In 'doing it all,' moms neglect an important person: themselves

Forget about having it all — many women these days are doing it all. Raising kids, working, caring for elderly parents, running a household, and often managing alone as a single mom.

That is the exhausting “doing it all” reality for hundreds of women who wrote to Maria Shriver and TODAY about the challenges they face navigating all the demands in their lives. This week, Shriver and TODAY are highlighting women's stories and their financial struggles in a series called #DoingItAll.

With all of their “doing,” there’s one thing women agree isn’t happening: They are so busy taking care of everyone else that they aren’t taking care of themselves.

“At the end of the day, there is no time left for me,” says 50-year-old Bonnie Clinedinst, a single mom of a 19-year-old son, who juggles a full-time job while also taking care of her 90-year-old mother and 53-year-old brother, both of whom are disabled.

“The house, the bills, the shopping…I do it all while trying to maintain a positive attitude. I love my family and would not have it any other way,” writes Clinedinst. “Sometimes I just wish I had enough time and energy to take care for myself.”

Lisa Small of Novi, Mich., a single mom of an adult daughter who also cares for her 93-year-old mother, says it has been a challenge to get and keep full time employment, even though she is “college educated and skilled.”

“While I am always hopeful, I often feel completely exhausted, like I am trudging up a steep hill and the walking sticks are not there to dig in,” she writes.

Even for those women who have a spouse to share responsibilities, doing it all is hard.

Sheryl Hausman cares for her 3-year-old, works a second job with her husband to make extra money, and says she struggles with everything from her weight to daycare and financial issues.

“I often feel like I am treading water and just trying to stay afloat while balancing everything,” she writes. “I think that surviving every single day as a working mom without pulling every hair out of my head is enough for me sometimes.”

Experts say it’s no surprise that women forget – or even disregard – the need to take care of themselves.

Women often feel guilty about taking time for themselves, says psychiatrist and TODAY contributor Dr. Gail Saltz. “There is some maternal ideal of being self-sacrificing that just isn’t consistent with having time for yourself,” she said.

The key, says Saltz, is for women to recognize the difference between being selfish in a bad way and being selfish in a healthy way.

“You have to put on your oxygen mask first,” she says. “If you go to pieces, everyone is going down with you. So you have to give time to yourself. That is healthy, not selfish or narcissistic. That is a tough concept for a lot of women.”

Saltz acknowledges that free time is a scarcity for many women, but adds that even as little as 15 to 30 minutes a day to decompress will help.

But you have to actually make it important and make it a habit. And you have to know yourself and know what works for you. For some, that might be exercise. Others may find a mental boost from meditation, or listening to music, or taking a bubble bath.

Psychiatrist Dr. Janet Taylor suggests a writing exercise for women who can't figure out how to get a little time for themselves. On one side of a sheet of paper list everything you do during the day. On the other side, list everything you would like to do.

Then, compare the two sides and add to your daily routine at least one thing from the "would like to do" list.

“It’s about changing your mindset,” Taylor says. “We have to learn to put ourselves at the top of the to-do list.”

Saltz also notes that women often don’t like to ask for assistance, which can lead to feeling alone. Remember, she says, that “nobody is a super human. If you are caring for your parents, ask other family members to pitch in, too. It’s OK to ask for help.”

In the spirit of moms helping other moms, we asked TODAY Moms' Facebook readers to share advice on how they make time for themselves, despite their busy lives and far-reaching responsibilities.

Says Loren Tetzloff: “You must take care of yourself. Your whole self, mental health and all. 15 minutes each day, meditating, writing, or being in prayer helps me.”

“I just have to let some of the house work go…and know that someday my house will be spotless…but empty,” writes Jessica Coberg Lamoureux.

Both Sharon Teig Magrill and Ellygra DeLalla expressed the importance of leaning on friends or family for moral as well as physical support.

“It can be anything from someone bringing you dinner or picking your kids up from school. Everyone needs at least one person they know they can call at the last minute when they are running behind, “ says Magrill.

Adds DeLalla: “Learn how to delegate, say no, and form a support system.”

For moms like Amanda Bradley, exercise is the key to sanity. “To say I’m busy feels like an understatement but for one hour four days a week, it’s about me. Working out has been the best thing for me.”

And Natina Founds, a single working mom of five kids, writes, “Not one full day goes by where I don’t have children to take care of. To stay sane, I make sure to have morning coffee on my porch where I can listen to wind chimes and bird calls and I read to relax and get away.” She adds: “Instead of stressing, I pray.”

Moms, go the TODAY Moms Facebook page and tell us how you make time for yourself. Or tweet it using #DoingItAll.