How does a mother practice self-care? This might seem like an obvious question with an obvious answer. Magazine columns and social media often depict self care as a quick mani-pedi, or a Friday night girls night out. And while the spa or Taco Tuesday may occasionally be just what moms need, often the question of what true self care looks like while raising children is more complex.
From pregnancy onward, motherhood involves a series of mental, physical, emotional, developmental, and social changes that can be simultaneously beautiful and challenging. Such changes often unfold within a system that doesn’t necessarily support motherhood.
Moms are often trying to work throughout pregnancy in order to make ends meet or maintain benefits, or simply because they love their work. After delivery, moms struggle with nursing, sleep deprivation, and physical changes, in a society that often expects moms to somehow juggle it all, look good while doing so, and with little to no support.
So what does “self-care” actually mean for a mother?
Know that you deserve to ask yourself the question: There is no one right answer. Every mother’s situation is different. Different childhoods, different families, different work and home lives, different cultures and socioeconomic status, different bodies, different children. All of which means--different needs. But determining individual needs begins with mothers knowing that they deserve to ask themselves the question: “What is it that I need? Like really need?” Sometimes the answer may be a nap, and sometimes the answer may be a hard conversation with the boss. But we can’t arrive at the answer, until we know we deserve to ask ourselves the question.
Remember your doctor’s appointment: Moms often do a great job at diligently scheduling all of those pediatrician appointments after baby is born. But tremendous changes occur on every level as a mother is born too. One may notice physical symptoms or concerns that are new, or difficult emotional challenges such as anxiety, depression, or struggling to adjust to your new roles and responsibilities. Remember that your doctor is there to listen to your concerns, be it your OB/Gyn, your child’s pediatrician, your internist or family practice doctor, or your psychiatrist. Share your experiences and your struggles and your questions. Your doctor is there to listen and help.
Find your tribe: Who is there for you as you navigate the ups and downs of parenting? Is it a family member, therapist, BFF, or your partner? Often our relationships change once we have children, and it can be more challenging to maintain our friendships or find the time to spend with loved ones. Consider who your one or two people are--the ones who just “get it.” We don’t need a large tribe, but a small community of support can mean everything when we are moving through a major life transition.
Remember Who You Were: Often motherhood is all consuming. We are determined to provide the best care, love, education, resources, playdates, car seats, and everything in between to our kids. But moms were once individuals with lives, passions, goals and dreams too. It can be helpful sometimes to stay in touch with the pre-mother parts of ourselves. How can we meet those needs? Is there a part of you that loved to play the piano? Work out? Or a part of you that dreamed of starting a non-profit? Perhaps there are small steps that you can take to stay connected to the parts of you that still live on, and want to be seen and heard.
Becoming a mother can be beautiful, frightening, exhausting, and life-changing, all at once. Just like with any hard job, figuring out self-care is a critical part of staying sustainable. While the occasional massage may indeed do the trick, sometimes our needs run a little deeper than that. Know that it’s okay to ask yourself what you truly need, lean in, and listen hard--just like you would for your precious child.
Author: Dr. Monisha Vasa, MD: Click Here to learn more about Dr. Vasa