It is very easy as a mother/parent to neglect one’s own self-care. The competing demands of tending to our children, while also juggling the many other roles and responsibilities in our lives and careers, can leave very little time left over for self-care activities (or inactivities as the case might be). Self-care and self-nurturing are foundational to our well-being and effectiveness as mothers (and as human beings). We not only have our children to love and care for, and our partners where they exist, but also ourselves.
In many ways, we ultimately love and care for others, to the extent we love and care for ourselves. Many of you reading this article are very good at being “other focused”, caring for the needs of children, partners, aging parents, friends, neighbours, and perhaps also clients, patients and students if your work in the world involves helping or supporting others. Again, the extent to which you can fully show up on your own behalf, will be reflected in the distance you are able to support others to take in terms of their health and well-being- including your children. A wise woman once said to me, “we only take people as far as we have gone ourselves.” As mothers, we want to take children the great distance towards their health, well-being and happiness, hence a journey we are called to make ourselves.
Being a mother, is the most complex, amazing, exhausting, and meaningful work that I have ever done in my life so far. All the tending, loving, giggling, cleaning up, getting snacks, changing diapers, running baths, reading stories, teaching, sleepless nights, adjusting, evolving, coordinating, learning and growing is truly mind boggling. I used to think the toughest job I ever had was as a child welfare social worker, than I worked in the emergency department of a hospital and thought that was up there in the “this is challenging work” category. Onward to key note speeches and facilitating training programs in front of hundreds of people, where my heart would pound loudly in my ears as I was introduced, seconds away from having to say something brilliant (or at least not foolish) to the people sitting at round tables with their name tags on. Then I became a mother and fell to my knees in the humility of this all consuming, miracle of motherhood. Now THIS is hard work! Motherhood, in my experience, is hard, easy, natural, challenging, joyful, soulful and often invisible work.
Self-care has a whole new meaning now since how well I take care of myself will determine, in some way, how well I care for my children. That being said, I also notice the more we care for others, the harder it is to maintain self-care – there can be so many competing imperatives on our time. With deep respect and compassion for this reality, here are a few tips for prioritiizing your own self-care as a mother/parent (if you are not a parent – I hope you find value in these tips as you honour your self-care in the midst of what is true in your life).
Do what you love – if you only can create 30 minutes a day to take care of yourself – choose activities that you really love to do (what really fills you up, inspires you, nurtures you, supports you – choose these things!) – it will make it easier to get to them. Yes, running 5 kms would be good, but maybe you would rather have a bubble bath – so have the bath!
Think integration versus balance – balance may seem like a distant far fetched notion while you pack kids into the car, run back in the house to grab your car keys and the lunch bag you forgot on the counter, so let’s reframe balance into integration. Integration means that the really important parts of your life get some of your attention – so you exercise, eat healthy, and make time for self reflection. But perhaps you can’t do all of these things every single day – but overall you tend to them in the course of a week, a month – this is integration.
Give yourself permission to put yourself first – there is always more to do – another load of laundry, more dishes – there is always something that can take you away from yourself! You must give yourself permission, absolute endorsement, to care for yourself. This WILL mean walking away from other things to claim this time for yourself – this guilt free, essential time for yourself devoted to tending to your wellness and replenishment.
Ask for what you need and want – we need support from our family, friends and colleagues to put self-care up front in our lives. One way to get this support is to not leave it to chance or default, ask for it, be clear and specific in what you need from others to help you achieve your self-care goals. Be sure to also ask how you can support them to take care too – this creates a win-win environment for creating and sustaining healthy lifestyles in our families and in our workplaces.
Create self-care routines and habits – if you have to always give a lot of thought and preparation to your self-care activities, you are much less likely to actually follow through with getting down to it. It is a lot easier to have routines for your self-care – for example, you know you go for a walk at lunch time (period – you protect the time, you don’t have to figure out when you are going to exercise, and while others are working through lunch, responding to more email, etc. you are moving your body and having a break!)
Say YES to rest – most Moms I know are tired – and for good reason. Getting some sleep and some rest is key to having the energy and frame of mind to tend to other self-care activities. If you are feeling depleted, run down, exhausted – it is OK to make rest your number one priority! Your energy will go up, you will feel better by getting some rest. Depending on how old your children are, what stage of sleep deprivation you might be in as a parent, rest may need to be the ONLY think you are trying to do in effort to take care of yourself. It’s OK to have just one thing on your self-care “to do” list!
Recognize what you are role modeling – as parents, as mothers, we want to teach our children to live healthy lives. We want them to value themselves, to have a high level of self-esteem and self-confidence while also being respectful and loving to others. We teach them the gift of honouring themselves and caring for themselves in part through how we love and care for them and in part through how we love and care for OURSELVES. If we want them to eat healthy, we must eat healthy. If we want them to learn how to manage stress, we must show them how we manage our stress. If we want them to have a core value for health and wellness, we must live this value in our own lives.
Reframe the “self-care is selfish” mantra – so many of us, especially as women, have been taught and/or believe that to care for ourselves is selfish. This is a sabotage word – none of us want to be seen as selfish, therefore sometimes we do not practice self-care if we are regarding it, or those in our lives are regarding it, as a selfish act. Right now, change your language – self-care is not selfish, it is WISDOM. Your health, your life, your happiness – all rest in the quality of your self-care in mind, body, heart and spirit. You know this to be true – so allow yourself to claim it proudly in your life.
Thank you to all the momma’s reading this article, to the dad’s/partners who love the momma’s, to friends, family and communities – we are all in this together.