There is a reason they say you can’t pour from an empty cup. It may be a cliche, but most seasoned mothers will tell you that it’s true- and research agrees.
Taking care of yourself, aka self-care, is an important consideration for all moms. It is not only good for the mental, emotional, and physical well-being of a mother but it also creates happier, healthier, and more stable children.
The past winter has been anything but typical in my household. Living in the Northeast, we’ve had massive amounts of snow, which equals lots of snow days and missed school. Add to the mix, colds and viruses rotating through all four children, not at the same time mind you, more like a domino effect of ongoing sick days. Our once predictable routine is on hiatus.
Last week, after dropping off my daughters at school, I began to feel the tension from the morning routine melt from my shoulders as I drove to work. It dawned on me then, aside from work; I have not been away from my children in a long time. I don’t count work, sleeping, or showers alone time. While I enjoy and want to be with my children, I also need time alone to recharge and take care of myself.
In my normal routine, the golden hours of scarcity without children or work add up to around nine or so hours a week. I guard those hours fiercely to write, take care of myself and to do the things that have to get done for my family. When I take time to care for myself, I feel less tense, irritable and have more energy to care for my family. The drive to work was a reminder I have not been making the time to take care of myself with the change in routine.
Parents, especially mothers, need time for self-care. There is confusion for many moms about what self-care is. Self-care is taking time to nurture yourself through activities that replenish energy and help manage stress. It is different than self-pampering; getting manicures, pedicures, taking baths or having a massage are nice activities, but it is not self-care. Self-care is taking care of your physical, emotional, spiritual and thinking parts of yourself.
Self-care is neither optional nor selfish; it is necessary, especially for mothers.
A common trait I see in myself and many moms is putting ourselves last on the list. Sometimes, we don’t have a choice, between taking care of our families, volunteering and work, there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done, including taking care of ourselves. One day of not taking care of yourself may be ok, but what happens when not taking care of yourself becomes the pattern, a perpetual habit of putting yourself last.
Too often, lack of self-care leads to unmanaged stress; a cascading impact making us vulnerable to physical illness, anxiety and depression, and an inability to manage the demands of caring for children, and not to overlook, limited happiness. Many of us feel like self-care is selfish and we find ourselves not having the resources we need to engage in any sort of self-care even if we wanted to.
In fact, research agrees. A study conducted by researchers from Mercer University and Northwestern University found that women, especially new mothers, often believe that self-care is put on hold when you have a baby, and that part of the sacrifice of being a new mom is put your own self-care last on the list. Through group discussions, many of them noted that self-care is difficult because of the lack of resources- financial or familial- so they often find themselves not engaging in any self-care activities because they don’t have the means to do so.
Ask yourself this: When was the last time you did something just for yourself? When did you participate in an activity that replenished your energy and helped to manage the demands of taking care of your family by resetting your perspective? If you can’t recall or it’s been longer than a week, you may want to start by making a plan to care of yourself.
Just like our children need routine care and sleep, so do we. Self-care starts with caring for our physical needs; getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and exercise. Self-care is caring for our emotional and social needs; managing and caring for our emotions and staying connected to the important people in your life which often can often become overlooked caring for children. Self-care is spending time in activities you enjoy. Not every person needs the same amount of time or similar activities to feel replenished and restored, so it is important to find out what you need and schedule time to make self-care activities happen. Meditation, yoga, journaling, and making time for hobbies or activities you enjoy is a start. If you are missing a friend, schedule time to call or plan time together. If you have not been to your physician in years, schedule your annual exam at a lunch break. If you have been meaning to start exercising again, plan a time to go for a walk. The key with increasing self-care is to be creative and resourceful as you can.
If your own physical, mental, and emotional well-being isn’t enough to motivate you to find time for self-care (or to convince others that self-care is actually important for you), consider this: A study published in Pediatrics magazine found that parents, specifically mothers, who are exposed to toxic stress in their own childhood are more likely to expose their children to adverse childhood experiences which can cause developmental delays. Toxic stress doesn’t just come from childhood, though. Toxic stress is anything that causes so much stress that it affects your physical and mental well-being, and has an effect on your daily life. It can come from postpartum depression and anxiety, sleep deprivation, feelings of being overwhelmed, and lack of support can also cause toxic stress.
The toxic stress that you experience has a significant effect on your child as well. Mothers who experience toxic stress are more likely to pass on some of those stressors to their child, which can cause developmental delays. Pediatrics magazine published an article that highlighted the effect of toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences in mothers and found that those risk factors gave children an 18% more likely chance to develop developmental delays as they grew than those who do not experience toxic stress or have mothers with adverse childhood experiences.
After my epiphany driving to work, I made a plan to increase self-care for the week. I exercised two days, went to bed at 8:45 pm instead of 10:30 pm to get more sleep, spent time making an amazing cauliflower leek and cashew soup so I could have go-to lunches, and meditated for ten minutes, five out of the past seven days. And what a difference those self-care activities made on my overall well-being. I felt less tense, more replenished and overall had a better week.
Here are some ideas of self-care practices that you can do with little financial or familial support:
- Walk or run (with the stroller if you do not have someone to take the baby)
- Yoga (they have some great videos on YouTube available)
- Workout at home with the FitOn app- it’s free and it offers all different levels of workouts for a little as ten minutes
- Join a gym with childcare
- Schedule monthly dates with your spouse or with a friend
- Order dinner out once per week instead of cooking
- Ask your spouse to watch the kids once per week to run errands on your own
Time is a scarce resource for most parents, start small, even fifteen minutes of self-care can be restorative. Self-care is not selfish; its self-preservation. If we do not take care of ourselves, it can be challenging to take care of our children and the other roles in our life. Say it with me again: Self-care is not selfish!
Photo: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock