When a child is born, we focus completely on them. It’s what moms do. It’s what everyone does. All the time, energy, and attention goes to the baby, and then the toddler, and then the preschooler, and then the gradeschooler, and then the teen, and on and on.
But what often gets missed in the caring of the child is the caring of the mother.
According to Dayna M. Kurtz, LMSW, CPT, the director of the Anna Keefe Women’s Center at the Training Institute for Mental Health in Manhattan, “mothercare” is an integral part of childcare.” Because “in order to tend to our children in a loving, nurturing, and healthful way, we must attend to ourselves in that same manner.”
Kurtz noted that mothercare isn’t a theoretical concept; it’s an actionable plan. And the first key step in creating and implementing a plan for mothercare is recognizing which tools work best for you.
For instance, she said, you might realize that meditating in the morning or at night for 5 minutes enhances your patience with your child, or that journaling helps to clear your mind.
Every mom’s mothercare routine will look different. However, a cornerstone of any routine, according to Kurtz, is mental health. Below are her top three tools for supporting our mental wellness.
- Move your body. “The research on exercise as a natural mood-booster is irrefutable. In movement, the body releases natural “feel good” chemicals (endorphins) that make us feel better, typically without any negative side effects,” said Kurtz, author of the book Mother Matters: A Holistic Guide to Being a Happy, Healthy Mom. For instance, she goes for a morning run on most mornings. “I’ve learned…that if I go more than 3 days without a run, I become noticeably more irritable, ornery, and less patient”—something her husband and son notice, too. The key is to move your body in ways that feel good to you. Which might differ on different days. Some days, you might take a dance class. Other days, you might take a restorative yoga class. Another day you might take a quick walk outside.
- Meditate. “Meditation has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, improve sleep, and enable mental clarity, among a host of other benefits,” Kurtz said. As with exercise, it’s important to find the right meditation for you. Kurtz noted that like yoga, meditation is an umbrella term that comprises a wide collection of practices. “Vipassana meditation is different than transcendental is different than loving-kindness.” She encouraged readers to experiment with different meditations to find one that resonates most with you. For instance, here’s an example of a vipassana meditation practice.
- See a therapist. According to Kurtz, “Having a safe, non-judgmental space to explore one’s innermost thoughts and feelings can bring dramatic…lasting benefits to one’s overall health.” Kurtz noted, “My weekly psychotherapy is a regular part of my health maintenance program as well. I find being a patient in treatment myself makes me a much more compassionate and empathic therapist.” When looking for a therapist, she suggested finding someone you feel safe with and can explore anything that arises, without worrying about being judged. She stressed the importance of turning down the volume on our “thinking brain,” and turning up the volume of our “emotional brain.” “In other words, pay attention to how you feel when you are speaking to a prospective psychotherapist over the phone, or sitting in the office for an initial consult. What is your gut telling you? Experience and training are important in a clinician, but it won’t matter much if a client doesn’t feel comfortable. Clients should not settle for less.”
Prioritize yourself. Think about the activities that help you feel cared for, the activities that bolster your mental health, the activities that help you reconnect to yourself.
This might be anything from taking a yoga class to sipping coffee as you read 20 minutes of a memoir. It might be taking a painting or dance class. It might be working on your novel at night. It might be working with a career coach. It might be listening to classical music as you savor a hot shower. It might be singing in your church choir. It might be taking on a creative project—sewing a shirt, snapping photos of the sunrise, learning to bake bread. It might be both big and small.
Think about fitting your self-care activities into an entire week, versus into a single day, as Laura Vanderkam wisely advises.
“Mothercare, or any self-care really, should be considered a basic right as a human being,” Kurtz said. “It is not a luxury, and it is not self-indulgent. It is an integral part of being healthy and well.” It is an integral part of building a meaningful, fulfilling life.