When we first become a mother, our whole world turns upside down. What used to come first…our time, our health, our wants…gets placed on the back burner (rightfully so!) so that we can turn all our attention and energy to caring for our precious new baby.
Unfortunately, because the baby takes up so much time and energy, and since we’re sleeping a lot less, we sometimes never turn our attention back to our own personal needs.
And because our culture so values a mother that devotes herself completely to the needs of her children, we take a bit of pride in neglecting ourselves. Somehow our toughness in enduring illness, loneliness, or exhaustion is a source of self-satisfaction, because it proves what good moms we are.
What we don’t take into consideration, however, is that we can be even BETTER mothers–more loving, patient, energetic–when we regularly care for ourselves. There are 10 main ways in which we can do this, and they are all important enough to take time away from the kids on a regular basis.
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Why is self-care important for moms?
As the primary caregiver and nurturer the family, Mom has a lot on her plate.
Not only does she care for one or more children, which in itself is physically demanding, but she usually is also the primary caretaker of the home, which includes cleaning, organizing, food shopping and preparation, as well as laundry and sometimes yard work.
And then there are Mom’s interests outside the home, which can include her church, the school’s PTA, charities she might volunteer for, and extended family, which might include aging parents to care for.
With so many responsibilities, it’s no wonder that mothers are often exhausted. The last thing that Mom wants to do is to drag herself to the gym or to a ladies’ night out with her friends.
In addition, there is a sense of guilt that moms feel when they do take time for themselves.
“Most moms feel this damned-if-I-do, damned-if-I don’t pressure relating to their decision to work or stay home, and almost all mothers, regardless of work status, struggle with feelings of guilt when they take time away from their children to practice self-care,” says Julie Burton, mother of 4 and author of The Self-Care Solution.
We feel that taking time to nurture ourselves is the same as neglecting our children–if we’re not there every moment, we are letting the kids down.
But a person can only take this level of non-stop focus on others without experiencing some harm, both physically and mentally.
The importance of physical self-care
Lack of exercise, eating less-than-ideal foods, and procrastinating on annual medical check-ups can really affect a mom’s health…especially when their children bring home so many colds.
“…because parents — particularly moms, who are still doing the majority of the child rearing and are getting less sleep than their male partners — are tired and run-down, it’s more difficult for their immune systems to protect them from their children’s colds.” says Danielle Campoamor, writing in The Washington Post.
“Moms must realize that our children need us to be healthy, but we are human and sometimes we all get sick. We can’t heal quickly or effectively if we don’t give our bodies a chance to do so.” says Carly Snyder, a reproductive and perinatal psychiatrist practicing in New York City.
Caring for the mental and spiritual self
In addition to physical health, moms should consider their intellectual and spiritual sides as well.
At times, motherhood can be isolating, especially for a stay-at-home moms. With no adult to talk to throughout the day, moms can feel lonely. While there are mom groups and other gatherings available for mothers, sometimes a baby’s schedule doesn’t permit going out, or illness or feeling too tired prevents a mom from connecting with others.
It can also be difficult to find the time to sit down and read a book or listen to an interesting podcast so that you can improve your mind.
And with the great deal of toy clutter that seems to come along with young children, anxiety can pop up in a mother’s mind, because all the stuff sitting out makes her believe that she isn’t doing a good job of keeping the house up.
That’s why a mom HAS to take time for personal care. When she is thinking about and caring for the health of her body, mind and spirit on a regular basis, she will have more energy and desire to care for her children.
Why it’s important to know yourself first
Now that we know why it’s important to have a plan for self-care, we should look at what makes a good plan for YOU.
Since we are all different in character, temperaments and likes, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan.
That’s why it’s smart to understand yourself, to be able to identify what things give you life, and what things drain you.
One easy thing you can consider is whether you are an introvert or an extrovert. Introverts enjoy spending time along and prefer quiet environments rather than large group gatherings. Extroverts, on the other hand, become energized by being around other people, and become easily bored when spending time alone.
If you’re an introvert, spending all day and night with your young children might feel a bit overwhelming to you, so self-care might look like a long walk by yourself after dinner. Extroverts would probably prefer to engage in self-care by attending a mom’s night out gathering with 10 of her closest friends.
To go deeper on this topic and find what makes you happy, I’d recommend these books by Gretchen Rubin (all referral links): The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, and Better Than Before. And specifically for introverts, Quiet by Susan Cain.
10 things to do for yourself as a mom
But no matter what personality traits say that you prefer, there are 10 things that all moms should do to take care of themselves on a regular basis.
Obviously, they will all look different for different women, but these fundamental activities will improve your health, mental outlook and reduce stress and anxiety.
Eat a healthy diet
Your body needs good nutrition to function well, so a healthy diet should be at the top of your list of self-care tasks.
Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water, and avoiding sugar are some easy ways to improve your diet. You’ll also benefit from more energy and better skin…plus, you’ll set a good example for your kids to follow.
Sleep is crucial for health, but a lot of moms aren’t getting enough of it. Obviously, there are seasons of our lives in which our kids don’t sleep through the night, or when they are sick and need caring for at all hours, but we should try to fit as much sleep in as we can.
Many moms try to stay up late after their kids go to bed in order to have more time to themselves. And while this is an understandable reason for skipping out on sleep, it might be better to head to bed early to get a couple extra hours of shut eye instead of binging on the latest Netflix hit.
Your body will thank you for it.
Get regular exercise
Another thing that is essential for a healthy mom is exercise.
And let me be the first to say that trying to fit in regular exercise with kids is hard! There’s always something that comes up when you want to get a workout it, whether it’s a diaper change or something like a refused nap.
But it’s still important to try to be active in some way everyday. You can find some helpful tips on exercising in this post.
See your doctor regularly
The funny thing about moms is that they will move heaven and earth to get their kids to their regular check-ups at the pediatrician’s office, but they forget to go see their own doctor for years on end.
While it is a bit of a hassle to arrange an appointment and then make sure a babysitter is available, it is important that you make sure that your kids’ mom is healthy!
In the article by Danielle Campoamor mentioned above, she tells the story of how she neglected her own health, and was called out by her child’s doctor.
Don’t let that happen…schedule regular appointments with your primary care doctor and dentist to make sure you stay healthy for your children.
Take time to relax
It is really difficult to constantly pour yourself out to your family without filling yourself back up. And this is especially true for moms that are with their kids 24 hours a day.
No human…even such superhumans as moms!…can go nonstop without a chance to refuel. It’s important to take time away and recharge your batteries.
What does this look like for you? Does it mean taking a 30 minute walk by yourself? Does it mean getting away from the house for a massage or a pedicure once a month? Does it mean getting up 20 minutes early for quiet prayer or meditation? Take some time to think about what fills you up and energizes you and then make a habit to do it regularly.
>>Check out the FREE printable download at the bottom of this post!
Pay attention to your spiritual needs
While physical needs are important, we can’t neglect the spiritual side of ourselves.
Taking time to connect with God through prayer, as well as participating in regular worship services and/or Bible studies are some great ways to care for your spirit.
Invest in learning
Another great way to care for yourself is to grow your mind by learning. And no, I don’t mean college, although that could definitely fit in here.
It’s important to keeps our minds active by reading good books, learning new skills like photography, crochet or gardening and paying attention to current events.
There are plenty of online courses that you can take to learn something new while your kids nap, or after they go to bed at night. Or you can even learn by watching YouTube videos for free…that’s how I learned to crochet! (Here’s one of the projects I made for my little boy)
Connect with your friends
Mothering is so hard, that we need support from other women who know what we are going through.
When you’ve had an especially hard day (or week!), it’s so nice to be able to vent to friends who love you and understand what’s going on in your life. And, of course, you need some friends to have fun with, whether it be a trip to the mall and lunch, or a weekend away with the girls.
Organize your space
Self-care isn’t all about caring for your body and mind; it’s also about caring for the space in which you live and work. That’s why I’ve included organizing your space in this list of self-care activities.
Organize your schedule
Last, but not least, organizing your schedule is a great form of self-care. When you have too much on your plate and are on the go all the time, you can really become stressed and overwhelmed.
To get started, think about what is important to you and what you can let go. Next, factor in things like your baby’s nap times or what time you would like to have dinner each night. Make sure to build in time for the self-care activities that we’ve discussed here, such as exercise, time for getting together with girlfriends and reading or listening to podcasts.
You’ll feel much better when you have a handle on your time, and ensure that you are getting your self-care activities regularly!
To help you find ways to combat the stress of mom life, I’ve created a printable worksheet with quick self-care ideas that you can download for free!
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