Sometimes self-care for a mom is just not the top priority. For example, you know it’s bad when you’re consumed with the fear that another mom will notice your hideously un-manicured feet at your kid’s baseball game and yet, this is where I tend to find myself around the month of June every year. My husband is a varsity baseball coach, I work as a mental health therapist, and we have three kids and a million activities, birthdays, and all that other family stuff piled up. So as baseball season draws to a close, I start looking a bit haggard and it might show that I have not been taking the best care of myself, or my poor toes. Self-care drifts lower and lower on the priority list.
What is Self-Care and Why Do We Need It?
Self-care is something you do, with intention, to take care of your physical, mental, or emotional self. Pretty much anything that helps you feel good, relaxed, happy, or healthy. Your mom probably never said “I need some self-care!” but when she did things like taking a walk or having a glass of wine with friends, taking care of herself is exactly what she was doing. Truthfully, self-care is part of how we stay happy, healthy, have better relationships, keep anxiety down, and manage stress better!
How Does it Feel When You Don’t Take Care of Yourself?
I wasn’t kidding when I said that I start to look a bit haggard by the end of my husband’s coaching season. I feel that way on the inside, too. Tired, anxious, overwhelmed, and stressed. When we don’t practice self-care, we just get depleted and run down. Essentially, if there’s no self-care, we actually become LESS efficient at our other responsibilities like parenting, working, communicating, etc.
So If Self-Care is So Important, Why Don’t We Do It?
Ahem… Do you mean why haven’t I scheduled that pedicure for myself yet? A lot of us can get pretty blocked when it comes to actually putting our own self-care on the priority list. Beyond the normal complaints about busy schedules, too tired, need a babysitter, and on and on, it is helpful to take a closer look at the messages you received about self-care, in particular, the messages you received from your own mother. Then think about the messages you are sending to your own children about whether or not it is ok to make yourself a priority.
How Did Your Mom Practice Self-Care?
When I think about my own mother, I realize that she had a lot of interests that she pursued like bowling, various committees in the town and school, and enjoying weekends at our lakehouse in Maine. When it came to pampering herself, however, this was more of a luxury or expense that she often didn’t feel comfortable or justified in taking. I remember my grandmother forcing shopping trips on her so she would buy herself new clothes. Even recently, I gave her a gift certificate for yoga classes near her new home and it took a year for her to use them. I would complain, but I’m pretty sure I have a giftcard for a massage that someone gave me after having my first baby collecting dust somewhere!
When I talk to women that see me for counseling at my practice or my own girlfriends about their mother’s self-care, some of their observations sound like this:
- My mom took care of everyone, even her parents and siblings. She had no time for herself because she was fixing things for everyone else.
- My mom didn’t really maintain her friendships and sometimes I think she felt lonely.
- My mom always put herself last. Deprivation was sort of like a badge of honor.
If you have similar observations about your mother’s self care as the ones above, think about how this translated into some negative messages about what it means to take care of yourself.
Self-Care Messages, like:
- Taking care of myself is a luxury or reward, only after everything else is done.
- Self-care is selfish.
- My needs aren’t as important as everyone else’s in my family.
Changing the Message About Self-Care for Your Kids
We all know that the expression “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work so if you really want to change these messages for your kids, you are going to have to figure out this whole self-care philosophy.
Here’s a few ways to get started:
- Identify some of the things you enjoy doing, things that put you in a good mood or help relieve stress.
- Schedule these activities, at least 1-2 each week, and make a commitment to yourself to stick to your schedule for a certain timeframe, like 1 month. The reason I suggest starting with an initial commitment to a certain timeframe is to make this feel more like an experiment where you can observe the positive effects of self-care, such as feeling less irritable or stressed. You don’t have to feel overwhelmed with making a big change or commitment, but just pay attention to how self-care can help you feel better.
- Notice when those negative messages, like “Self-care is selfish” pop up in your mind. Just because they pop up, doesn’t mean you have to listen to them! Remember, you have kiddos watching this struggle.
- Reinforce the message to your kids about why you are doing things for yourself even when they make you feel guilty. When she was a toddler, my now 6-year-old daughter used to always get upset when I would go out for a run. She would cry and say she missed her mommy. Now when I go out for a run, I hear her consoling her little sister, saying, “It’s ok, Mommy is just running because she is healthy, she’ll be back in just a little bit!”