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6 Ways We Neglect Ourselves When We Become Moms

Mother carrying sleepy daughter
Photograph by Getty Images/Blend Images

I used to be one of those smug 20-somethings who was pretty sure she was always going to be fit, youthful and fun. When older friends would say things like, “Just wait until you hit 30,” or “Just wait until you have kids,” I would smile and nod, because that’s the polite thing to do, but all the while I’d be thinking, “No way. I’ll never let myself go like that.”

And then…

I adopted my little girl just two months shy of my 30th birthday. She was, and is, the very best thing to ever happen to me. But when I look in the mirror today, 3 and ½ years after the fact, I see a face that looks a solid decade older, and a body that is certainly no longer fit.

I see the remnants of a mom who has let herself go in motherhood. And I know it is all my fault.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t change a thing—my daughter is worth each and every sacrifice I’ve made. But there are definitely a handful of ways I have neglected myself in motherhood.

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1. Sleep

I was never a great sleeper, and I’ve always been a night owl. But the difference between then and now is that before motherhood, I always had the option of sleeping in—at least on weekends. Since motherhood? I haven’t woken up on my own more than a handful of times. I literally have daydreams about being able to sleep in until I feel fully ready to get out of bed.

It never happens, of course.

But even knowing my little girl is scheduled to come bounding into my room bright and early every single morning, I can’t ever seem to force myself to go to bed at a reasonable hour. For one, those nighttime hours are mine. They are quiet and peaceful and still my favorite time to write. And for two, I’m a single mother who also just so happens to be self-employed. Which means there is a lot of pressure on me to bring in work and to pay the bills. Those peaceful nighttime hours are sometimes the best hours to get big projects done, because they are the only hours I am truly uninterrupted in. So it’s not rare at all for me to exist on less than five hours of sleep a night, and with coffee—I’m able to make it through.

But man, my face is absolutely showing the effects of the now-accumulated years of diminished sleep.

There aren’t enough hours in the day to take care of everyone and everything, and so we sacrifice ourselves.

2. Exercise

I am somebody who genuinely loves to be fit and active. I don’t feel good if I’m not getting regular exercise in. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten regular exercise in since my daughter was born.

I try, I really do. I would put her in the jogging stroller when she was little, and I attempt to bring her with me on hikes now. But the truth is, exercising with my kid is always a bit of a production, and exercising without her can sometimes seem impossible as a single mom. The hours she’s at preschool are limited and feel like hours I should be working. The early morning hours are out because … obviously I’m already not getting enough sleep. And it’s not like I’m ever just sitting around mindlessly watching TV. If I were, I could actually work out then—I have a treadmill I used to use religiously stationed right in front of our only television.

But no, I really don’t have any hours to spare. Trust me, I wish I did. I really, really miss feeling fit.

3. Diet

I’ll be the first to admit I’ve never been a big cook. But I feel like I made time to ensure I was getting several healthy meals throughout the day before motherhood.

These days, most of my meals are grab and go. I set my girl up with a healthy breakfast every morning, then I rush around to get things ready for her to go to school as she eats. I might grab a banana and a granola bar, but that certainly doesn’t happen every day.

Lunch typically happens in between mounds of work, so I might find myself munching on a few slices of cheese and a bowl of berries as I type.

Dinner is typically the only time I truly sit down and focus on eating something healthy and filling. But even that is often interrupted a million times by a preschooler who needs her glass filled, her butt wiped or seconds on her chicken.

I’m definitely not eating the way I should be.

4. Dating

I used to have a pretty active dating life. And by “pretty active,” I mean that I was never lonely. There was always some man in my life, always some option on a Friday night.

Since motherhood, though, I hardly even remember what that was like. It’s been years since I’ve been on a date. Years since I’ve kissed a man. And while I miss that part of my life something fierce, the thought of it also terrifies me to an extent. Because now, it’s not just me—it’s me and my little girl. And on top of all the obvious concerns about the type of men I might be willing to bring into her life, there’s this: Where would I even find the time?!

5. Personal Appearance

I’m going to be honest here: I’ve basically given up. I work from home and I’m a single mom to a preschooler—showering is a daily goal of mine, but anything above and beyond that is rare. I typically drop my daughter off at school every morning with her looking adorable (French braids and coordinated outfits) and me looking like a hot mess. We’re talking yoga pants, hoodies, no makeup, and wet hair piled on top of my head.

I know I should at least be trying more with my appearance, but the truth is, it’s hard to justify the time for getting ready when you’re already exhausted and running late every morning, and when you know you’re going to spend the bulk of your day alone at home after drop-off.

6. Dreams

Being a writer has always been my dream. And hey, looky here, I’m doing it! I often joke that I already have my two greatest loves: my daughter and my career. And my time is certainly spread pretty thin between the two already. But that’s OK because they both make me insanely happy.

The thing is, though, my real dream had always been to write fiction novels. And I have one in the works that I genuinely believe could have the potential to launch that career. Unfortunately, I spend so much time writing to pay our bills these days, I can’t ever seem to find the time to write that passion project of mine.

If I could just block off one day a week to focus on nothing but that, I could have it finished by the end of the year. But as any parent will tell you, blocking off one day a week for anything that isn’t taking care of your kid or doing actual work is laughable, at best.

As it stands, I probably won’t finish my book until 2036.

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Looking at this list, I know I need to make some changes—I need to start taking better care of me. But when you can genuinely say that you are already actively using every waking hour of the day, it’s hard to find that time to make for yourself. What do you sacrifice so that you can get another hour of sleep or that workout you’ve been craving?

Maybe that’s just a factor of motherhood, at least in these early years; there aren’t enough hours in the day to take care of everyone and everything, and so we sacrifice ourselves. We neglect our own needs in motherhood so that we aren’t neglecting anyone else’s.

Obviously, that’s not the answer. We need to be healthy and fulfilled in order to be the best mothers that we can be. As for me, I’m clearly still working on finding that balance.

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