We see information about this practice everywhere. Blog posts, news articles, and books about yoga, meditation, health, “natural” eating (whatever that means), finding time for yourself, etc. The self-care movement is huge, and we’ve spent years being inundated with information about self care. It’s everywhere, really. Self-care tips. Self-care plans. Self-care mantras. Self-care routines. Why self care is important for moms. When we’re constantly dealing with anxiety as a mom and learning to overcome parenting stress, it’s no wonder that self care for moms is so important.
There’s information about self-care as a practice, lifestyle, and necessity. The self-care movement has also faced a lot of criticism, in claiming that self-care is a mantra for the privileged.
And while I’m not going to lie–I agree that many of the criticisms are valid–I still think self care for moms is essentially important.
Why? We can care for our families and communities better if we are also caring for oursevles.
What is Self-Care?
The answer seems so obvious, right? Obviously, self-care is caring for one’s self.
The American Psychological Association defines self-care as “providing adequate attention to one’s own physical and psychological well-being.”
What does that really mean? To me, self care means doing these things all at once:
- Knowing ourselves
- Loving ourselves (or at least trying to)
- Taking care of ourselves (physically, emotionally, and spiritually)
There are so many ways we can do these things. Therapy, introspection, sleep, hydration, healthy eating, exercise.
Self care for moms is especially important. Why? Because we too easily fall into the trap of caring for others and not ourselves. (This is true of people who aren’t traditional moms, too!)
But we don’t all have the luxury of doing all those things all the time (or even the desire to!)
For self care to be healthy, we must find ways to make it work for us. Check out our 10 Tips for (Free) Self Care That Will Help You and Your Family for specific, doable ideas.
The Self-Care Movement
We’re 13 years out from the publication of Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert’s famous memoir that led many women on journeys of self care (some life changingly helpful; others utterly disastrous). Gilbert helped reshape the way that we think about women’s mental health. She opened space to talk about mental and emotional health with interest in doing things for ourselves to make our lives more joyful. She also received a lot of criticism related to the inherent privilege in being able to do these things.
Today, these types of “be your own advocate” self-care voices proliferate. Brené Brown, Rachel Hollis, Marie Kondo, Jen Sincero, Gretchen Rubin, Cheryl Strayed, Sheryl Sandberg, Shonda Rimes, Ariana Huffington, and hell, even bell hooks.
They’ve all written books that fit into this category. Books that might have previously been considered simply “self-help,” or “academic,” or “home organization.”
But now they all, I think clearly, fall into the “self care” category. Clearly self care is something a lot of people care about.
Why So Much Attention to Self Care?
If you read this blog, you know I think self care for moms–and for everyone, for that matter–is essential. Even though I’ve never used the words “self care” before.
Do I think self care is a privilege? Absolutely.
I also think that it doesn’t necessarily have to cost a lot of time or money. It doesn’t have to mean fancy massages or a housekeeper. But if we have the privilege of caring for ourselves in both big and small ways (and whenever and however we can), I think we should.
We can use the energy and peace we derive from the practice of self care to do good in ways that maybe, just maybe, will help those who don’t have the privilege be cared for, as well.
Self Care and Mental Health
As someone who has struggled with anxiety issues most of my life, I can attest to the power of self care as a method for improving mental health. For more of my writing about mental health, check out these posts:
- How to deal with with postpartum anxiety
- What It’s like living with anxiety
- Do what scares you to overcome anxiety
Struggling with anxiety, I see both the good and the bad of self care.
The Wrong Kind of Self Care
Done wrong, self care can add stress to our routines and debt to our credit cards.
If we’re constantly berating ourselves for not doing as good a job practicing self care as we should, it will get us down. If we’re maxing out credit cards for those massages, yoga classes, and girls’ nights we’re told will make things better, then we’re practicing a harmful kind of self care. We’ll stress over the debt, the time, and how “bad” a job we’re doing.
But here’s the thing. Self care should not add stress to our lives. There’s another way to do it.
The Right Kind of Self Care
Done right, self-care can help us create more space in our hearts and minds, allow us to take control of how stressed we always feel, and train our brains to resist its fight-or-flight urge over seemingly small occurrences.
That’s why self care for moms is essential–can we not care for those around us better if we have more space in our hearts and minds?
Can we not love more fully if we’re less stressed?
We need self care, mamas, in whatever ways we can get it.
Therapy As Self Care
When I started seeing a therapist 12 years ago, I felt so much shame about it. Seeking mental healthcare did not feel like self care; it felt like admitting defeat.
I was so closed off to the idea of therapy. I walked into each appointment, told my therapist my panic attack symptoms and how often I had them, and kept my head down. Then, I’d take his prescriptions, and be on my not-so-merry, embarrassed little way to the pharmacy. End scene.
After 2 years of this nonsense, I finally opened up to the idea that I would benefit from therapy and started talking to him.
Maybe my lens is skewed because I’m a huge proponent of mental healthcare. And/or because I live in a suburban area that is more open to the idea than the rural one where I grew up.
But if therapy is an option for you and you don’t feel fulfilled in your life, I highly recommend giving it a go. I wish this were an option as a form of self care for all moms!
Why is Self Care Important For Mothers?
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Being a mom is hard and exhausting.
Regardless of your circumstances, you’re tired, spent, giving so much of yourself to others. Among all the chaos, you must find time for YOU!
One question I get from moms all the time is this. “How can I be a better mother?”
My honest to God answer: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF, MAMA!
If we care for ourselves, we can better care for our families, friends, and communities. But if we’re spent, exhausted, with nothing left to give . . .
Then, well, there’s nothing to give.
We can get by running on fumes to care for others for a while, but eventually, if we’re not caring for ourselves, we burnout. Then, we aren’t fit to practice self care OR care for our families and friends!
How Can Moms Take Care of Themselves?
Another question readers regularly ask is this: “How do you take care of yourself in your family?”
Here are some of my tips for taking care of yourself that also allow you to take care of your family. Note that these are not the same as the tips in my downloadable guide. Those tips are easy to implement and completely free (if you want them to be), and they’re even more family focused.
They overlap, but these tips go beyond those. That checklist is a great, easy place to start. If you can accomplish the things on it, or if you have free time or extra funds, then the tips below can take you even further.
1. Be Present and Engaged
Let me keep it real here. This is where I struggle most.
As someone who’s energized by keeping myself busy, I love to be constantly on the go. This leaves little time for rest and reflection, and it’s in reflection where I’m able to realize what others may need from me.
It’s so easy to spend time with Jack while constantly checking email, responding to texts, answering phone calls, fixing a problem with the website, etc.
Then comes the guilt. Did I care enough for him?
This is where self care for moms comes in! If I am present and engaged, I avoid guilt by better caring for my child, which in turn means caring for myself. Everybody wins.
My best tip for making this happen? Put down the cell phone! (I know. It’s freakin’ hard.)
2. Alone Time
I love being around people. But let’s be honest: sometimes people are overwhelming.
Sometimes Jack needs me at exactly the same time Husband needs me at exactly the same time my mom is texting me and the dog needs to be let out and my group text is in a spiral and UGH.
I just want to cover my ears, curl up in a ball, and scream.
Can I skip out on my son, Husband, mother, friends, and dog? Nope.
But I can escape to my bedroom for a few minutes when Husband comes home from work while he hangs out with Jack.
I find the closet floor to be a very nice spot for alone time. I’m not sure why, but it feels really, truly alone.
And I can leave the texts; the world isn’t going to catch on fire if I don’t answer them.
Maybe I can even follow the dog out into the yard and look up at the night sky while she does her business. Being outside is a form of self-care I highly recommend, so walking out with the dog gets me alone time AND outside time!
Whatever moments I can catch alone, I take them. I drink deeply from them. This is self care for moms.
3. Girls’ Nights and Date Nights
Listen up, ladies (and gentlemen and non-binary friends, if you’re reading!)
Having a night away from home every once in a while and/or a night out with your partner is so important. Yes, your home and the work (yes, I said WORK) you do there domestically are very important. But so is YOUR SOCIAL LIFE AND TIME WITH YOUR SPOUSE, PARTNER, AND FRIENDS!
Go have a drink with your girls. Take a walk with your neighbor. Pack a picnic of wine and cheese and sit in the park with either your friends or your partner or both; I don’t care!
Practice mom self care in any way that works for you!
If you have the extra cash, hire a trusted sitter to watch your little one(s). And feel extra good by knowing that you’re helping your sitter while they help you.
Having someone around that you can contact quickly and easily–someone who has been fully vetted, is indispensable for helping you find a way to have time for yourself. And who doesn’t want $10 off on a sitter?
Download the Bambino app and use code KATY2019 for $10 off your first sitter!
4. NO GUILT!
Here’s the thing, and I really want you to hear me on this one, mamas.
If you’re practicing #1, being engaged and present, then there is NO REASON TO FEEL GUILTY for taking time away from your children for yourself.
You got that? Just to be sure, repeat after me.
I AM A BETTER MOM WHEN I AM A BETTER ME!
So schedule those times away when you possibly can, and do NOT feel guilty about leaving your children with a partner or a sitter.
I constantly feel guilty for leaving Jack with Husband. And that’s ABSURD! Husband is Jack’s father. Husband wants to be with Jack. It’s Husband’s job to be with Jack. They need alone time together too. I SHOULD NOT FEEL GUILTY!
I repeat: I SHOULD NOT FEEL GUILTY! Husband tells me that too. Maybe this should be my new mantra.
No mom guilt = mom self care!
And do not feel guilty about hiring a sitter. Hiring a sitter is not just self-care; it is community care! It is using your resources, be they vast, or dollars you’ve scraped together for this time away from your children, to help someone else.
Because most babysitters are female, and because I hire them mostly to partake in some form of self-care, I see this as the epitome of women helping women.
I wonder if that mindset might help us be more willing to care for ourselves?
Sure, those 3 sitter hours are expensive, and maybe you’ve been saving for them for months.
But while you have them, can you enjoy them more knowing that not only are you helping yourself, but you’re also helping someone else be able to help themselves?
I sure hope so!
If the Bambino App is available in your area, download it, choose a vetted sitter recommended by your own neighbors, and use code KATY2019 to receive $10 off your first sitting service!
Final Reminder: Self Care is NOT About Spending Money You Don’t Have
You don’t have to #treatyoself with expensive things, spa treatments, or designer candles to practice self care. It’s all about the little things that lead up to the big things.
What is your favorite self-care practice that doesn’t require much time or money?
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Demeter Press’s Motherhood and Social Exclusion, & more.