It’s almost Groundhog Day here in the United States (and Canada too!) so that inevitably makes me think of Bill Murray and the 1993 movie with the same title, Groundhog Day. The premise for the calendar and popular culture Groundhog Day is that a groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil from Punxsutawney, PA, predicts the weather for the rest of winter by coming out of his burrow on February 2nd. If he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, there will be an early spring. I am oversimplifying this so if you want to learn more, check out The Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s website!
The movie, while centered around Groundhog Day, is more about Bill Murray’s character, Phil Conners, living the same day over and over and over and over again. Every morning, Phil’s alarm clock plays Sonny and Cher’s, “I Got You Babe”…
And for some reason, this year, that reminded me of those early days of motherhood when it literally feels like the "same stuff/$#!+/crap/thing, different day.” And you feel trapped, all the time. And you wonder if you’ll ever have a say in your own life, ever again. And you say to yourself, “is this my life?”
To some folks, the idea of a schedule or a routine or a pattern like this sounds blissful. To others, this sounds like a slow and painful death. Certainly there are significant benefits to human beings, whether days or years old, to having predictability and routine. But there are also some drawbacks too. Today’s article will talk about both sides of the routine-coin, how to combat the same-stuff, different-day feelings for your family, and will end with tips from over 50 mothers on ways to break the groundhog day feeling of mothering by way of self care.
“Didn’t we do this yesterday?” Phil Conners, Groundhog Day
Well yes, yes we did.
Many people will call this many different things: schedule, routine, pattern, rhythm, outline, and flow are common words that are all used to describe how we go about our existence. Research abounds on why routines and schedules are beneficial to humans.
“A river needs its banks to flow” ~ Jessica
Schedules/routines/rhythms, whatever your family calls it, reduce frustration, manage expectations, create predictability, ease stress, can be a source of comfort, provide safety, build confidence, give structure, are opportunities for feelings of control, assist with memory, reduce the number of decisions we have to make, provide consistency, create opportunities for independence and self-sufficiency, serve as an auto-pilot for parents, allow kids to know what’s next, ease transitions, and the list could go on. In our tiny humans, routines and patters are a form of communication and, when you get right down to it, they are a form of survival - being cognizant of our children’s eating patterns, sleeping patterns, and times of increased activity are ways of helping ensure that we meet even the very basic of needs for our offspring.
“Imagine you are driving over a bridge with no guard rails. That can be debilitating and frightening. Routing, predictability, and rules are the guard rails that children need. Go ahead and change lanes, choose which deck of the bridge to drive on, etc, but always remember to give your kids guard rails.” ~ Christine
In the Army (and my family), we call it a battle rhythm and this battle rhythm is typically for one week. We start with our hardscape, the scheduled events that we know are unchangeable and definite. For example, we know we have a meeting every Tuesday at 1000 or we know the kids need to be to school by 0830 every day. We know we go to church on Sundays at 10:30. And bedtime. Bedtime is *pretty* solid at 8pm. Unless it’s not! Then we come in with the other things that we know need to happen but that are not specifically tied to a certain time. For example, my youngest naps in the afternoons and I try to be home for that nap. But if it’s Monday and we are playing tourist because our Nation’s Capital is in our back yard, well, we may not get a nap that day (it’s taken me a long time to be able to put this on paper and be ok with it!). On Saturdays we try to get out somewhere as a family. Nothing set, but we have a placeholder on the battle rhythm for “get out!” This helps us for so many of the reasons I mentioned above.
Yes, the inverse of each of these benefits is also true, when schedules are implemented to the extreme or when they are imposed on humans who do not want, appreciate, or understand schedules. Please note that I am not talking about scheduling or putting baby on a schedule. From my perspective, that is a completely different topic for a whole different blog article. The schedule or routine I’m discussing today is more suited for a baby no younger than 8 weeks old, but more realistic for an infant 12 to 16 weeks of age. I whole heartedly encourage every family to do your own research then decide what is best for your family.
My friend Liz shared a great article (much shorter than mine!) on rituals, Motherhood Mondays: An Ode To Rituals, written by Joanna Goddard. I love the tagline of the article: Lazy Parents’ Dark Secret: The Ritual. She provides a few other examples of “lazy parenting” that certainly resonated with me (“independent play” and “not washing the cast iron skillet” - hello lazy!!). Take a read.
Though schedules and routines provide many wonderful benefits to people, parents and children alike, there are certain downfalls to routines, especially when it begins to feel like Groundhog Day.
“What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing you did mattered?” Phil Connors, Groundhog Day
43 of the 103 respondents to a recent poll in the Experiences of Motherhood (EOM) Survey Group (myself wholeheartedly included) admitted to being full-fledged Type A personality type. By definition, this makes us lovers, nay, obsessors, about planning and scheduling. The word “sporadic” makes us vomit in our mouths a bit. But even for me, the idea of being “stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same” sounds petrifying. The saying “variety is the spice of life” applies, even with newborns - they get bored too!
Deviating from a schedule or routine in and of itself is often quite liberating and fun. But it’s also quite healthy for children and adults. Flexibility and being able to “go with the flow” are valuable lessons to teach our kids. It’s also a good reminder that things doing always go as planned, and sometimes, that where the real memories are made. Breaking from the schedule, while sometimes challenging, keeps everyone’s brains engaged and fosters growth in ourselves and our children. Here are some suggestions from the EOM group on ways to vary your family’s day:
- Get out of the house, any way you can. Walk, drive, baby carrier, sit on the front porch, just get fresh air!
- “Get Dressed” Maggie
- Take a step back and reminder yourself about the big picture - “it’s not all about your child or children - try not to let the kids rule your schedule or your life.” Celeste
- “Kids are flexible, you are human, and when everything is not going as expected then laughing can be a great cure!” Celeste
- Get your partner more involved - Sarah
- Bring in a new face to give ideas and suggest changes - Jessica
- Add white-space/unscheduled time
But, there are times, especially during the early infant stages, where breaking from a routine is darn-near impossible, no matter how much you want to. These times can be emotionally taxing for all. Take Cassidy and her son, for example. Cassidy’s son arrived early and required a NICU stay. The due to several factors, Cassidy decided she would exclusively pump. But, this presented logistical nightmares because she needed to pump every three hours, for 30 minutes, for 13 months! She couldn’t have the carefree fun she desired with her son. She had to back to pump, find an outlet, figure out how to store breastmilk, etc. That structure/schedule was not what she envisioned for her or her family’s experience. She learned from this experience that, “sometimes, somethings just have to go.”
The above Groundhog Day quote can directly apply to mothers with newborns and infants. Though I believe that everything mothers do matters, when you’re in the trenches doing the same thing, every couple of hours, every day, every week, and the person for whom you caring and providing for does not verbally indicate how much she or he cares, it is very, very easy to quickly wonder if what you’re doing matters. The mental wear and tear of this schedule can become paralyzing, numbing, and often depressing. Being so stuck to a schedule is extremely challenging and we need to give space and credit to our moms who are so tethered to a schedule, with no need to know why. Please understand when I say, everything mothers do matters!!!
Even taking care of yourself, and talking to your children about it, matters! Tell your children why you exercise, why you read a book, why you enjoy baking as a hobby, why you exercise, why, why, why…wait. That was too many whys and now I feel like my 5 year old!
“I’m not going to live by their rules anymore.” Phil Connors, Groundhog Day
You tell ‘em Phil! Go get it!
One of the biggest points I want to drive home with this article is the concept of self-care as a way to break the Groundhog Day feelings of motherhood. It’s a huge buzzword and trend right now and maybe for good reason.
Meghan N., a member of the EOM group, said “really though, I don’t like the term self-care. I believe I have a responsibility to take care of myself always: physically, mentally, emotionally…it should be a daily piece of my life. It’s become another one of those things moms should run after and feel bad when they don’t get it.”
Meghan makes two great points here - it’s our responsibility and it shouldn’t be something else we chase and try go fit into our otherwise busy schedule/routine/rhythm. But if self-care is something that you’ve been lacking for a while, please jump on this trend and start taking part in some form of self-care. Self care can happen anywhere, anytime. Whatever makes you happy and alive - that’s my definition of self-care.
I think self-care requires a few key factors in order to be truly effective: prepare for it, be present, then reflect.In order to truly reap the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional benefits of self-care, you need to plan ahead and make sure the source of your stress can be managed - make sure your children are taken care of so that you can truly enjoy your time. Then, do your best to be mentally present while engaging in your self-care event. No distractions and no multi-tasking, please! Finally, and this one we all struggle with, think about it later that day, before you go to bed. Do you feel better? Did your self-care experience make you feel like a better mother, partner, or person? Conducting that after action review (AAR for short) helps you to really process the event and may even spark another dopamine release for a happiness aftershock!
If you're looking for more on this topic, check out the Honest Mamas podcast, episode 26 titled “Cultivating More Joy in Motherhood.” It was just released earlier this week. How’s that for timing!
I’m going to close out this article here, but please keep reading! Over 50 of the mothers in my Experiences In Motherhood Survey Group provided their self-care tips. Take a look below to see what these amazing ladies do (or don’t do!).
We give such negative connotation to the monotony of the cliche from Groundhog Day. But, in reality, the same thing, different day, can actually be quite beneficial. Don’t shy away from a routing or pattern or rhythm or flow or even a schedule. Just remember to mix it up a bit too.
Like my mom always said, everything in moderation…even moderation!
“Then put your little hand in mine, There ain’t no hill or mountain we can’t climb.”
Kari Haravitch PCD(DONA)
What does self-care look like for you? Here are most of the answers I received to the question (all contributors approved of me using their comments!”):
“Working out, reading, going for a mani/pedi” Leigh
“Piyo (Pilates and yoga) connects me back to dance from my high school years. Netflix during nap time. And MOPS - food and friends who know my name isn’t “Mom”. Various leadership roles have connected me to my teaching years.” Allison
“This is something I am AWFUL at! Running or exercising are favorites and definitely makes a big impact when I’m doing consistently. Currently this chicks self care is naps and facebook (because she’s super pregnant with baby girl #5!!!)” Tara M.
“Working out, and napping with my kids. I make them take naps so I can lay down with them” Thu
“My self care is cleaning my surroundings. I can relax and feel totally content if my house is clean and organized. Same with my car. I enjoy driving and going places as long as my car is clean. My hubby thinks I'm weird because on the weekend when I want to take a nap, I spend about an hour picking up and vacuuming before I lay on the couch for that nap.” Misty
“Going to daily mass as often as I can, prayer and reflection time, exercise and cooking. The first two are truly the things that have helped me to be a better mother.” Connie
“Self what now? ;) I actually just started riding horses again for the first time since college. Something I've always loved. But my oldest kid is 10, and this is the first diligent effort I have made for me time. Oh and a stint of running triathlons from 2010-2012.” Courtney
“Powerlifting! I trained regularly before and during pregnancy and am still (usually) able to lift daily. Now it's my 'me' time...and a great outlet!” Jen V.
“Finding ways to be with friends really restores my mind!” Aspen
“Ok, I'll go there...5 minutes of Facebook (which we all know is 10) with a bag of peanut M&Ms. That's the real stuff. Oh, and in the dark closet. Hiding…No *for reals*, just dropping the day's plans and heading somewhere outside. Doesn't happen too often...feel like it may happen again very soon.” Kim
“When they were little, it was reading...sandwiched between them; while they watched Disney, I read Vogue. As they got older and involved in baseball, it was spending time with friends we all made..and that continues to this day. As an older mom, I will warn that self-care is something we tend to put on the back burner. We take so much responsibility for everything. My boys hit high school while I hit pre-menopause, and it was not pretty. All of a sudden, my health went to hell, and I felt like crap for a very long time. I learned to delegate, accept things I can't control, and prioritize SLEEP! As I've said before, there are lessons I learned during those years that I wish I had known earlier.” Linda
“Reading, daily devotional time, teaching a Bible study class, and exercising.” Tracy
“My self-care involves taking time for myself! Even if it’s short. I take a few minutes almost everyday doing some sort of self-care. I enjoy reading, painting, watching anime, and playing video games but with two kids under five... some days those don’t happen. But sometimes it means that I take an “hour shower”, sneaking away when my husband is home and grooming myself (hey those eyebrows don’t do themselves!), play loud music and dance with the kids, review our family schedule and maybe slide out for an hour or two on Saturday.” Cassidy
“Lol I enjoy going to the grocery store. Most people do retail therapy mine is food shopping therapy. Or I just relax for the day.” Carmen
“This has fallen of the rails with our schedules as they are this academic year, but A and I previously had one sacrosanct night each. I took a yoga class every Monday with a friend and we'd do beers after. A joined a brewery run club on Wednesdays with friends. Exercise, adult conversation (with adults that are a part of our routine life), and beer every week! I miss it.” Sarah
“Exercising. I do a lot of things when I can and I tend to work out around 5 times a week. This year, I started having a set date once a week. On Wednesday night I go to barre class no matter what. If your head is falling off I’m still going lol 😂 it has worked out well” Anne P.
“Reading away from everything/everyone at home, working out, mani/pedis, or just going out alone (shopping, eating out, taking a drive, etc.,).” Sarah B.
“Running. It's so relaxing to just take in the beautiful sights of your surroundings with only the rhythmic noise of your feet hitting the ground or some motivating music. I'm able to clear my head... only to make room for more plans, but it works 😉. When I was really in my running groove after my third kid, if I didn't get a run in I got real cranky. My husband would even tell me to run so I'd have some me time and relax.” Joy T.
“Sleep is the only way I can recharge my batteries. Servant leadership is my passion and I get a huge boost from facilitating others in service and from leading others toward a common goal. It’s the best feeling ever. And it fills my cup to help others fill theirs.” Alyssa
“Working out or running!!!” Meghan G.
“Exercising for sure. I schedule my classes a month out to make sure I go! Monday nights and Saturday mornings I get my me time!” Tara L.
“In the toddler stage, I would have some alone time after the little one went to bed. Watch a show or 2 and have a little ice cream. Now, I get in my solo time right after I take him to school with a cup of coffee on the back porch. Just taking about 10 minutes to absorb the tranquility of nature (and watch my pets play in the yard, lol). And one day a week I go out to dinner with my best gal pal!” Cathy
“I am on my feet all day so I like to lay in bed and veg at the end of the day. Usually Netflix and chill style. Small goals. I neeeed alone time.” Jessica
“Cleaning my house for an hour during nap time then watching Ellen. Being able to relax in my CLEAN house is the best way to unwind for me. I’m very organized and like things tidy which let’s face it, doesn’t happen all the time with kiddos” Brittney
“I haven’t figured out the self care thing yet. I fail at it miserably.” MaryBeth
“Long hot baths, Netflix, spending time with friends” Angalie
“Stress relief cleaning YES! Especially when I’m pissed” Tara M.
“I did hot yoga after my first, it was a bit easier to fit in my schedule back then with my parents nearby to watch her. It's just not fitting in now, so I take hot baths and add a bath bomb instead. My eldest is obsessed with bath bombs now and she miggghhht be getting a kit to make them for her birthday soon, she'll be sweet enough to make some for her mommy too I bet” Emily
“Sleep, shower, and yoga. When I can!” Katie
“Date night! We only have them a couple of times a year, but I feel so refreshed after sitting down to a full meal (that someone else cooked), having an adult conversation, and drinking some wine. When our kids are older, I'm hoping to start running again, but our youngest isn't quite ready for that yet.” Cheryl
“I do this FAR less frequently than daily, weekly, or quarterly, but once a year I go to a hotel for a night. If I have a baby at the time it's not completely relaxing, because I bring them with me or have them dropped off to me after dinner. That first day I take a long bath, maybe workout, walk a few stores, go to a spa for a massage, eat dinner alone with both hands while the food is hot.
"I've just started demanding more regular and much smaller breaks throughout the week to read, workout, etc” Kat
“Read, drink a cup of hot tea, listen to a podcast, spend time with friends” Vanessa
“I call it “bustling” in the kitchen- could be cleaning, could be cooking, could be drinking some tea but it’s in my sanctuary by myself. “I need to go bustle” is a phrase my husband has come to know and appreciate. I also take baths every night before bed and sometimes sew” Maggie
“Self-care is so important and I am a huge advocate for it. Things I do: spend time solo, read, exercise, go on date nights, go out with friends, etc. all the usual suspects” Meghan N.
“I learned early on if I don’t take care of myself than everyone in the house feels it!! I love getting together with friends, date nights, reading books, monthly massages, exercising, doing anything alone, bathes, being outdoors, etc. Now that my kids are getting a little older. I tell them mommy is exercising to take care of myself, or I am going to sit outside for a few minutes to relax. I think it is important they see that I am taking care of myself.” Kerry
“A hot shower and doing some kind of needlework. Being creative for at least ten minutes a day is a must. I also need at least 15-30 minutes of alone time. That was a struggle when the kids were young. I'd sometimes go to bed with my husband and after he was asleep, get up to have that alone time. Crazy, but it worked for me.” ReNata
“Working out is a big one that I realized I had been lacking for the first 3 years of motherhood (I did the absolute bare minimum and no routine). The other is enforcing bed time, so me and the hubby get 2 hours of quality us time at night.” Liz
“To recharge my battery I like a variety of things from thrift store shopping, grocery shopping, reading, cooking to a night out with Hubbie! Oh, and wine.” Wendy
“It varies for me. Sometimes it’s a solo adventure somewhere, or it’s reading a book or watching a movie in my pajamas.” Ana
“I paint my nails once a week usually Sunday nights as my quiet time before bed. I enroll in dance class and go to dance once a week for 2 hours. It's my chance to keep myself growing and to do something I love. (it's now all the more special because both my kids dance at the same studio!) I have found this is part of me demonstrating the importance of the self care to my kids as well. I've also tried to get books on hand lettering. A new skill I'm trying to learn. I usually read most nights before bed. At the end of a bad/rough day I will admit I sit in front of the tv and binge mindlessly.” Ann
“Running - especially with a neighbor friend - but running solo worked too! When my twins were little and hubby was an airline pilot, they were in the double jogging stroller while I walked/jogged and I often sought out one or two mom friends in the neighborhood to join us. It satisfied the social aspect and physical aspect that I needed to recharge. My boys are 12 now and I still need physical recharge, but I have also gone back to playing piano to recharge - and I don't get interrupted as often as when they were little. After going back to work full-time, going to the grocery store early (like 6/7 a.m.) on Saturday or Sunday by myself was a unique way to recharge to get ready for the work week; having a cleaning lady come every 2 weeks and the peace of coming home to clean house - was better than a massage for me!” Diedra
“I listen to books on tape as I drive or cook. I love to read but find I lack time to sit still. The book on tape help me escape while doing errands. I also ask my Google dot to give me a compliment. " Ok Google give me a compliment" - today's complimentary was ,"there are roughly a hundred trillion billion stars in the universe and you are brighter than all of them". Don't judge - a compliment is a compliment even if it is computer generated.” Amy
“Self care? What's that??? Lol” Lisa
“I am trying to exercise more. Also, I spend more time just reading, praying/studying, watching a favorite TV show.” Carissa
“Gym! That’s my biggest self care...and the odd weekend away from the kid! Whether it’s just me gone with friends or A and I going away together...it’s important! Not often, but important. Oh and trips to Target and the grocery store ALONE!” Elena
“I pick a “guilty pleasure” tv show to binge watch and spend Friday night after kids are in bed in front of the fire place binging Vampire Diaries (my current show) and hubby in the basement playing Xbox.” Lindsey
“Running, without a stroller!” Sara
“This is an area that I have been absolutely horrible about :/ To the point where some pretty major health issues occurred. I'm determined to be a healthier version of me on every level by the time this year is over (currently cleansing, exercising, seeing chiropractor etc). Last year I started a Friday night tradition, once I get the girls in bed i have wine and a movie by myself. I'll often wait and eat dinner then as well just to enjoy a meal in silence 😂 I'm also being more intentional about reading before bed as I find it very soothing.” Carrie
“Reading. Writing. All the time. Both of those put me in such a great headspace. I feel vibrant and alive when I make time for creativity.” Olivia
“I used to be great with self-care then I had my second set of kids (all planned and in one family) and lost myself a little bit along the way…it’s so different having littles today then it was 15 years ago...So for self-care, organization is a must for me.. Whether it’s in my home or my truck, I have to be organized and prepared...Also, cooking dinner every night…Will be adding the gym and date nights very soon..” Sandra
“Work. I know it's weird, but being a SAHM, homeschooling mom of five, finding a job I can do from home has been the best self-care for me. I get to feel productive and do something I love, while still helping my family (not that there's anything wrong with doing something JUST FOR YOU.” Cierra
“I'd love to get to a point where self care meant regular yoga and brunch dates with girlfriends. For now self care looks more like having limits than anything else. Saying no and knowing my limits more than adding fun things. For instance, I cancelled a work trip to London that I really wanted to go on this week when I realized I had been caring for a sick kid alone, just moved internationally, started a new role at work and am three months pregnant. Saying no and prioritizing sleep above almost all else is my self care for now!” Eleanor