The role of self-care in motherhood

The concept of self-care has gained a lot more popularity in the last couple of years, than it ever had before. It basically revolves around the actions that contribute to mental and physical wellbeing. All women, no matter their circumstances in life deserve and need to engage in self-care activities frequently. Although it may seem obvious, not all women find time or even motivation for self-care in their lives. And in the specific case of mothers, there are even more obstacles and challenges to actively investing time, energy, and resources into self-care. In many case mothers don’t find the support system that would allow them to have at least 1 or 2 self-care activities per week.

There are two obstacles that interfere with women choosing and committing to making self-care a part of their daily routine. The first one is that we live in a society that encourages being busy all the time, as if it was the only way of being productive and successful. A busy woman in general has to take care of some many things, that self-care can be relegated to the back burner. Now, the second cause is in my opinion, the root cause of women not integrating more often self-care into their lives; we were not raised believing that taking care and establishing a loving relationship with ourselves is essential to our survival. The result is that women, and mothers in particular, tend to experience feelings of guilt and shame when they take time for themselves to do something that will benefit them as individuals. And ironically society can judge them as being “selfish” when they put themselves first.

Unfortunately, self-care is not an intuitive choice, and in general, we do not live in a society that prompts women to put their mental and emotional health first. Mothers in particular are thought to be continuously nurturing their families, and rarely motivated and led to find a source to nurture themselves. The results are pretty obvious, burnout mothers that too often come close to a mental breakdown, and frustrated mothers that find themselves in survival mode all the time.

In some cases the term “self-care” can be even discouraging for some mothers. As a woman without children that wants to serve women, I am doing my best to be educated in the best ways to support mothers and join them where they are. Assuming that self-care looks the same for every woman, is a mistake that can discourage and even disappoint mothers. I’ve found a very interesting definition of self-care in the article, The Most Important Thing About Self-Care for Mothers, “Self-care is a practice, it is a commitment we make to ourselves so that we may do the important work we are here to do. Self-care for mothers means we have a toolkit for daily living, not a “break glass in case of emergency” escape plan.”

More than the activities we do towards self-care, the way we relate to ourselves and our needs in relation to others, has an impact on the decisions we make, and the things we prioritize in our lives. There are five areas that I find particularly valuable to consider when approaching the self-care discussion. This is applicable to all women (but especially for those who have children)

  1. Self-love and compassion – So much has been written and said about self-love, and there is probably not a lot that I can say in this article that you have not heard before. However, the reality is that we tend to feel and express more love and compassion for others than for ourselves. Self-love and compassion starts by accepting that as you nurture others that may depend on you, YOU also need to nurture YOURSELF, so you don’t become an empty vessel. An act of self-love is to identify your needs and stop treating them as weaknesses, or selfish desires.
  2. Vulnerability – Part of being vulnerable is to speak up your truth with whoever needs to hear, whoever who makes part of your support system and can give you a hand. Honestly, women tend to internalize and get frustrated with their partners in silence. We tend to have these mental arguments about them not helping enough, or not doing “what they are supposed to”. It’s time to find assertive ways of actually having those conversations, even if those exposes our weaknesses, we could find a lot of value in vulnerability.
  3. Setting Boundaries – The act of openly and freely accept your needs and desires in front of others, opens doors to establish different dynamics in your life. You can feel entitled to fulfill your needs, to agree with your partner or the ones part of your support system to help and support you. Setting boundaries means that YOUR needs are equally important, as anybody else’s needs in your family. Therefore, you are building a support system that allows you to take care of yourself and have individual moments of relaxation, without feeling guilty or feel you are being shamed for that.
  4. Mindfulness – The best way of truly enjoying self-care is to be present. In fact, the simplest things in life done in a mindful way, contribute to a happier and more fulfilled life. Regardless of how much time you have to dedicate to yourself, make it meaningful. Avoid external distractions or putting your mind in the past or the future. It may not be as easy, but it will help you “be” in the moment and connect with yourself.
  5. Resilience – Sometimes things don’t happen the way you expect, and a busy day or week can put yourself far from the path of self-care. Do not give up! Do not feel that you have failed. Make the resolution that you will find time for yourself, because you love yourself and you need self-care. Be patient and flexible, reaching a consistent and sustainable path of self-care may take some time and practice.
  6. Find your own ways – Self-care doesn’t look the same for every mother. Knowing yourself and your needs can help you determine what you need and what you enjoy. Remember, self-care doesn’t mean a luxury spa visit (that is what sometimes is portrayed in social media, and it’s sometimes the reason why women don’t connect self-care with simple activities that we can even perform at home. Feel empowered to decide what is the best way to take care of yourself and get after it!