Self care, it’s a big buzzword right now in the mom world, but what does it actually mean? Images usually paired with this word tend to include: bubble baths, painting your nails, shopping, a girls night out, but what is the reality of these images? They all look fun and inviting on the surface, they promise refreshment and a renewed attitude towards the grind of motherhood, the reality however, is different.
The feelings these activities promise are only temporary, they lift us up and then let us down as soon as stress enters back into our life. They are short term solutions to a big picture issue. If we continue on this path, we may find ourselves soon living for the next break, or feeling like we need certain material comforts in order to feel fulfilled and happy. They begin to take away from the rest of our time. They begin to cast a dark and stressed out shadow over where the majority of our time as mothers is spent, mothering. So how then, do we combat this? We do need self care, but what does that actually look like and how is it different from the narrative that social media is constantly feeding you? If self care isn’t bubble baths and girls nights, what is it? And how do we do it?
First, be intentional/check in with your heart – take care of yourself the same way you would a plant or your child. With care and concern and gentleness. And just as a plant or your child’s objective and purpose is to grow, so too is yours. We as mothers may feel like a lot of growth is forced upon us. Hard things happen, stressful things happen and we don’t want them to, but we learn from them anyways and move on. choose your growth. How do you want your life to improve? Do you want to learn a new skill? Get better at something you already do? Get healthy? Do it. Stop letting life just happen to you. Yes, there are some things in life that cannot be avoided, but the majority of what happens to us? We do actually have some influence over it. And we certainly have control in how we respond to it. Pick a goal and from then on out, don’t make any decisions or take any steps that carry you away from that goal. Want to be more patient? Then choose patience. Life will throw all kinds of obstacles at you, traffic jams, meltdowns, customer service phone lines… you name it, but I challenge you not to look at these as unfair and cruel traps and tricks designed to trip you up and make you impatient, but as opportunities to practice that patience you want so badly. Most of the time, our brain is on autopilot and it takes a lot of hard, uncomfortable work to bring it out of that mode. Once we do however, we have the power to see what is and what is not working for us and to form different habits. And once we form those new habits, you know what happens? Our brain goes happily back into autopilot but this time, with its new and improved habit. There’s your patience.
So the question then becomes, what can we do to help get our brains out of this autopilot? How can we help our minds wake up? Here’s how…
Get up early- this not only physically wakes your brain up, it gives you the opportunity to actually take charge of the day and set your intention instead of spending the whole day reacting. When we are simply reacting to situations as they arise, there’s no room for intention, but when we’ve started our day in a planned and measured way, with our goals and how we’re going to set out to achieve them, reaction has to work really hard to squeeze past all the energy and dedication you’re putting behind every action and thought. The goal here is to be proactive, not reactive.
Next, you need to actually take care of yourself – Want to clear up that acne that’s been nipping at your self confidence? Go to the doctor! Aches and pains holding you back from the mom you want to be? Make an appointment with your provider and find solutions. So many times we as moms put our health on the back burner, when we do this however, we are telling ourselves that we are not as important, that we are the least important. And believe it or not, the body listens and performs accordingly. If that doesn’t convince you, think of it like this. You as a mother are a finely tuned instrument. You make your family’s world go round, you make it all happen. What happens then, when you stop being able to perform your activities because you ignored an ache for too long? Something that, originally, only required physical therapy now requires surgery. You didn’t make time to take care of your body, now your body is forcing you to.
Workout – Be ok with “good enough”. By all means, make your perfect workout plan, try to do it. But if it doesn’t “work out”, don’t be upset. You tried, you did something and something is better than nothing. To make it easier, do some active activity that you love, either early in the morning, or interspersed throughout your daily tasks. For a workout to count, it doesn’t have to be blocked off inside of a solid hour. Just move! It reduces your overall inflammation levels (decreasing your cancer risk), decreases your insulin resistance (aiding in fat loss (if that’s your goal)), makes you stronger and faster (to keep up with those precious babies), and essentially performs maintenance on your body, keeping everything “in tune” and helping to prevent injuries.
Eat what makes you feel good physically – Fancy a dessert after dinner? Good, enjoy it! Too many processed foods make you feel slow and crummy? Listen to that and limit your amount. Have a hard time limiting that amount? Then simply remove them from the house. When mom eats healthy, the whole family benefits. They may protest at first, but eating more fruits and veggies and less calorie dense/nutrient poor foods is good for everyone, not just you. Besides, you’re not swearing off your favorite treats, you’re just making it so that they’re actually treats now and not a steady part of your diet. Make it a fun family outing to go get ice cream instead of keeping it always within reach in the house. Now the family is healthier and more connected!
Now let’s get into some daily/weekly activities that promote self care but are more than just a temporary self care fix.
Gratitude journal – Find a way to be thankful for what you already have. One of the quickest ways we give away our joy is through comparison and a “have-not” mindset. It’s an easy trap to fall into in this social day and age. We’re constantly being bombarded with other people’s lives and advertisements, but if we take careful stock of what we have each morning, and take the time to really appreciate it, we will find that we’re overall happier (this is actually scientifically proven) and more content. Your kids will pick up on it too, and adjust their attitudes accordingly.
Read a book that feeds your soul- The Bible, self help, a study, a childcare book, sci/fi fiction, mystery. Whatever it is, whatever makes you feel good and fulfilled and like you are doing good, read that.
Some form of daily/weekly self care that you enjoy- Mine is a twice daily skincare routine and giving my nails a fresh coat of polish every week. Seeing my glowy skin even when I’m tired and seeing my pretty nails, even when my hands are dirty from my work makes me feel special.
Find a hobby that contributes to the world and do it – Art, writing, music, crafting. All of this contributes to the betterment of the world in some way even if another person never sees it. You finding a positive outlet helps you become a better, more grounded person which then trickles down to your family and friends and their friends and family. And who knows, maybe one day you’ll be confident enough to share and your courage and creativity can spark someone else’s.
Turn on the usage tracker on your phone – think you don’t have time for all of this? How much time do you spend daily on social media and the like? Then ask yourself this question, how is it really contributing to your life? Is it bringing you closer to the person you want to be? The goals you want to achieve? Or is it a distraction, something that’s pulling you just a little bit off course every time you pick it up. How do you feel after you’ve been scrolling for 30 minutes? An hour? All day? How do you feel before you got on, versus after? Pay attention for a week or so, then make your decision.
Get a planner – I’m finding this essential now that I have a baby. Not only can I plan out my next week, I can plan out my entire year. My goals, the Montessori curriculum I want to start for my daughter, birthdays… everything. It really takes the stress out of making sure not to forget or let anything slip through the cracks, and less stress equals a happier, less burnt out mama.
Finally, let go of the “should be’s” – Self care looks different for everyone. Our capabilities, talents, and strengths as moms are all different. Stop telling yourself that you should be able to do something better. You should be able to be more consistent, you should be more creative, you should enjoy this, you should be more like that other mom, you should be a perfect version of yourself. You have no control over the shoulds of life, only what you do about them. So stop comparing yourself to the way you believe things should be, and start working with what you’ve got and celebrating your wins as they come. let yourself celebrate your victories, no matter how small. This is self care too.
Lastly, temporary acts of self care (such as lighting a candle, a relaxing bath, or going for a drive) are not bad. In fact, they can be quite helpful to get you over a hump, or make up for a particularly hard day. However, they are temporary. They are like bandaids, good in a pinch, but they won’t heal you, they won’t help change your attitude in the long term. They are surface level. Real healing, real self care, is deep work, and it comes from within. To fix or prevent mama burnout, you’re going to need both the quick fixes and the foundation level work. Starting at the top of this list and working your way down will help you achieve this. It may not seem like self care at first because it IS hard, and it requires more than passive action, but once you get started and once you start seeing results, that’s when you’ll realize what real self care actually is.