In February 2016, Emily Writes and I started a monthly parenting podcast called Dear Mamas. Our manifesto is no bullshit, no judgement, and we hope to build friendship, support and community. You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or Stitcher, or listen on Emily’s blog. I’ll be posting transcripts of each episode here for anyone who’s unable to listen. Huge thanks to @missashlynm for the transcript.
In this episode, we discuss self-care with our guest Katie Bruce: what it means to each of us, how hard it is to do, and how to make sure it doesn’t just become one more thing to feel guilty about.
HOLLY: Welcome to Episode Two of the Dear Mamas podcast. No bullshit, no judgement parenting talk with me, Holly Walker, and Emily Writes.
EMILY: We really wanted to start off tonight by just saying thank you so, so much – it was such an incredible response to our first podcast. We feel so lucky and we really – we’re so grateful. I want to hug every one of you who listened to the last podcast and sent us the loveliest messages and told us to keep going. And, that’s why we’re here, because you said keep going and you listened to us, so thank you so much.
HOLLY: Yes, thank you. It was quite nerve wracking putting that first one out –
HOLLY: So it was really encouraging. And tonight we’re talking about self-care, and that’s quite a deliberate choice because I think, as parents – especially as mothers – it can be really easy for self-care to drop off the bottom of our priority lists.
EMILY: And so, yeah, I think self-care as a first discussion topic is like a mission statement, really… um. It’s about a kind of unapologetic acknowledgement of how important it is. Umm… and it’s a commitment to ourselves, um, to – wherever we can – put ourselves first, um, even in this podcast. But, yeah, it can be hard to do, but this is the kind of start to say, “yeah, this is important.”
HOLLY: Which I had to live, actually, as I left the house to come here, to Emily’s house to record tonight because, um, I had a wail come out from my daughter’s bedroom, just as I was getting ready to leave. And I just looked at my partner and said, “You’ll have to deal with this one, I’m putting myself first tonight,” and here I am. So we’re joined tonight by Katie Bruce, and Katie is the director of Just Speak, which is a very awesome network of young people who speak up for change in the criminal justice system. If you don’t know about their work, you should definitely check them out. She is also mum to a fantastic three-year-old boy and she volunteers for the Mother’s Network and for Emily’s charity Ballet is for Everyone. On top of all that, she has a PhD in sociology, so maybe she’s got some kind of expertise to impart to us tonight.
EMILY: So welcome, Katie,
KATIE: Thanks very much.
EMILY: Umm, we’re talking about self-care, as you heard, so it might be good just to check in with each other. How are we doing tonight, ladies? You said, Holly, about that wail –
HOLLY: Yeah I was feeling so smug, I sent you guys off my plan for the episode, at 7, and Esther was already asleep, and I thought, “Yeah, I’ve got it all under control,” and then, umm, there was a little spanner in the works, but even before that I, umm. We went to see the Edinburgh Military tattoo last night –
VOICE: Ooh, was that good?
HOLLY: It was impressive. I have to do full disclosure, I had free tickets to go, which were, you know, kind of handed on to me through a couple of other people and so probably wouldn’t have chosen to go on my own. Umm, but I’m always open to new experiences and it was enjoyable, but maybe it’s not quite my cup of tea. Mostly just a lot of people marching up and down.
EMILY: That’s so funny you say that. I had the biggest disaster. So this week the Fringe Festival is on and so Eddie’s been pestering me for like, his entire frickin’ life it feels like, to take him to the ballet, and you’ll know how much the ballet costs, so I’m not in any position to take him to the ballet. But I thought, ‘Maybe there’s a show on or something I can take him to.’ So I saw that there was a dance show and I was told it was appropriate for kids and stuff, and I thought, ‘It’s on at 6 o’clock, so that will probably be fine, right?’ You know. So we went to Whitireia theatre which you’ll know is like, the stage is on the screen – the seats are on the stage I should say – Eddie’s sitting like, right in the front row in a little, pink chiffon skirt –
HOLLY: Aww, gorgeous!
EMILY: And his pink tights and leg warmers and his little ballet slippers and he was like all ready for Swan Lake. And I was like, “Eddie, you know it’s like contemporary ballet, it’s a bit different, you know,” and he was like, “I know what contemporary is,”
EMILY: ‘Cause he’s quite into his ballet. And then like, the first thing that started was, like, all these, like, it was hip hop, and like, racing across the stage and like, fake fighting and stuff. With this booming, like, gangsta rap, all like this close to Eddie’s face, right, he was centre front row. And he basically, like, almost shat himself. I was like, “Holy shit!” And was like, “Oh isn’t it great Eddie? Look at the dancers!” And he was like, trying to yell out over the music, “It’s not ballet!”
EMILY: And so like, when you’re three, you’ve got no concept that, that is a style of dance. He hasn’t seen it, really, other than, he’s quite a big fan of Beyoncé, but even that dancing isn’t the same as like krumping, it’s quite aggressive looking. So poor thing, he was just like, “I wanna go home!”
HOLLY: “This is not what I signed up for!”
EMILY: Yeah, and I couldn’t get him out because the dancers were like, right in front of us and I would’ve literally knocked over dancers trying to get out. And then, eventually, 20 minutes later, I just made a run for it in the gap in the dancing, and we got outside and he like, stomped his foot and he was like, “They were not good ballet dancers and they weren’t even wearing ballet slippers.”
EMILY: I was like, shit.
KATIE: I had these same experiences with my husband last night. So we went out on date night which does not happen very often at all, really lucky to have that, and so we went out to the Fringe Festival and thought, ‘oh, what’s on, we’ll just go to the first thing that we see,’ and, umm, yeah… I had the same experience with him, where I think, on the way out, he was kind of something is –
KATIE: “What did you just take me to? That was some kind of… interesting lip syncing that was great for like, a second, and then it went on for an hour.”
HOLLY: Isn’t it frustrating when your… opportunities to go out, and go to some live music or go to a show, or go to a gig are so limited? When you do finally get to do it, it’s disappointing? It’s so gutting.
EMILY: Totally, and we’re finally taking a holiday on Monday, and we’re going on holiday with my mother in law. Which, to some people, would be like, their worst nightmare, but to me it’s like a dream come true.
HOLLY: I think once you have kids you start to appreciate how good that scenario is.
EMILY: Yeah, like. So she’s, and she keeps saying to me, “Oh I’ll look after the kids, and you and um, you know, you and your husband can go out,” and she says, “My son,” and all that obviously, um, and, yeah, so I just keep thinking about, “oh my gosh, what’s it going to be like to actually hang out with my husband again?”
HOLLY: Without our kids!
EMILY: It’s been… it’s been months since we have seen each other. Because… it was before I was weaning every single night in the bedroom with The Ham and now that I’ve weaned… he’s the only one who can get The Ham to sleep. We’ve had a total role reversal, and we never see each other. It’s just, he will come upstairs, and give me a kiss goodnight, and we’ll be like, “Oh so tired, see you in the morning.” So, like, I just feel like, more excited than our honeymoon, I just can’t wait to spend some time with him.
HOLLY: And that’s a really important part of self-care as well, isn’t it, time with your partner, if you’re lucky enough to have a partner that you’re parenting with. Actually seeing them outside of the parenting context.
EMILY: Ah yeah.
HOLLY: And it’s weird, but really important.
EMILY: Yeah, yeah, definitely. And I think you know… In terms of self-care as well, it’s around… I have always found it so – I get so much out of spending time with my girlfriends, and not, that’s, you know, so difficult when you all start having kids. And then if one child’s sick, we can’t catch up, you know. I recently went to a fundraiser for Women’s Refuge where they talked about where they had basically had like three or four hours, extraordinary tales, where they had three or four hours of women speakers, and I went with one of my –
HOLLY: I saw lots of excitement on Twitter about that.
EMILY: Yeah it was really popular on Twitter, and I went with my best friend and she was like, “We have to spend – we have to commit once a month where all the girls get together and we just say we’re doing this, or once every two months or something like that,” because it just, it, I, my self-care, being like, the most extreme extrovert in the world, is to be around other people, and my girlfriends especially. Being able to catch – oh I really miss catching my friends in the evening, and like… yeah.
HOLLY: Yeah. How about you, Katie? How do you take care of yourself?
KATIE: I think, for me, it’s often… I’m really tired and I sit in front of the sofa, and I lounge about… actually, that makes me more tired. And what really helps me is to get together, yeah, to get together with other people and actually, that’s where I get my energy from, is by actually doing more.
HOLLY: They say that’s how you can tell whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, is… you recharge by being around other people, or do you recharge on your own? But I think I might be one of those weird, hybrid, extroverted introverts, because definitely for me. Sometimes, sometimes that social interaction with other people is really important, and replenishing, and I come away really energised and feeling great, and sometimes it’s really draining and, I kind of… Particularly at big social events where I don’t know a lot of people or there’s a lot of people in the room, or a lot of noise or a lot of talking, um… I can feel quite overwhelmed by that and… I have the desire to just flee out the back door as quickly as possible. And sometimes it’s hard to tell which it’s going to be until I get there and it might be unexpectedly awesome, or I realise I really shouldn’t be there at all and I should be at home in my pyjamas watching Netflix or something instead.
EMILY: I think parenting as an extrovert or an introvert is such an interesting think that I’d like to read more about, or hear more about because my husband is, um… he’s really private – I keep trying not to say his name – I call him Mr. B on the blog, just feels really weird to say that out loud. It’s fine in writing but it sounds utterly bizarre to say it. So he is really, really introverted, um… he’s about as opposite as possible to me, and so when we parent we really try to focus on where our strengths are. For me, that’s things like playgroup, or, um, coffee group – things like that – where I get the chance to be around other parents and… I’m always organising play dates and things like going to the ballet, stuff for my charity and stuff like that. And um, for him, it’s all of the other stuff, but because our son Eddie is also like me, and like, never shuts up, for my husband at the end of the day, I have – I see him kind of physically, like… it’s this really strange thing of he has to let go of this day where he’s had constant talking and had to have been around other parents, and been at kindy or crèche when he was a full time, stay at home Dad. Now we do like, share our care together, but it’s really fascinating as a parent to try and balance that, because I found that, at home, just with a new baby that didn’t talk, so isolating, and I was like, I just want to, you know, go down to get a coffee, like, there’d be like, “What would you like?” and I’d be like, “How are you?” you know, “What have you been up to?”
They’re like, “I don’t know you, here’s your latte you creep,” like, and I’d just be like, “Tell me… anything.” Or like… so I was constantly craving that, but he really liked the new-born, you know… often we have a split between we don’t want to take both boys out, he will often go with the baby because it’s quieter –
HOLLY: He can just chill and do his own thing.
EMILY: Whereas I will often lean towards Eddie – he’s such a good… he will talk to me about anything. So, you know, that – I wonder often how extrovert/introvert falls into self-care. Clearly you have to do what is going to be most sort of replenishing for you and your personality type.
HOLLY: My big recent act of self-care has been taking a term off Play Centre. Which is really interesting hearing you say the thing you really appreciate is those, is attending those play groups in connection with other parents. Um, I work four days a week, so I only had one day free to go to Play Centre and… Earlier, before I started my current job, I had a little gap between when I was an MP, and when I started in where I work now, um, and I did a lot of Play Centre in that time, and I really valued exactly what you’ve just described, that contact with other parents, that social interaction. And, you know, it was a good play environment for my daughter as well. So I felt like it was really important to carry that on when I went back to work, and it has been, but I’ve just reached a point where it’s not really anything about Play Centre, because it’s still fantastic and the people are still great, but I just needed that time. I needed a day when I didn’t have to be anywhere at a particular time and when I could just hang out with my daughter at home, and if we go out, we go out, but if we don’t feel like it we could stay in and. I needed to take the pressure off myself to kind of… be somewhere at a particular time.
EMILY: Yeah that’s interesting… I’ve heard, have you guys heard the concept of a Shouldless Day?
HOLLY: I haven’t heard…
EMILY: I heard somebody, I can’t even remember now where I’ve heard it, but they were talking about having a Shouldless Day. All the times where you think, ‘I should be doing this, I should be doing that,’ and I have this a lot, if I have a spare moment I should be writing for the blog, I should be doing that review that I said I would, I should be, you know, every parent can relate to, ‘I should be cleaning up – ‘
HOLLY: Absolutely, that little voice in the back of your head.
EMILY: It was constant today. And yeah, um yeah, and so this thing is to have a day when you don’t have anything you should be doing and I think –
HOLLY: Mm, I like that idea a lot.
EMILY: But how realistic is it?
KATIE: It was such a challenge. I’m the same as you, Holly, I work four days so then, for me that’s a Friday, so that Friday… just everything seems to, everything needs to be done.
HOLLY: Everything has to be packed in –
KATIE: All the fun needs to be packed into one day, all the chores…
EMILY: Make it count.
HOLLY: The life admin and the stuff you don’t get to do when you’re at work.
KATIE: And all those emails are still coming in, just because I’m not there.
HOLLY: Yup. And I don’t know if you guys have found this, but I’ve found I had to work quite hard at, so that when I get some time to myself – not so much the time I have with my daughter – well, because I try now to just try to be kind of present with her with the time that I have and focus on her, but I do usually have some time on a Sunday morning when my Mum looks after Esther, where I try to do kind of, everything. Like exercise, writing, um, you know, a bit of tidying up around the house or sorting out crap that’s piling up, um… maybe going out for brunch with my partner as well, so we can get a bit of time together, pack all of this into like… four or five hours on a Sunday. And like, I can also get kind of like… panicked when we put Esther in the car with my Mum and we’ve said goodbye, and I just don’t know where to start. I’m just overwhelmed by all of the things I’d like to pack into that time, and I end up wasting quite a lot of time kind of, either procrastinating, or, almost having panic about where I should start. So I’ve had to get quite religious with myself and say, “Okay let’s start with the shower,” because you always feel better after you’ve had a shower,” you know, and then I try to meditate for ten minutes, although that is a pretty irregular practice, although it helps if I can do it. And then the next thing is whatever it’s going to be, and by then I’m pretty kind of calm and in a bit of a rhythm, and I can get stuff done for the rest of the time, but. Sometimes when you have so little time it seems really overwhelming to pack everything you’ve –
EMILY: and that’s the thing that I often worry about, the whole… Even the term self-care, right? So it’s thrown around so much, and there are these things like Shouldless Days, and you kind of go, “in theory that’s great, in reality, fucking bullshit.” Like, as if I’m going to get a day where I can just say I’m not doing anything on this day. And then… I think my big hurdle with self-care is, I feel guilty about feeling guilty. Like, I like sit there and go, “Well I don’t have a day off, and that’s just a fact.” Then I feel guilty that, well, I could have a day off, couldn’t I, but I choose not to and then it’s on me.
HOLLY: Then you’re making yourself feel guilty for your own choices.
EMILY: Yeah, I feel guilty for feeling guilty for not doing enough self-care. Like my thing is always like I’m not busier than other women and, you know, so I shouldn’t think my busyness is special or important or anything like that. Then I just get almost paralysed by this, ‘I can’t do self-care,’ because I don’t have the time, I can’t prioritise this over that. I feel I can always be needing to be doing something and I, you know, there is definitely things that I do that I consider to be self-care, but sometimes I just really worry that term is being thrown around, almost –
HOLLY: It’s another thing to feel guilty about.
EMILY: It’s just another thing to feel shit about. Like, you’re crap at self-care.
KATIE: And I think that’s one real difference between self-care being time, so if we say, “Okay it’s time to have a bath, it’s time to do some exercise,” or “It’s time to have a longer shower, you won’t be interrupted by anyone,” but if we say it’s more than just time, it’s, you know, doing something that is part of you. I don’t know whether that means… Like for me, I feel like I’m never alone. I’m always at work with other people, or I’m at home with a husband, or I’m with my son, and actually, the most amazing thing I think I’ve done with my own time is go on a walk from where I live to Red Rocks, which is like a three-and-a-half-hour walk, and I was completely on my own, the longest I’d been on my own, in, I don’t even know how long. I could go at my own pace, and I could stop, and I didn’t need to carry anyone and it was –
HOLLY: The autonomy.
KATIE: The autonomy. But I think that’s even, was kind of time, whereas I think, for me, it’s about more than that, it’s about feeling, um… like feeling like I’ve got my own identity beyond being a wife or a mother. And a lot of that is I’m lucky to do a job where I feel like I get a lot of meaning and identity out of that work, so I feel really, really lucky, but doing stuff outside of work so I feel like this is, this is who I want to be, and it’s nothing to do –
HOLLY: Did you – was it a process for you to realise that’s what you needed? Like how did you figure out what it was that you needed, or are you still in the process of doing that?
KATIE: Yeah I think so, because then the problem is when it’s something you’re so passionate about, you put everything into it, and then so self-care, can still be at the bottom, even though, even if it’s something you’re really passionate about. So this week, my real big self-care challenge was to get a blood test. I should have gotten that blood test about three weeks ago, but I keep putting it off because I’m like, “No, I can’t take a lunch break because then I’ll need, you know, I’ll need to finish work later, and I need to see my son because I was away working last weekend, and I was away the weekend before.” So, yeah. That was my big accomplishment this week, is that I actually took that 15 minutes.
HOLLY: To do something for your own health. Congratulations!
EMILY: But you know, if that’s where we’re at, that carving out time is so difficult, and I actually love that concept of, it’s not about time, it’s about what we get out of it, and I wonder about… We are fixated on the time, aren’t we? We are fixated on the time we have to take out of our day, because I got a gym membership because I was like, “Maybe exercising will help my general health,” since I’m not getting a lot of sleep and all that. So I’ve been to the gym once in four weeks. And it was just like, I loved it when I went, I never thought I’d be into the gym, like I was just, you know, they had horrendous music like Ricky Martin and stuff, so I put on like Slayer or something on my, it was so great, I was like, I was going real fast on the cycle thing and then I went too fast and I was real tired after like ten minutes, but still, it was really great.
HOLLY: You got that endorphin rush.
EMILY: Yeah, yeah! But I also just had, it’s like what you said I think. I was alone, nobody at me to do shit! Nobody saying, “Do this, do that,” and I didn’t feel guilty that I was meant to be doing something else in that moment, because often if I’m like… moderating comments, or on the blog or if I’m trying to finish a draft or something and one of the kids wants me or something like that, I feel so guilty. But then I’m like, ‘This is also my job,’ and then I have this full on internal monologue, like, ‘You have to do this, but you also get enjoyment out of doing this. This is your job, you’re a working Mum. You’ve still got to do this, you’ve got to do your kids, are you spending time with your kids? Are they going to grow up and hate you?’ You know?
HOLLY: The definitive answer to that is no, but I do recognise the thought process.
EMILY: That, you know, that whole total, and then you go into this anxiety spiral. But when I was in that moment I was in this new like, I’d gotten some new tights from Kmart and it was like, my butt looks really good and I’m cycling and I’m listening to really loud metal and feeling super powerful and all that and it was awesome. But I, even in knowing it was really good, I felt good and I did something just for me. I wasn’t able to do it again and I don’t know.
KATIE: Sometimes it’s the, you know, it’s that doing it. Getting up, and going out when you’re really tired, even though you know that when you’re there it’s going to be so much better.
HOLLY: Yeah, it’s still a barrier. I’ve had to learn this lesson over and over and over again in my life and I think I will just have to keep learning it over and over again because. It’s everything… I don’t know if that can be heard on the podcast, poor Emily’s baby. Poor Mr. B, downstairs with the babe. Um… what was I saying? Oh, the lesson I’ve had to learn. It’s all the things like, you know, every article and every therapist and every self-help book and every piece of advice you’ll ever hear: that you need to get enough sleep, to eat well, to exercise, and to have something, you know, that you’re doing just for you, like you say Kate. And I know all of those things until… and somehow it’s at the times when you’re most stressed that those things seem the least important, but that’s when you actually need them the most, and the barrier to prioritise them when you have so many other demands.
EMILY: And they seem just so out of reach. Like the day today is right there and demanding attention and in some cases of children, literally demanding attention. So to do something that, you know, I think I spend so much of my time saying, “You need to put yourself first, you need to do something for you too,” I say to the other Mums, “You are important and you take that time away,” you know. “Do something just for you.” But sometimes it feels so hollow, because I know how unrealistic that actually is when you’re there, and talking about it, at the root of it all there’s some kind of balance. You know we talk about work/life balance so much but it’s actually just life balance.
HOLLY: Yeah it’s just balance in general, wellbeing.
EMILY: Like I said at the beginning of the, it’s like having some time with your partner, if you have a partner, or your friends, your girlfriends. It really is this kind of thing, it’s trying to, it’s not even about prioritising stuff, we all say it’s important and we want to do it…. So I don’t know, it feels like, to me it just feels a million miles away, and the focus right now is getting to, getting the lunch boxes done and stuff, or yeah. It’s a really interesting thing of knowing something’s important and wanting to do it, and but it –
KATIE: It still doesn’t happen.
EMILY: And it doesn’t happen.
KATIE: I had a really surreal experience, it was just after this, that I was like, “Yes I’ll come to talk to you about self-care!” was that my husband and I went away for four whole days on our own which we’ve never done before since having our son. We went to a wedding in Adelaide and it was amazing. So people before were asking me, “So were you worried about leaving your son? Are you going to miss him?” And the first time I was like, “Yeah, of course I’m going to miss him,” and the second time I was like, “hang on a minute, no, I’m not going to be perpetuating this thing where it’s only ever going to be adequate when a Mum is there 24/7.” So I was like, “Actually, no. I’m really, really excited about going, he’s going to have a ball with his grandparents, he’s going to be great, and yeah, and the only problem is: do my husband and I still like each other?”
HOLLY: When we actually blink and come up to the surface and see each other.
KATIE: And it was fantastic. And it was just the, being able to walk out of the door because we wanted to leave the house.
EMILY: I love that. I love that so much. The thing is that, that is so true, this idea that Mums are only happy if, when they’re able to just say, you know it’s a common thing I write about, it’s one of the biggest things, because just, there’s so much. It’s not just honesty, in the sense that it’s not lies or anything like that, there’s nothing malicious about it, but there’s this undercurrent of, just this honesty around parenting sometimes. There’s myths and stereotypes, and it’s not just that, it’s not just a stereotype, but a way that mothers have to be almost, like this idea that you can’t be away from your child or that you can’t –
HOLLY: Or that these things can’t coexist. Like I love the idea that you would be able to, of course, simultaneously think, um… “I’ll miss my child not seeing him for four days,” but, “I’m really looking forward to the break,” like. Those things aren’t actually a contradiction, but we’re kind of set up to feel like they are, and that’s bullshit.
KATIE: Especially when we’re happy to think, you know, that women can be all sorts of different things before they have children and suddenly they are this one monolithic being and yeah –
EMILY: I’m sorry, your ship has sailed and you can’t be anything other than a Mum now, damnit.
EMILY: But yeah, no. I just think that absolutely is so true, and I think that that is another barrier to self-care. I’ve seen in the big Mummy groups on Facebook and things like that, people saying, “oh I’ve been offered a work trip, or to go with my partner on a work trip, something that involves leaving our child, what do you think?” And straight away there’s, “Well I’d never leave my child, I’ve never,” and it seems like this rush to make somebody’s world even smaller, like I don’t know, I see it a lot in around, “Well I wouldn’t do that, let my child go and stay at Nana’s,” or something like that, and then like, “I wouldn’t leave my child to,” it extends right into, “I wouldn’t leave my child in day-care,” or then a kindy or anything like that. And I wonder how those pressures, those societal pressures and things impact on self-care because if we look at a lot of self-care it’s sometimes, the view is that it’s selfish, because it is putting you first and there seems to be, almost, there’s a movement that’s almost children first and everything like that. Which kind of sits with this happy Mum, happy baby sort of thing, it’s a really odd and –
HOLLY: My thinking on that has had to really evolve, I think, ‘cause it’s not like I ever consciously set out to do one over the other, but I think, for various reasons, after my daughter was born, I wasn’t expecting to feel this way, because I went back to work really early and I was kind of expecting that it was going to be easy to leave her in the care of other people or you know, particularly because she was going to be with my partner, that I wouldn’t feel torn away from her. But I did, and so for quite a long time I felt like, whenever I wasn’t at work my job was to be completely focused on her, to make up for that time that I wasn’t with her. But my partner has a chronic illness so he actually needs quite a lot of support as well, and somewhere in the mix of all of that, I needed to keep well and happy and that fell by the wayside for a while. I did develop post-natal anxiety, and I did start to become very unwell, and so I went, and I wrote – I went for a walk one day which was an act of self-care in itself, and I came back with a list of things that I needed to kind of keep myself sane. Then I didn’t look at it for quite a long time, but afterwards when I came back to it, about a year later, I realised that I had been able to tick off almost all of those things within the year. Things like, some kind of creative outlet, some exercise, and I think I had on the list one sleep in a week, which has not eventuated, but two out of three isn’t too bad! But I did have to come round to the view of, that sound of an aeroplane, put your own mask on first, you can’t help your baby if you can’t breathe. And I have to remind myself of that quite a lot: your needs first, and then you can meet everyone else’s needs better. And when I do it it’s absolutely true, but sometimes I forget it and have to relearn it all over again.
KATIE: And that those needs aren’t time able to do the housework, which is what I think we often think of when we think about self-care. Or me time. I need to make everything look like it should.
EMILY: Yeah, I think as well a hurdle for me is a kind of balance with my husband, since we both kind of work part time, and both look after the kids part time, so that balance – and I’m sure it’s the same thing with anybody and their partner – because if he says, “I’m taking the kids out for the morning, so you can have a rest,” or something like that, or he’ll say, “Catch up on writing,” or something like that, often I will spend that time cleaning because I will feel like, oh, well it has to be done and he’s taking the kids out, so he’s giving me time off. So that’s really hard to balance. I suppose the problem is classing self-care as a treat or a nice thing to have? Maybe that’s why I’m thinking of it that way? Because he wouldn’t come home and be like, “Oh have you just been doing nothing?” sort of thing, he’s not like that, but I guess maybe I would think that, and maybe I need to change the thinking in my head to, ‘It’s not a treat, it’s not something special, it’s something I have to do.’
HOLLY: Yeah. That’s the leap that I had to make for myself, and it definitely helped when I did.
EMILY: Yeah. I’m really bad at stepping in and saying, “Enough is enough,” with my health and stuff like that. When we had to wean, it was basically because my husband and mother in law stepped in and said, “You are going to stay at mother in law’s house with Eddie while we wean,” because I hadn’t slept in over a year and was kind of going… not in a good place. And um, but I would never have said that, and protested until the very end, til I fell asleep with all my clothes on at 8 o’clock at night and slept until like, 7 in the morning and it was the best sleep I’ve ever had in my entire life. But I protested doing it right up until the very end, and I needed it, I was really unwell. I’d been to the GP all these times because I had all these symptoms of like, I kept getting sick over and over with colds and all these different things. He said, “I’m just going to say every time I see you: you’re not getting enough sleep. Everything is tied to not getting sleep, weight loss and all of that stuff is not sleeping. Rashes, getting colds all the time, it’s not sleeping.” He’s like, “You can keep spending the money coming to see me, but you just need a sleep.” And I just couldn’t get the message. I had to have someone else do it for me, and I guess maybe I’m just so stubborn, but part of it as well maybe, is how do you move self-care from being something you see as a treat that you don’t have time for, to something that you have to do?
KATIE: Yeah and my problem too is I turn it from a thing I’m not doing into a thing I’m feeling guilty for not doing that as well. So I have my gym bag in the car at work every day, and that’s where it stays.
HOLLY: But the possibility is there!
KATIE: Yeah even though I know, like, those classes where you go to the gym and you do the… like you pretend you’re in a club and the lights are all on and I’m sober but that’s the closest thing I’m going to get to clubbing. And it’s amazing and I know I’m gonna love it, but I just don’t do it… why don’t I do it? Yeah… it’s just so funny.
EMILY: God, good help we are just sitting around, drinking wine and saying self-care is too hard, good luck to you. But it’s, I mean, honestly there’s very few people who can get that self-care balance right. I know I talk a lot about it with my friends and I think that helps us all keeping on – yes that was me topping up my wine just then.
HOLLY: It does really help though if you do have people who can keep you accountable. Whether it’s someone stepping in to do almost like an intervention, like they had to do in your case, and do things –
EMILY: That’s a really good point about somebody keeping you accountable, because it’s what – that wasn’t actually what I was thinking when I was saying about my girlfriends, I was thinking more that we kind of say, “I need a self-care day,” and talk about this kind of fantasy of what we would do with this mythical day that we could devote to ourselves, and we often have these long email messages or Facebook messages to each other where we imagine weekends away, that’s the fantasy thing going on. Girls weekend away, and hiring a house and like, the big one for me is going to the writers festival. That’s my imaginary self-care day.
HOLLY: I have taken time off work during the writers’ festival for exactly that reason.
EMILY: Yeah. I just keep imagining, ‘Maybe I’ll go to the writers’ festival without kids and I’ll be around writers,’ and I can be like, ‘I’m a real writer!’ But you know, that’s what I was thinking of them I said girlfriends fantasy stuff, that’s how we talk in terms of self-care. I wouldn’t say that any of us are good at it and do it regularly, and I think the girls wouldn’t even be offended at me saying that, they’d probably agree, but that is the really interesting point about someone to make you accountable. I wonder if I said to, say, my husband, “I need to do something, I need to be doing x each day and can you help me keep on this path?” Maybe that’s too much pressure for like a partner or something like that, but it’s a really interesting concept of someone to hold you accountable. That could be another Mum.
KATIE: My husband does it all the time. Which is, yeah, fantastic. He will say to me, “You have been working crazy hours all week,” which is not unusual, then, “You have this time, we’re going out, you’re doing this.” And that’s just…
HOLLY: Is it almost like someone’s given you permission you wouldn’t give yourself?
KATIE: Yes. It is. Which is nice and I think it helped. I run discussion groups through The Mums Network in the Wellington area where Mums come together for a six-week discussion group course and it’s what we kind of do, is hold each other accountable for, you know, talking about the importance of having that kind of time, and, “Have you managed to have it?” and it was actually really difficult, so we had to make it so that was the time, you know, every week.
EMILY: And that’s – I did a Mother’s Network course and that’s why I ended up volunteering for Mother’s Network. It’s how Katie and I met each other, because she was the facilitator on my course, but the great thing about it was that it was every Saturday or Sunday or something like that for two hours, so it was set time every single week for eight weeks, and it was really great because it was scheduled time. You felt committed because you were part of a group and so you were there each week, and you knew the facilitators were putting their time there to help you and get tools and stuff, and it was just perfect for an extrovert, because the whole thing was talking about being a Mum and the ups and downs of being a Mum. It was kind of like this, but without wine.
EMILY: Yeah, Mother’s Network. Maybe that’s another thing as well, it’s scheduled time. You’re putting it aside and saying, “Every week, for x hours,” –
HOLLY: And because other people are there and relying on you to be there and expecting you to be there, it’s like okay to give yourself permission to do it.
KATIE: And there’s something else that is coming up. In Wellington to start with that’s kind of interesting, I think it’s called Jness? It’s a weekend and it’s for women, not necessarily Mums, and they all come together for long weekends to talk about being a woman now and it kinda carries on, we get into friendship groups with people that you kind of naturally connect with and then meet every week or talk every week about different things and talking about the same kind of thing.
EMILY: Yeah that’s really interesting. It sets up your own time. Maybe it’s so, some of the things we’ve talked about, having someone hold us accountable might work, having set time each week might work, and that’s something my friends suggested around the girls meeting up, having a set time and just saying, “We all need to be here on this date to see each other.”
HOLLY: Do you know, it’s so, and if we’re sharing tricks and tips, I’ve got one that I’ve found out this year which is brilliant, is, and this is for work if you happen to be in paid work and childcare, but every so often, like with the writers’ festival, I take a day of annual leave when my daughter still goes to day-care. So she’s still in her routine, I don’t feel like I’m depriving her of any time she would normally have with me, but I have a day free to do something for myself, and that can be a really amazing and empowering thing to do.
KATIE: That’s such a good idea.
EMILY: That’s a great idea. So some of the other hurdles, I guess, are around… so I’m not in full time work, and have two kids, one is too… Eddie goes to kindy, but Ham is too little to do anything. So most of the time I have the two kids, or my husband does. So the challenge around, when you’re on a really tight budget and the kids are in your care the whole time, I’m wondering how there are ways for Mums to take that time when they feel like they, like, when there’s literally not the money to get a babysitter or put them into care or anything like that. And I’m wondering, I’ve been thinking about almost having like a babysitter’s club.
HOLLY: That’s amazing you should say that because I’m just in the process of, I haven’t told any of them yet, that they’re going to do this, but we’ve gotten ourselves into the position now where we know four or five families in the neighbourhood who have got kids of a similar age, and I’ve been thinking about contacting them, to see if they want to be part of like an informal babysitter’s club for exactly the same reason. It’s what our parents used to do. I remember my Mum being part of babysitting groups. I was talking with my mother in law about it the other day and she was the same. Usually people local, and one of you stays at home with the kids and the other goes out and does something and one of the neighbours comes and babysits. It works really well and it doesn’t cost anything.
EMILY: I suppose a slight hurdle is, two kids does my fucking head in.
EMILY: Maybe everyone’s like, ‘Don’t make everyone a babysitter, we’ll skip her,”
HOLLY: Try it with four and see what happens.
KATIE: Oh funny. I did actually
EMILY: In the corner, rocking.
KATIE: I did pick one of those up, and – it wasn’t long after I’d first got to Wellington and met a few people, because I didn’t really know anyone to start with, and it was called me time. And it actually worked really well.
EMILY: Really? I’m surprised.
KATIE: Yeah. But then I moved to the other side of the city so then, you know, that hasn’t really been going. But even my –
HOLLY: It does need to be something quite local to work really well.
KATIE: But my neighbour and I were just talking the other day about how, oh we’re both in the evenings sat at home, kind of a bit stuck, just near to the both of each other, we could easily, and we’ve done it a couple of times now, babysit for each other so that you can both go out.
EMILY: So what made the other arrangement work? Any tips for Mums to consider it? I don’t think anyone’s going to be in a rush for me to be their babysitter, but I still think there might be some interest from our listeners, for those of us who are on budgets and don’t have children in care so much, and –
HOLLY: Don’t have family around as well –
EMILY: And don’t have family around, because my big thing is that I’m really lucky that my mother in law will, I mean, that’s where Eddie is tonight, so we’re able to do this, and um, I’m really, really lucky to have that, but I know a lot of people don’t. And a lot of readers that come to me say that, that it’s basically them with their kids all the time. So this is the hierarchy of self-care sometimes you don’t have options. It’s all well and good to say, “I want to do all of these things,” but if you don’t have any of those options.
KATIE: No, no. I think with this club it was trust, so that everyone knew each other, so no one was leaving their kid with a stranger, it was all people we knew. And we had a time credit system because the biggest thing was that people felt guilty asking other people to look after their children. But because it was a time bank system, you could spend two time credits, so two hours babysitting for someone, and then you had two hours to spend those two credits with one of the other babysitters in the group, so it kind of evened out, so it didn’t feel like, “Oh I really owe you one,” because that’s the big guilt thing around spending if you’re not paying for it.
EMILY: So were you looking after all the kids at once, or just swapping with one other person?
HOLLY: Swapping with one other person.
EMILY: But so like. If I looked after your kids first, and then I looked after Holly’s kids…
KATIE: You’d be like, you’d have loads in the bank.
HOLLY: And you can spend that credit with anyone in the group.
KATIE: Yeah, so you just say, “Who’s free at this time?”
EMILY: Take my kid for a week, I’ve saved up.
EMILY: Done. And gone to writers’ week.
HOLLY: Well it’s just about time for us to wrap up, but before we finish, I wanted to share a story about how good things come out of doing these things, because… The genesis of this podcast came from one day where my Mum, it was a Sunday morning, my Mum was looking after Esther, and I really knew that I should go and have a swim and do some exercise, but I was procrastinating and putting it off and half of the time that I was supposed to be there, well, half of the time that she had had Esther had already lapsed and gone. And I thought, ‘No, fuck it, I’m going,’ and I went and while I was in the pool I had the idea for this podcast. I got out of the pool and went home and wrote Emily the email suggesting that we should do it together. So good things, magical things, can come when you do take the time to do things for yourself.
EMILY: And I just want to give a real shout out to all the people who assist mothers.
EMILY: Time to do something for themselves, whether that comes under the label of self-care, or anything like that, I really want to thank people like that. Like my husband who has been downstairs with a screaming baby for the last couple of weeks, and who will likely come up after you guys have left and be like, “You guys were fucking loud.”
EMILY: But people like him and obviously he’s parenting, we’re not going to do the natural Dad thing, but he still let me have this time with you both and everybody, anybody who’s listening, and people like my mother in law, who has Eddie, but also you know, my manager at work, who’s really, will support me and helping me manage my time at work so I can fit in my family and having an outside of the home job, and really anyone who makes it easier for Mums. I think that’s a really generous and kind thing to do, and just a really fucking cool thing to do for society as a whole to keep shit running.
HOLLY: Yeah and you might not know just how much of a positive impact that has. It r4eally does make a huge difference.
EMILY: It really, really does.
KATIE: And thank you to you two for having me on. This is great and I really hope everyone is enjoying their me time listening to this podcast. I hope it spurs you on, it definitely spurs us on I think.
HOLLY: Well thanks for joining us, Katie, it’s been great to have you on the Dear Mamas podcast. And at this point, I think it’s traditional for us to clink glasses. Cheers
HOLLY: That’s it for another month, thanks for listening. This podcast was produced and presented by me, Holly Walker, and Emily Writes. Thanks to our fabulous first guest, Katie Bruce. You can find links to Katie’s NGO Just Speak as well as the Mothers Network and JNess organisations she mentioned on Emily’s blog under the podcast tag, where you’ll also find this and all future episodes. If you missed our first episode, you can find us on iTunes and Stitcher, and please while you’re there, subscribe and write us a review. Thanks so much to everyone who has already done this. We’ll be back next month with a new topic and a new guest. Feel free to send us suggestions for either. You can find me @hollyrwalker on twitter, and Emily on her blog, or @DearMama_. Meanwhile, hang in there, you’re doing great.