over-caffeinated most days. But I also know that without these strategies, both my marriage and my mental health would be a lot worse. And at least this way, I’m not pinning all my hopes for R&R on Mother’s Day. Instead, I can lay back and enjoy the homemade cards and burnt toast my kids bring me, knowing that it will all balance out in the end.