Self-Care Makes Me A Better Mom

What I Realized When I Lost It On My Son For Something Small

mom angry at son
Keith Brofsky: Getty

I looked down at my hairy legs the other day and felt instantly irritated at the two week’s worth of growth.

My best friend had called me twice that week, and I hadn’t taken the time to call her back although I desperately wanted to.

I couldn’t remember the last time I picked up a book and allowed myself a half hour to read before bed or while the kids were doing their homework.

Lately, it seems everything else has been screaming at me: this appointment, those dishes, something I’d volunteered for that I really didn’t want to do but said yes to anyway. Everything was getting in the way — in my way — so I couldn’t take some me time.

That thing that was in the way? It was me.

As a working, single mom of three busy kids, my self-care gets left behind all the time. I have to take my kids to practice or driving school or to their friend’s house and I get home after working all day, and instead of asking them to help, I do things myself rather than reading or taking 10 minutes to sit and just be.

I am so guilty of not doling out chores enough and play the “it’s just easier to do it myself instead of asking someone to do a half-ass job” game. So I do all the things instead of letting my kids help out in their way because it’s not to my standard.

All the while, I’m sacrificing my mental health because that’s what happens when we move ourselves to the back burner and self-care becomes a chore and something else we feel we have to add to our list that already feels too heavy.

Until one day, it became too much. I could feel my shoulders tensing. My mental health had taken a nose dive and my level of irritation was escalating and I knew exactly why: I had neglecting myself for too long.

My sleep had been all over the place. I was staying up too late and getting up too early full of anxiety about getting everything done. I hadn’t been drinking enough water and was chugging soda all day to keep going…

Until the day it finally came to a head, and I lost it on my kids.

While I was upstairs in a puddle of self-loathing and mad at the world, my son knocked over a plant from the bathroom shelf, and dirt fell onto all the toilet paper rolls stored below it. I lost it (more than normal), and he called me out on it.

“It’s not that big of a deal, Mom! I can vacuum it up. What’s your problem?”

My problem was me. More specifically, my zombie-like state because I’d been walking around pushing myself further and further down on my priority list. My son was right to call me out on my dramatic, over-the-top behavior.

Bottom line: I’m a better mom when I take care of myself. Even if it’s just a small effort to find some time to read, or make an appointment to get my roots done, or have lunch with a friend instead of feeling like I should be cleaning or working during every free moment.

When I neglect myself, I get resentful and angry. I take out the trash and look at my sweatpants and think, No one around here does a thing for me, and I’m going to stomp around and get really fucking pissed about it. 

But here’s the thing: I can’t expect others to take care of me if I don’t take care of myself.

I was the one who was neglecting myself and having a bad attitude about it later. And that’s on me.

Yes, I suffer when I do this. And when I suffer, who else suffers? Those three kids who look to me to set an example and teach them how to treat others and how to be aware.

When my self-care is tight, I am better mother — and a damn good one at that.

But as soon as I let it slip because I’m too busy, or think everyone else needs me so much I can’t take an afternoon to invest in myself, the anger and resentment build.

My kids are at the age where they notice if I’m moody because I stayed up too late or didn’t exercise. And while they might not admit it, they actually want me to take care of myself. Sure, they might not love it when I say “no” to their request to drive them to their friend’s house so I can go for a run instead, but they are happier when I’m not an angry, impatient mom. So, it’s vital that I take some time to catch up on me.

My son was right — spilling dirt isn’t a big deal. There was no need to explode on him that day about it — it was an accident. And had I been keeping up with taking care of myself, I would have handled that situation, and many others over the years, with a hell of a lot more grace.

Self-care isn’t just about keeping our roots touched up and making sure we are wearing clean underwear. It’s about keeping up with our mental health. Sometimes that means taking a long bath with the door shut, and sometimes that means going to therapy or cutting certain people out of our lives.

So, from now on, when I veer to the side of ignoring myself, I am going to remember it won’t just catch up with me — my whole family will have to deal with it, and that’s just not fair.