“Trying to be Super Mom is as futile as trying to be Perfect Mom. Not going to happen.” ~Arianna Huffington
I am a mother, so I get it. We are all just trying to do the best for our children, while keeping a roof over our heads and somehow creating a life of meaning and purpose. We want to model that we have it together for our kids, but some days we fall short. Motherhood is a very tough job/calling/profession/blessing/gift.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to have the experience also are well aware of the pitfalls of perfectionism that can impact maternal mental health. I decided to make a list of self-care tips for all you mamas/caregivers out there who are doing your very best to keep your head above water. Although I am still thick in the midst of raising my own kids, the following are some suggestions I have learned and continue to do my best (although not perfect) to practice:
Tips for Mama Self-Care:
- Make intentional time for authentic friendships which do not involve competing for the cleanest house, the best preschool program, or some sort of mommy-wars conversation about who has it more difficult (stay-at-home versus working mom). Focus on friendships which reflect integrity, compassion, non-judgement, flexibility, and humor. We are all in this thing called life together, and it’s better when we have friendships to help us along the way. Besides, solid social supports are proven to contribute positively to mental health.
- Engage in activities that create balance: exercise, good sleep, and good nutrition. Those basic building blocks of self-care allow serotonin in the brain to stay at optimal levels, thereby reducing the possibility of developing dips in serotonin, which can manifest as depression/anxiety (Kendall-Tackett, 2017).
- Make time for mindfulness-based practices such as meditation and yoga, as well as hiking. Studies reflect that mindfulness practices can help lower stress and release held tension in the body (van der Kolk, 2015). Even 5-10 minutes of deep breathing in the midst of a busy day can assist with inducing a relaxation response.
- Chose not to compete. Someone will always want to flaunt their latest post-baby physique while prancing to the pick-up circle at school to collect their child in skin tight exercise pants. Or that social media post about how one mom only strains hand-made, garden-picked gluten-free organic baby food and shames you for not doing so. Or that post about how so-and-so bought a brand new shiny car the cost of small fortune for their daughter’s 16th birthday present.To each his or her own. Disengage from the drama. It’s not only unnecessary, but also damaging to mental health to be in a constant state of competition with others. When people post about or boast about possessions or superficial acquisitions, that reflects their shallowness and lack of authenticity, in addition to their own insecurities. And you are shopping for and vetting friendships that are authentic and deeper than “look at how awesome I look in my lycra yoga pants.” Right?!
- Connect with your spiritual practice. Whether you attend church, temple, a mosque, or you meditate in nature or perform pagan ceremonies, connecting with your spirituality is important as an anchoring to not sweating the small stuff. It simply puts things in perspective and allows us to move past the day-to-day banal worries about silly things, that at the end of the day, don’t really matter. When you gaze up at the stars, remind yourself how big the Universe is and all the people and planets there are…and how it really doesn’t matter that that one extra load of laundry wasn’t folded or even washed.
- Engage in “good enough mothering.” None of us are perfect parents. However, if we do our best, our children are nurtured and loved, with all our imperfections as parents (Dunnewold, 2007). Supermom (or Dad) does not exist. Good Enough Mom (or Dad) does.
- Be okay with delegating tasks. It’s never too early to involve even young children in chores, like putting toys away at the end of play time. Or for older children, perhaps learning that they “get what they earn” by obtaining a privilege from showing respectful behavior, completing school work, and finishing chores. If you are fortunate enough to have the means to hire a housekeeper or gardener, by all means, go for it. When we can delegate chores and tasks to the other individuals we live with (or alternatively, hire people to complete these tasks) it frees us up to focus on what’s important…our self-care, our families, our work, our passions.
- Be ok with saying “no.” Know your limits. Don’t say “yes” to that PTA volunteering opportunity unless you really think you will enjoy the experience and that you actually have time for it. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for burn-out and resentment. Fill your cup first. Always. Then when your tank is “full” as a caregiver, you have more to give, if you choose to (Domar, 2001).
- Give yourself a mental health day. Whether your work in the home or in an office, if you are a mother, you work. Period. And with that, the demands can be relentless and 24/7. Give yourself permission to take a day off from your usual obligations and pamper yourself. That could mean staying in bed all day and taking an indulgent nap, a pedicure, treating yourself to your favorite coffee, getting a massage, meeting a friend for lunch, spending time with your significant other, etc. We all need days to fill our cups, and sometimes we have to intentionally carve out that time, or it just doesn’t happen.
- Work in an environment which honors family-work balance. If your employer is not savvy to the needs of balancing the family and work juggle, then they are in the dark ages and will quickly lose excellent staff. The best employers allow a flex schedule, tele-commuting, and ample time off to attend to family/personal needs. As long as the job gets done, it doesn’t matter what the time clock says. Look at Working Mother Magazine’s lists of the most family friendly employers if you are seeking an empowering, balanced work environment.
- Cut yourself some slack. Give yourself some love and some credit for all that you do. Every day acknowledge three things you are proud you have accomplished, no matter how small. Just the fact that you are raising the next generation of people on the planet is enough to notice how hard you are working, to make the planet and the people that live on it, a better place. Cheers to you!
Postpartum Support International: www.postpartum.net — largest non-profit dedicated to women’s reproductive mental health (resources/literature/support networks)