It's 7 a.m.; your newborn is crying. Time for a morning feed, then you may as well get up for the day. Struggle to get the pot on the boil, rub your eyes, and start getting breakfast ready.
It's 7 a.m.; your alarm goes off, blasting you out of bed. It's just as well; you heard your baby stirring anyway. Stumble into the nursery, change baby and get him milk, toss on your business wear, kiss baby goodbye, brush your hair in the car, and get to work 10 minutes late, anyway.
It's 7 a.m.; your kids are playing downstairs. Now they're fighting. Time to get up. Race downstairs, break up the fight, change and feed them, start preparing for the day, make breakfasts and lunches, fold the laundry, look at the clock and wonder how it's noon already.
It's a hard job to be a parent. These are just the three scenarios I've lived through. Single mothers have a different and even more difficult morning struggle, while families with two working partners also have to get the kids to daycare before getting themselves to work (I assume 10 minutes late, as well).
In all this hustle and bustle, preparation and execution, it's easy to lose yourself. It's more important, after all, to feed the kids and tidy the living room a bit than to shower. You can always shower later. You can always get dressed later. You could even put on jewelry or fashionable jeans, but would it even matter? Who cares if you are a hot mess, right?
When I first became a stay at home mom, I made a few promises to myself. I would get dressed everyday. I would get the babies out of the house at least once a day. I would clean at least a room a day. For the most part, I've made good on these promises. (I fully admit, the cleaning sometimes takes a hit.) But I should have been more specific. My attire frequently consists of sweatpants and a T-shirt. Our outings sometimes take us only as far as the garbage cans in the back of the complex. And sometimes it's all I can do to get the dishes in the dishwasher.
Maybe these aren't your priorities. There are many mothers who feel complete in sweats and like playing inside with the kids. Maybe, though, they'd like to exercise more than they get to. Maybe they'd like to read a book. But it seems so selfish to take that time for yourself, no matter what the activity. There are other, more important, things to be done.
So that it doesn't seem like a big deal to skip the shower -- or the sit ups, or the next chapter -- at the time, but little by little the lack of you in your life will take a toll. You slowly begin to feel not good enough. You could be perfect and just not feel good enough.
As a good friend of mine said, "Everybody has these thoughts. Mine usually go like this: "I should shower. I should put clothes on, but who would notice. It doesn't matter. I don't matter."
And that's the key right there. It's a short jump from it doesn't matter to I don't matter. And you do matter. Most importantly, you are the rock on which your children will build their lives, but you are also so much more. If you feel like you don't matter, even subconsciously, your kids will pick up on that. So even if you can't pick yourself up for you, try to do it for your kids. It seems like taking time for yourself would be detrimental to them, but, really, anything that helps you, helps them in the long run.
You need to take the time. It doesn't have to be a dramatic change. Keeping a piece of yourself day by day will take only a few minutes. You don't have to take an hour and read an entire book. You don't have to take a luxurious bath. You don't need to meticulously make yourself up. You don't need to do a full 90-minute workout at the gym. Remember, in time, you will get these things back. Babies are not babies forever.
For now, though, compromise. Take a moment to match your top to your skirt, if that's what matters to you. Read a few pages after you put the kids down for a nap, or, if you work, after you put them to bed for the night. Do kid-friendly exercising if that's your thing. I'm told babies love yoga workouts and obstacle courses. Or wait until you put them down, and do a workout routine at home. Then take a shower. You'll find that you'll still have an hour, at least, to clean or cook or finish that sewing project for the kids.
There is time for everything in your life. It is up to you to make it.