Whether you’re a mom or not, at some point you’ve likely put yourself on the back burner while turning your attention to the needs of those around you. But moms know this feeling better than anyone: With kids, life isn’t only about you anymore. That can be an amazing thing, but if you’re losing yourself in the process of raising a family, it’s time to refocus.
“Women tend to slowly give up more and more of themselves to accommodate their family’s needs,” says Tiffany Howsam, a Los Angeles-based family therapist who specializes in postpartum depression and anxiety. “They think that’s what they’re supposed to do.” Over time, you get so used to focusing on your children that every decision — from what’s for dinner to your next vacation — becomes about pleasing others.
Fortunately, you can take care of your family without losing sight of who you are, says Howsam. Here’s how to find a balance:
1. Take a step back.
Look at your situation from the outside. Are you treating yourself with the same TLC that you devote to your family? If you feel resentful because of your never-ending to-do list, or if you’re always exhausted or can’t remember the last time you did something just for you, you might be spending too much energy on others and not enough on yourself, says Howsam.
2. Set limits.
To be a supermom, you don’t have to be Supermom. “Women want to do it all perfectly,” notes Howsam. But if you volunteer with the PTA, put in a full day’s work, shuttle your kids to karate lessons, coach soccer and whip up a gourmet three-course family dinner every day, there’s no time left for you. So cut yourself some slack! The next time you consider taking on an activity, think about what you have to give up to do it. If you feel uneasy or you get overwhelmed, just say no.
3. Schedule time to do what you love.
Maintaining a sense of self requires at least a few hours each week of actually doing something just for you, says Howsam. “Think about the things you enjoyed before you had kids,” she suggests. “Or explore something you’ve always wanted to try, whether it’s gardening, reading a new book, getting a pedicure, going to a dance class or having coffee with a friend.” Plan your activity ahead of time and write it (in ink!) in your day planner so you’re more likely to stick to it.
4. Treasure the little things.
Doing something for yourself doesn’t always have to be a grand gesture: Creating special moments for yourself each day works too. Try picking three things that feel restorative to you and do them daily, suggests Howsam. Maybe it’s drinking tea in your favorite mug, taking five minutes of quiet alone time each morning or listening to your favorite music in the car rather than Barney’s greatest hits. Even just a minute of “you time” is better than nothing.
5. Lose the guilt.
When you say no or do things for yourself, you’re not being selfish, maintains Howsam. “You’re watching out for your own mental health, which includes taking time to recharge,” she says. You’re also setting a good example for your children and partner by letting them know you’re important too. And by taking time for yourself, you become a more engaged caregiver, which leads to a happy, well-adjusted family.