14. YOU, Minimalist You! – Minimalist Parenting: Enjoy Modern Family Life More by Doing Less

14

YOU, Minimalist You!

There’s a reason that this is the last chapter of Minimalist Parenting. Too often, last is exactly where you fall on the priority list (if you don’t fall off the list altogether). But our intention is this: self-care should be the last thing you remember when you close this book . . . because you come first in your life.

We’ve all heard the tired metaphor about “putting your own oxygen mask on first.” In theory, it makes sense. But carving out time for yourself, and, more importantly, internalizing that you have a right to that time, is easier said than done. Not only are there real constraints on your time, money, and mental capacity, there are real cultural associations between motherhood and martyrdom. To pretend we’re immune to those pressures just isn’t realistic.

When you become a parent your priorities naturally shift. But that doesn’t mean you should disappear. We’re not suggesting a return to the carefree days of yore or the crazy nights at the club. You’re a different, multifaceted person now that you’re a parent, and you need time to get to know—and celebrate—this new, glorious incarnation of YOU.

Self-Care Is Not Selfish

When you treat yourself well, goodness trickles down into your relationships with your partner, your kids, your friends, and your community. It’s like a big circle of awesomeness.

What You Do Impacts Others

Your ability to take care of others is directly proportional to your own vitality and happiness. It’s not that a pedicure will make you a better mother. It’s that a happy, nourished person has more to give everyone.

Your Children Are Watching

Children see and hear everything. It’s almost freaky how tuned in they are to our states of being. They know when you’re depleted and will act (and react) accordingly. Some kids will dial up the drama in order to stay at the center of your attention, while others will scale back their needs and step into the caretaker role themselves. It’s good for kids to see their parents as rounded, fallible individuals (not paragons of perfection), but it’s also important that they trust you’ve got the basics handled so they can focus on their own growth. Self-care sets a crucial example for your kids about the relationship between taking care of yourself and being able to take care of others.

You’ve Already Created the Space!

At the very beginning of this book we talked about the concept of permission—that it’s time to let yourself step off the overparenting treadmill to find the unique prescription that works for your family. You’re on your way to minimizing physical and emotional clutter. You’ve created space in your life (or you will once you put this book down!) and it’s time to give yourself the permission to make yourself a priority. Self-care is not indulgent or selfish—it is a crucial part of living a full life.

Putting Yourself Back on the Priority List

Much as we’d love to kick this chapter off with “WEEK AT THE SPA FOR EVERYONE!” that’s not exactly realistic. Neither is suddenly spending five days a week at the gym, dropping $200 at the cosmetics counter, or meditating for an hour every night. We prefer to think of self-care as a habit and an attitude to develop more than as something to simply “do.”

When you’re juggling home and work demands, it can feel impossible to find time for yourself. We totally get it. We’ve been there. Possibly even yesterday. Try these strategies as you ease yourself into new “you” parameters:

Start Small

It’s tempting to set big self-care goals, but you’re more likely to succeed if you start small. Christine once read in a running magazine that ten minutes of running is better than no running. That concept resonated because really, don’t we all deserve at least ten minutes a day to focus on ourselves? Without a doubt. Set your sights on carving out ten minutes a day for yourself and build from there.

Schedule Self-Care in Your Calendar

This tip is particularly suited to those who live by their to-do lists and calendars (which we hope you’re doing after listening to our productivity evangelizing in chapter 2). Put self-care on your recurring daily to-do list (read on for ideas about what your self-care might entail). You’ll feel really happy every day when you check it off.

Focus on the Present

In the beginning, self-care can be difficult to enjoy because it’s hard to ignore the work and household matters looming in the background. Try to notice how much calmer you feel when you focus on one thing at a time. When you’re present in the moment, you can bring all of your energy and creativity to whatever you’re doing at the time, including doing something good for yourself. So when you’ve got your ten minutes (or more!) set aside, shut off everything else and just focus on yourself.

Ask for Help

When you let go of the need to manage every detail, you open up the opportunity to ask for help. Do it! Asking for help is not a weakness. It does not mean that you are incapable of doing something—it simply means you are opting not to do something at that moment. Embrace that other people may get to the finish line in a totally different way than you would, and go with it.

Say No

Hopefully, chapter 3 convinced you that it’s okay (more than okay!) to say no to things you don’t want to do. We’re reminding you again, because it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling selfish when you prioritize, say, your workout time over, say, a request to volunteer for a school field trip. You have the authority to make case-by-case decisions about how you use your time—don’t simply default to neglecting yourself.

You get to define “self-care.” As you customize your approach to your new minimalist life, keep in mind that you are driving the bus. Make joy a goal. You deserve happiness. Every day.

Fitness: Finding Your Strength One Step at a Time

Yeah, yeah. Exercise. Good for the body and the soul. Part of a reasonable weight-management strategy. Important component of cardiovascular fitness. Healthy people do it. The government wants you to do it. You know you should do it.

When did fitness become associated with should? We like this reasoning better: it’s fun, it’s easy to integrate into your life, and it will boost your self-confidence and reveal your strength in ways nothing else will. Your goal needn’t be Olympic athlete, marathon runner, cover model, or fifteen pounds of lost weight. You just need to move. That’s it. Walk, dance, run, bike, swim, hike . . . whatever makes you feel good.

The beauty of fitness is that starting anywhere fun leads to momentum in the right direction. We know that the newspaper reports and health experts talk about exercising X number of minutes for Y number of days per week. But you also know what we think about experts—they’re helpful, but they’re not living your life. You decide where and how to begin. Here are some simple ways to get on, stay on, or climb back on the fitness wagon.

Ten to Fifteen Minutes Is Still Worth It

Pursuant to the “think small” point earlier, remember that any bit of effort is great. Don’t be hindered by the idea that if you can’t do a full forty-five minute workout it isn’t worth it.

Set Small, Achievable Goals

If goal setting helps motivate you to prioritize yourself, do it, but start small. It’s great to think about larger, long-term goals, but they can be daunting when you’re getting back to fitness. Instead, set smaller goals such as “Run ten minutes” or “Do five push-ups” (apps such as Couch to 5K are great for novice runners who need help setting small concrete goals). You get to decide what “starting small” looks like for you.

Get Inspired by Social Media

Use social media both for inspiration and to support other friends who are trying to carve out self-care time. There’s something oddly motivating about sharing that you’re waffling about a run and then having a bunch of people tweet or Facebook you, barking at you to get your butt out the door.

Build Fitness Into Everyday Activities

Sometimes the best way to fit in exercise is to literally speed up your everyday activities. This doesn’t jibe with our ideal recommendation to focus on one thing at a time, but sometimes it’s what works.

During the weekdays—in which I have limited child care but a full workload—the best way for me to get in my fitness is to build it in to what I’m already doing. I walk Violet to day care to warm up and then run home. Or I run to and from errands. I’ve even run to and from business meetings (fortunately, my colleague Morra doesn’t mind when I show up sweaty for brainstorming sessions).

I once wrote a tongue-in-cheek Parent Hacks blog post called “The Crazy Parent Workout!!!” In it, I described how, when grocery shopping with my then-preschooler, I’d park on the far side of the lot, plop her into a cart, and then run to the store entrance. To the rest of the world, I probably looked insane, but my daughter loved the high-speed cart rides, I got my heart pumping, and my errands were finished in record time.

Exercise with Friends

Meet up with friends for a run, walk, or fitness class. Sign up for a race together. Other people will help hold you accountable and you’ll have the lovely benefit of grown-up social time (another critical component of self-care).

Log Your Accomplishments

If you dig data collection, sign up with a service like DailyMile.com. You can share workouts, get mileage reports, and connect with people to motivate and congratulate one another. Christine is also a fan of the MyFitnessPal app for tracking workouts, and as a way to be more mindful about what she’s eating.

Gear Up

If your yoga gear is ill-fitting or threadbare you won’t feel comfortable downward dogging. Cuteness counts, too. Spring for some good-quality gear so you can get moving safely and comfortably.

Change Up Your Routine

Getting bored? Ride your bike instead of walking. Take a Zumba class instead of step aerobics. Ignore the intimidation and go for it. You’re stronger than you realize.

Sign Up and Stick with It

Sometimes a class is a good motivator. Via Boston Mamas, Heather of RookieMoms.com recommends, “Pay for a class so you make it a priority.” And Jennifer of HeyGirlMommaGo.com recommends that you prioritize your own “enrichment” classes just as you would for your kids: “I take a BodyJam dance class that I adore and I treat it like I would my son’s karate class or my daughter’s ballet . . . I don’t miss it!”

Do Whatever Works

Try putting on your workout clothes first thing in the morning and stink yourself out. (Gross? Maybe, but it works.)

One surprisingly effective way to get myself to exercise is to put on my workout clothes first thing in the morning and not allow myself to shower until I have done something. Anything. I recently had a day where I was planning on a run but it kept getting pushed off for one reason or another. Finally, even though I usually don’t run in the late afternoon, I couldn’t take my stinky self anymore and hit the pavement for a quick ten-minute run. The shower felt even more delicious afterward.

Style: Small Tweaks Go a Long Way

Your “style” is, by definition, personal. Just as you’re defining your own unique parenting path, you—not Vogue or department store clothing buyers—get to decide which style works for you.

Style is an important aspect of self-care, even if you don’t consider yourself a fashionista. We all like to feel pretty, put together, or at least clean. Wherever your style baseline is, small tweaks can do wonders for your self-image, and you don’t need to invest a lot of time. Here are a few pointers to get you started.

Don’t Feel Bad About Wanting to Look Good

This is an important point to start with. Women are pelted with the conflicting messages that it’s shallow to focus on your looks AND that you should aspire to the images in the magazines. Confusing as this may be, the good news is that neither message is true—you can still be smart and competent and want to look put together . . . but you don’t have to follow the lead of the fashion press.

Declutter Your Closet and Cosmetics Drawer

The decluttering methods we discussed in chapter 5 apply to your closet and cosmetics drawer as well.

For a long time my closet was replete with “hopefuls.” Things I hoped would fit again someday. Things I hoped would come back into style. Things I regretted buying but hoped I would stop regretting someday. The idea of doing a complete closet overhaul (where you take everything out, sort it, then only put back the true keepers) overwhelmed me, so I decided to take a more gradual approach: whenever I got dressed in the morning, any hopefuls that I pulled out as possibilities but didn’t choose to wear, I put into the donation bag. Over the course of a couple of weeks I effectively trimmed the contents of my closet until it was full of clothes I felt happy wearing.

Figure Out Your Most Flattering Styles

You already know this, but the clothes that look good on a six-foot, size-zero model will not necessarily look good on you. But damn, it’s tempting to try. It may take some trial and error (save your receipts!), but try to take note of which silhouettes are most comfortable and flattering. Run with those as your closet workhorses. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t experiment with other styles, but it’s good to build a closet of go-to wardrobe options and then explore from there as your budget allows.

Be Okay with Gradual Style Acquisition

People vary in how confident they feel about their style. Perhaps you’re still searching. Flip through magazines and flag looks your eye naturally gravitates toward, go shopping with a style-savvy friend, or shop at a department store that offers free personal consultations to help you think differently about your wardrobe.

Get out of the Yoga Pants . . . at Least a Few Times a Week

If you’re not dressing for work or a specific occasion, it is very tempting to pull on the yoga pants and wear them for the next forty-eight hours. We get it. But think how good it will feel to take ten minutes (seriously, that is all it takes) to focus on you. Pull on a skirt or pair of pants, a cute top, and a pretty necklace. Done. Christine’s also a big fan of dresses as no-brainer wardrobe staples. Pair with earrings or a necklace, a pair of sandals or flats, and a cute belt or bag and you’re dressed in minutes.

Identify the Gaps in Your Wardrobe and Acquire Accordingly

Once you have identified what you enjoy wearing and what will get a lot of wear, make a list of what you need. Keep it somewhere handy (your to-do list!) so when a good sale pops up at your favorite store, you can grab the essentials.

Befriend Accessories

Unwilling to commit to bold color and pattern in your wardrobe staples? It’s time to befriend accessories.

Though I love fashion, I don’t like to invest in a lot of prints or pieces that are, well, easily identifiable. My tendency is to shop for mix and match neutrals and then use accessories to add color and finish the look. In particular, I love statement necklaces and adding pops of color via bags, shoes, or belts. I’m also a major fan of red lipstick.

Take Time for Basic Grooming

It’s a cliché of modern motherhood that one doesn’t have time for a shower. It’s not true. You’re worth the ten minutes it takes to shower and run a comb through your hair, even if it’s during the delirious moments before you fall into bed.

Schedule Appointments Ahead of Time

If you’re in dire need of a haircut, schedule one right now, even if you can only get an appointment three weeks from now. It will be sitting there on your calendar and you’ll be able to work it into your schedule. When you’re at the salon paying for your haircut and the receptionist asks if you’d like to schedule a follow-up appointment, say YES, and book it right then and there. While we’re talking about appointments, same goes for doctor and dentist visits. Address health issues while they are small so they don’t grow into larger and more expensive problems.

Relaxation: Let’s Do This Thing

We tend to forget that time and space to relax is an important aspect of self-care. It can be a ten-minute window during which you flip through a magazine, go for a walk, knit, or sip a cup of tea and do absolutely nothing. If you have more time, try a little pampering, chatting with a good friend, a movie, doing something creative, sleeping, or experimenting with new hobbies.

Allyson via the Minimalist Parenting blog: I still make “grown-up” meals. We eat a wide variety of foods that are tasty and good for us. It helps that our toddler has somewhat gourmet tastes (“I dinosaur! Dinosaurs eat SALMON!”), but preparing and eating good food still feels like a self-care treat, even when you’re cleaning bits of it off the floor/your hair/your spouse’s shirt.

Ingrid via the Minimalist Parenting blog: When my daughter was small, bedtime was difficult because if I was around, she wouldn’t settle down unless I was with her, so I would go out to the library one or two nights a week, leaving her and her father to develop their own routine. I would read and sometimes knit, often browse through magazines, or take my laptop and surf the web . . . sometimes I would go window-shopping with a latte in hand. My girl is older now and manages bedtime very well, but I still love the occasional evening at the library.

Minimalist Parenting ultimately makes room for you to experience life more fully. To quiet your mind. Relax your body. Breathe deeply. Eat mindfully. Be present. Each time you find yourself with free time, grab it with joyful hands.

You and Your Partner

One of the many benefits of taking care of yourself is the natural brightening effect it has on your relationship with your partner. Your growing ease and self-confidence will help you loosen your grip on simmering resentment, and opens the door to productive conversation. Bonus: your uptick of attention to your appearance might garner some appreciative glances as well.

But we all know how rough parenting can be on a partnership, and you—like most of us—could probably use some bolstering in the romance department. Part of caring for yourself includes nurturing your relationship—both fixing the stuff that’s broken and encouraging the stuff that brought you together in the first place.

Avoid Festering

People differ in how they express their emotions—some let it all hang out, others clamp down on their emotions. Declare an open communication pact with your partner; you can more quickly diffuse tense situations and clear up misunderstandings when you talk things out instead of keeping quiet. Think of all the energy you will save for better things!

If You Can’t Work It Out, Get Help

Sometimes it’s hard to see your way through relationship issues when you’re right in the middle of them. Working with a therapist is not a sign of a weak relationship; it’s actually a sign of strength that you’re willing to invest time and energy in your partnership. Having someone else in the room, even for a few sessions, can help everyone feel heard so you can clear out old resentments and make room for a new story that feeds you both.

Take Your Own Baggage Elsewhere

Parents often have little time to catch up and enjoy each other as couples. When Christine struggles with issues that don’t relate to the family, she’ll often seek out the help of a friend or therapist instead of clogging her time with Jon.

Trust and Be Supportive

You and your partner might not agree on the specifics of how to solve a problem (be it personal, professional, or related to parenting). But as long as you’re on the same page about the result, support and trust in each others’ competence and good intention.

Prioritize “We” Time

For a relationship to survive (and thrive!), you need to get out and actually talk and listen to one another, away from the clamor of family life. Put date night on the calendar, even if it’s only once a month. Try to get away together from time to time, even if it’s just one night. If babysitting is prohibitively expensive, consider swapping babysitting time with friends or calling on help from family.

Tiffany via the Minimalist Parenting blog: We have made it a point to travel together when child care is available. We do a lot together as a family, but my husband and I find traveling together is just as important (whether it’s a night away or two weeks away). Our being gone also helps the kids develop flexibility and independence, and shows them that their mom and dad love each other and enjoy spending time together.

Make More Time for Pointless Fun

When you’re a parent, it’s too easy to let your relationship turn into a management partnership—all logistics, no fun. Swap some of the household to-dos for some goof-off time together.

Small Acts of Kindness Have a Big Impact

Sometimes the smallest acts garner the most attention. Christine is convinced that her coffee tastes much better when Jon makes it for her. And those small acts remind her to reciprocate, too.

Ask for Help and Respond to Requests Directly and Respectfully

It can be hard to ask for help and also hard to say no. Agree that each party is allowed to ask the other for help and that the other person has permission to say yes or no, trusting that both parties are operating from a baseline of helpfulness and support.

Allow Each Other Time for Mindfulness

As we hurry through life, there’s such comfort and value in encouraging each other to slow down and take more time, whether it’s while doing errands or when slipping off to a café for some solo time.

Respect the Roles You Each Play

Whether both of you work outside the home or one person is at home with the kids while the other works, both roles are important and warrant respect. Boston Mamas contributor Priya (a sixty-plus-hours-per-week attorney whose husband stays at home with their two kids) recommends these three elements as essential to developing a baseline of respect:

Resist correcting each other’s parenting. Constant correction can foster a sense of insecurity and resentment in the parent being corrected.

Hear each other out. Both parties deserve time to vent a little—just because one parent got to spend the day in casual clothes at the park doesn’t necessarily mean the day was easy.

Share the “firsts.” If one parent experiences a child’s milestone first, allow the other parent the time and space to experience it with joy, instead of feeling guilty or resentful about missing out.

You and Your Wider Social Circle

Finally, there’s the community beyond your family. You’ve got friends and family who nurture you in unique ways. However you choose to connect and in whatever setting (one on one, small group), reserve time to deepen and enjoy your friendships and your relationships with extended family. Explore how community involvement might enrich your life. By nurturing your wider social circle, you are ultimately building a support system that will make parenting richer and more fun.

Amid all your roles—parent among them—you’re still you. Glorious you. Minimalist Parenting gives you the time and space to explore who you are now, and who you have yet to become.