As Mother’s Day is approaching, I reflect on all the joys and struggles of being a mom. In my mind, one critical point continues to be underemphasized in the world of parenthood – self-care. While self-care is essential for everyone, I’m going to focus on its importance for mothers.
In my personal and professional life, I see that there is a stigma attached to mothers who take the time to do self-care. Why do we judge ourselves and other moms when we are simply trying to take care of ourselves? Why do we feel guilt and shame for taking time to go to the gym, read a book, or have a massage? Why is the “best” mother often identified as the one who sacrifices the most of herself?
Let me start with a simple analogy. As you prepare for takeoff on a plane, flight attendants go through the safety demonstrations for the plane, discuss seatbelts, emergency exits, etc. Then they get to the part about what to do in case of an emergency. It goes something like, “If we experience a change in the cabin pressure, a mask will drop from the ceiling.” They show how the mask should be used, and then the important part: “If you are traveling with a child, please secure your mask first BEFORE assisting your child.” It makes sense on the plane. If we are passed out in the aisle, we are not able to help our child. Why isn’t this simple and important thought process applied to motherhood. If we don’t take care of ourselves, then how will we take care of our children? The answer is not very well.
We all make excuses for not taking care of ourselves. We don’t have time or the money, we are too tired, or possibly the worst – we don’t need it. Let’s stop judging and shaming each other into thinking that self-care is only for those who “can’t handle” life. In my view, a truly healthy mom is one who cares for herself and places healthy limits and boundaries about what she can handle. It is not a shortcoming to say, “I am feeling overwhelmed and need a break.” Knowing your limits is a strength! Let us support and encourage each other to take care of ourselves!
Let me take a moment to make a confession. I, too, struggle with balancing life as a mom. I am trying to be more aware of taking time for myself. Like most things in life, I think it takes a lot of practice to make it a habit. But I am making progress and will continue to work hard to change my habits. I have also made efforts to surround myself with other loving and supportive moms who are dedicated to self-care. We help remind each other of the following:
“You are a better mom when you take care of yourself.”
“Everybody needs a break.”
“Kids learn how to treat themselves by watching how we treat ourselves.”
“You are worth it!”
Below are some ideas for self-care.
Time out – Time outs are little breaks we can give ourselves throughout the day. The idea is to slow us down, and check-in with ourselves to see how we are doing. Ask yourself, do I feel energized? Am I losing my patience? Time outs can simply consist of taking a series of breaths. Seems small, but it can go a long way. Breathe in slowly through the nose, and out through the mouth 3 times. We can do these breaths anywhere (at a stoplight, while cooking, waiting in line, in the bathroom, etc.). If you have difficulty remembering to do check-ins, set a reminder in your phone.
Hobby/Activity – What did you like to do before you had children? What makes you smile? Do you love art? Home improvement? Dancing? Reading? Gardening? Whatever it is – do it. Make time for it. If it helps, join a group. Some people find they have an easier time committing if others depend on them or if they have spent money to do an activity.
Bond – Do a “date” night/day. Take time away from the kids to bond with people you love and who love you. These relationships help foster your development and growth as a person. Some friends and I do babysitting swaps about once a month and it has been great. By taking turns to watch each other’s kids, we only end up spending money on the activity/meal, and you don’t have the additional worry and cost of getting a babysitter.
No – Say “No”. We are all amazing with the number of things we can juggle, but why do we need to often push ourselves to the limit (or over)? Say “No” to extra responsibilities and set boundaries.
Exercise – Exercising, even if it’s just 30 minutes a day, can have many benefits. Exercise increases energy, decreases stress levels, improves mood, increases self-esteem and promotes better sleep (just to name a few). Do yoga, go for a walk, take a run, lift weights, or play sports. When I exercise, I have more energy, more patience, and more love for me AND my family.
Sleep – We are all better able to handle the stresses of parenthood when we have had a good night’s sleep. Set up a ritual around bedtime so our bodies are alerted to slow down. Drink tea, take a bath, or turn on some relaxing music.
The next time I try to convince myself that I don’t have time for self-care or don’t need it, I will think of the airplane analogy, and remind myself that I’m a better mother when I take care of myself. I hope this Mother’s Day we all take the time to reflect on our needs for self-care and how it can improve our lives.
-Posted by Liz Martinich, LCSW-C