Attack of the mom guilt

How to stop feeling selfish and start exercising self-care

You're working hard, and trying to balance family life with your professional goals. But can you really have it all and still be able to have some quality "me time"?

"A lot of women feel like they might be admitting failure if they shared how difficult it is to make time for [themselves]," says working mom and freelance producer Ellen Fiedelholtz. "It's all about juggling. There's no such thing as balance. I feel like the lady with the plates spinning in the air."

    You're working hard, and trying to balance family life with your professional goals. But can you really have it all and still be able to have some quality "me time"?

    "A lot of women feel like they might be admitting failure if they shared how difficult it is to make time for [themselves]," says working mom and freelance producer Ellen Fiedelholtz. "It's all about juggling. There's no such thing as balance. I feel like the lady with the plates spinning in the air."

    And while many working women try to keep the idea alive that doing everything can actually be done, not every expert agrees.

    "This philosophy that you can have it all is garbage," says Caroline Myss, bestselling author of the book "Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential" (Three Rivers Press, $17). "There simply aren't enough hours in the day for anyone to do everything well. If you live with this belief system, someone has sold you a bill of goods."

    Myss says many women in our society treat motherhood as another item on their "to do" list, rather than as a full-time job.

    "You have values as an individual, but often they never adapted to your new values as you get married and have kids," she says. "You still think you can have both worlds simultaneously—but they do not exist. Some choices require more attention. . . . Children need to have their needs put first, so you have to limit your own needs because you've chosen their needs as a priority. You have to get your own ego in check."

    Some experts counter that putting oneself first isn't selfish—but a much needed form of self care.

    "You can have a bit of it all," says Laurie Mintz, a psychologist and author of the book "A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex" (Adams Media, $14.95). "You can be a good mother and a good worker, but you can't be the top dog at work and see your kids all the time, so life is a series of tradeoffs. We are a driven, perfectionist, hard-on-ourselves society. Other cultures take much more down time than we do."

    Mintz says she hears the "I can't possibly take time for me" excuse from her clients all the time, but insists if they shifted their thinking, they'd be better mothers, wives and co-workers.

    "I'm not talking about taking off and forgetting you have a family or a job and doing something irrational," she explains. "Maybe treat yourself to a half hour walk or a yoga class. When you don't take time for yourself you have anxiety, depression, insomnia, a short temper. Would you rather get home at 6 short tempered or at 6:30 centered?"

    Here are some tips on how to take "me time" without the guilt:

    Start small

    "I had a client who had trouble even taking just five minutes a week," says Mintz. "That's one five-minute break in a whole week! So we started slowly and I asked her to just walk around the block. When she got back and saw how much better she felt, she did it a few times a week over time. Now she takes an hour a day and the change in her attitude and energy level is astonishing."

    Honor thy mother

    "Mothers have got to stop being uncomfortable being mothers," says Myss. "They have to stop thinking that stepping into motherhood is inadequate—'I'm just a mother'—JUST a mother? Since when is mother an inadequate role?"

    Shorten your to-do list

    "You're never going to get to everything on the to-do list," says Fiedelholtz. "Scale it down and put something on there that you've never done before that involves the children. Make it fun."

    Support each other

    "Mothers are hard on themselves and each other," says Fiedelholtz. "We have to adjust our expectations and admit to each other that we've had a rough day. And that we aren't getting all of the food groups in our kids meals every single time. We're human, and we need to be honest about it."

    jweigel@tribune.com

    Twitter: @jenweigel
And while many working women try to keep the idea alive that doing everything can actually be done, not every expert agrees.

"This philosophy that you can have it all is garbage," says Caroline Myss, bestselling author of the book "Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential" (Three Rivers Press, $17). "There simply aren't enough hours in the day for anyone to do everything well. If you live with this belief system, someone has sold you a bill of goods."

Myss says many women in our society treat motherhood as another item on their "to do" list, rather than as a full-time job.

"You have values as an individual, but often they never adapted to your new values as you get married and have kids," she says. "You still think you can have both worlds simultaneously—but they do not exist. Some choices require more attention. . . . Children need to have their needs put first, so you have to limit your own needs because you've chosen their needs as a priority. You have to get your own ego in check."

Some experts counter that putting oneself first isn't selfish—but a much needed form of self care.

"You can have a bit of it all," says Laurie Mintz, a psychologist and author of the book "A Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex" (Adams Media, $14.95). "You can be a good mother and a good worker, but you can't be the top dog at work and see your kids all the time, so life is a series of tradeoffs. We are a driven, perfectionist, hard-on-ourselves society. Other cultures take much more down time than we do."

Mintz says she hears the "I can't possibly take time for me" excuse from her clients all the time, but insists if they shifted their thinking, they'd be better mothers, wives and co-workers.

"I'm not talking about taking off and forgetting you have a family or a job and doing something irrational," she explains. "Maybe treat yourself to a half hour walk or a yoga class. When you don't take time for yourself you have anxiety, depression, insomnia, a short temper. Would you rather get home at 6 short tempered or at 6:30 centered?"

Here are some tips on how to take "me time" without the guilt:

Start small

"I had a client who had trouble even taking just five minutes a week," says Mintz. "That's one five-minute break in a whole week! So we started slowly and I asked her to just walk around the block. When she got back and saw how much better she felt, she did it a few times a week over time. Now she takes an hour a day and the change in her attitude and energy level is astonishing."

Honor thy mother

"Mothers have got to stop being uncomfortable being mothers," says Myss. "They have to stop thinking that stepping into motherhood is inadequate—'I'm just a mother'—JUST a mother? Since when is mother an inadequate role?"

Shorten your to-do list

"You're never going to get to everything on the to-do list," says Fiedelholtz. "Scale it down and put something on there that you've never done before that involves the children. Make it fun."

Support each other

"Mothers are hard on themselves and each other," says Fiedelholtz. "We have to adjust our expectations and admit to each other that we've had a rough day. And that we aren't getting all of the food groups in our kids meals every single time. We're human, and we need to be honest about it."

jweigel@tribune.com

Twitter: @jenweigel
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