Let’s call it “mom syndrome.”
Common symptoms include prioritizing partner and children over one’s self and considering “free time” negotiable. When taking time for herself, an afflicted woman suffers feelings of stress or guilt.
While it’s clearly a valuable and irrevocable position, the title “mom” tends to eclipse roles previously held, such as “athlete,” “baker extraordinaire” or “consistent Final Jeopardy solver.”
But allowing the m-word to define you at the expense of your own well-being can be problematic. Moms who don’t budget money and time for their own sanity can become impatient, short-tempered and eventually resentful. That’s not good for you or for your family.
“Being a mom is a marathon, not a sprint,” says Dr. Kristene Doyle, psychologist and Executive Director of the Albert Ellis Institute in Manhattan. “It’s like they say on airplanes in emergencies: Care for yourself first, so you can then care for others.”
So, we’ll say it: You need to splurge on yourself. We know it’s not easy. Standing in the way is choosing how to splurge in the first place (“Do I really need a pedicure?”), the logistics (“But who will get the kids from school?”) and the guilt (“Good moms always put their kids first!”).
Let’s tackle them in order:
Choosing the Right Splurge for You
Depending on the situation, time can be more valuable than money, and vice versa. So should a splurge take the form of money spent or time used? With kids, we know, both can be in short supply. To figure out what kind of splurge would be the most rewarding, says Dr. Doyle, think back to what you enjoyed most before the birth of your children.
“Are you more of a spa or manicure person, or is your splurge a cashmere sweater?” she asks. She notes that what might be considered a splurge today isn’t necessarily what would have been a splurge a few years back, due to changing circumstances, financial or otherwise. For example, maybe a shopping trip alone wasn’t really a luxury until your second child was born.
Is Taking Time For Yourself a Luxury or a Necessity?
Do you make sure to take time to do things by yourself? What are some of the things you do to take care of yourself? Share your tips and tricks with other LearnVesters.
Whatever you choose, time or money spent on yourself should be worthwhile and rewarding for you. In this case, splurges for the family (“Seeing them so happy makes me so happy!”) don’t count.
Mastering the Logistics
If you’re bewildered by where, exactly, this splurging is supposed to fit into your budget or your day, know that you’re not alone … and multitasking won’t help.
Before planning a splurge, Dr. Doyle recommends collecting baseline data. “Don’t change anything yet,” she advises. “Just see how you’re spending your days and your money. Many moms don’t realize how much they’re actually giving. Being aware of the imbalance can be the motivation to change it.” (We can help you keep score— of money, anyway—in the LearnVest My Money Center.)
Once you’ve taken stock of your expenses, it’s time to set the splurge in stone. Dr. Doyle instructs moms to build time into their calendars or space into their budgets. “Once it’s planned, you’re much more likely to do it,” she says. Then make it happen, which might mean negotiating childcare with your partner or rebalancing the week’s budget.
Assuaging the Guilt
“Moms feel guilty because they think temporarily putting their needs over those of their children is selfish,” says Dr. Doyle. ”But that’s not being selfish, it’s being self-interested.” She draws a clear line between the two: Being selfish means doing things for yourself that hurt others, but being self-interested means doing something in your best interest that won’t harm those around you.
So reframe your thought process! Time away from your children doesn’t mean you’re being negligent, it means that you’re making yourself a better mother in the long run. We’re role models for our children, says Doyle, and we have to show them that we value ourselves.
As far as external guilt from partners or friends, we have a choice. While we can’t control how others feel or act, we can choose whether to accept the guilt or judgment they put on us. “Just because someone is questioning your behavior doesn’t mean it’s wrong,” Dr. Doyle says. Refusing to accept the guilt, and perhaps tossing off a quick, “I find that time to myself makes me a more patient/happier/better mother” should quiet your critics.
If Not Now, When?
“Who determines whether or not you deserve to splurge on yourself?” Dr. Doyle asks. “Is it society? A partner? A manual that doesn’t exist? It’s an individual decision. So when are you deserving?”
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