Being a mum can be exhausting. It’s a 24/7 commitment that’s physically, emotionally and mentally demanding. That’s why it’s so important to learn and practice real self-care.
During the best of times, we mums tend to stretch ourselves pretty thin making sure that everyone else is OK. But mothering during a global pandemic has, for many of us, taken both the wonderful bits and the relentless, exhausting bits of being a mum to a whole new level.
This is true regardless of the ages of our children or the individual make-up of our families and circumstances.
As the saying goes, we’re all weathering the same storm, just in different boats.
Make time for self-care
So, as Mother’s Day 2021 rushes towards us, I want to urge those of you who are mums to show yourself some REAL self-love this year. I want you to think about how you can nurture your own needs with the same care and attention you show everyone else.
At the same time, if you know a mum who needs a bit of breathing space – be it your own mum, sister, friend, partner, aunt, daughter or niece – I want to explore some of the ways you can help her to make time for herself this Mother’s Day.
More than that though, my hope is that you plan in ways to continue practising self-care – day in, day out – from now on.
What is self-care?
We all know that a car can’t run without petrol. Well, the same goes for people. Without opportunities to replenish and refuel, we will eventually burn out.
Self-care is any activity we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health. It’s about finding things that support our wellbeing and fill up the reserves within ourselves.
But the reality is that, in caring for others, many mums forget about self-care.
They relegate their own needs to the bottom of the pile, running on empty more often than they should because they believe their families need them to be ever-present, ever-giving and endlessly self-sacrificing.
Even when we have it in mind, it can be hard to find time for self-care, even more so when COVID restrictions have cut so many mothers off from their wider support networks.
However, it is so, so important that we mums nurture ourselves.
What self-care isn’t
Self-care isn’t selfish.
If we go back to the car analogy I used earlier, a car without petrol is no use to anyone. It leaves everyone who relies on it stranded. So fuelling a car isn’t just good for the car, it’s good for the people who need it too.
The same applies to you. By looking after yourself, the people around you will benefit. They’ll experience a version of you that is happier, stronger, more energetic and well.
Also, self-care isn’t about grabbing five minutes of alone time. It’s not going for a wee without your kids or eating your dinner while it’s still hot. It’s not getting to nip to the supermarket on your own or having a bubble bath instead of a shower.
As I mentioned in my recent Valentine’s Day blog, many people (i.e. not mums) would call those things basic rights, not self-care!
Remember, self-care is something that deliberately takes care of your mental, emotional or physical health.
So what could that be? Here are 10 ideas:
1. Time to talk
Whilst I’m writing this blog during lockdown 3.0 in the UK, it’s fair to say that most of us are missing face-to-face time with our friends and family at the moment.
As a busy mum, finding time for a good old chinwag can be hard. If you get a quiet moment, you may be tempted to collapse on the sofa and enjoy the silence.
But I really want you to find time to talk.
Send a text to a friend and arrange to call them this evening when the kids have gone to bed. Be spontaneous and give someone who means a lot to you a surprise call. Send a WhatsApp or Messenger message, if it really is impossible to talk.
Talking to someone you trust about everything from your daily life to the big stuff on your mind is good for your wellbeing. Talking therapies are so effective.
So having a chat with a friend is not just fun, it’s great self-care too.
2. Walk it out
We can all improve our self-care by being more active. Even if you loathe things like exercise classes or going to the gym, a 30-minute daily walk has huge benefits.
Walking can boost the health of your heart and lungs, strengthen your muscles and bones. Help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and other health conditions. It’s also great for your mental health.
You can always combine walking with talking by meeting up with a friend for a stroll. Not only will this make exercising more enjoyable but you’ll also be more likely to find time for a walk.
If you’re not able to leave your children with someone at home, sharing a walk with them is a great way to show them what self-care looks like.
3. Try something new
As a busy mum, it’s easy to get stuck in familiar routines. In fact, as adults most of us spend our days doing things we’ve done hundreds of times before. But this can cause us to feel stuck and stagnant.
When was the last time you tried something new? I don’t necessarily mean something completely off-the-wall and out of character here!
Trying something new could be as simple as having a go at a new craft, cooking a new meal, listening to a new podcast, spending a day out on your own or buying an item of clothing that’s out of your usual comfort zone.
There are so many benefits of trying new things whenever you can – it’s a great way to overcome fear of the unknown, get to know yourself better, stimulate your creativity, expand your skills and build your confidence.
4. Take up a hobby
Do you have any hobbies? If not, now is the time to take one up. Hobbies are fantastic for encouraging you to take a break from your work or domestic responsibilities to do something that lights you up inside.
Could be a case of rediscovering a much-loved hobby from before you become a parent or you could try a completely new hobby – something you’ve always wanted to do or you think looks like a lot of fun.
Remember, you don’t have to be amazing at a hobby to enjoy it. Just try different activities and see which ones make time fly. If you can lose yourself in a hobby, it’s a good sign that it’s replenishing you.
5. Ask for support
Evidence suggests that even in the most progressive of households where chores are split fairly evenly, among heterosexual couples, it’s women that take on the lion’s share of the emotional workload. I.e. anticipating everyone’s needs, planning ahead, monitoring outcomes and identifying all of the options available.
A report from Bright Horizons found that it’s mums who think about things like school drop offs and pick-ups (pre-lockdown!), homework, school supplies, inset days, holiday arrangements, field trips, healthcare appointments, vaccination schedules, class parties and presents, sports activities, dressing up days, special events and so much more.
No wonder we’re tired!
Mothers are the unofficial guardians of making sure that nothing falls through the cracks. And nearly nine out of 10 mothers in committed relationships say they are solely responsible for organising their family’s schedules.
Many women report that their male partners will say, “You should have asked” or “Just tell me if there’s anything you need me to do” as though the women are their managers, not their partners within the family.
It adds to the mental workload when we need to give our partners a list of chores to complete.
A huge step towards self-care is explaining what the weight of your emotional workload looks and feels like and that you would like to share the management of that load, not just the chores themselves.
You may need to sit down with your partner and decide together who will take on which responsibility and what planning and management looks like for both of you. You may also need to relinquish some control, trusting your partner to get things done.
If you’re a single parent, of course, sharing the emotional load is much harder, especially with the current COVID restrictions.
Hopefully, you’ve been able to form a support bubble with someone you trust. If so, are you able to talk to them about the emotional load you’re carrying and ask for some help, whatever that would look like to you?
6. Do some mirror work
I bet you’re a great mum to your kids. I imagine you say kind, loving things to them and make them feel good about themselves and their potential.
But do you show yourself the same kindness?
Sadly, the way many of us speak to ourselves is downright cruel and unkind. If anyone spoke to our children in the same way, the Tiger Mama inside of us would rip them apart.
Self-care is about working on that inner voice and making it more compassionate.
Mirror work is the term used for speaking positive affirmations to yourself in front of a mirror.
What makes this approach so effective is that it immediately reflects back your emotional response to hearing good things said to you. It can show your discomfort and resistance. It also encourages you to become comfortable with who you are and to accept positive thoughts more readily.
7. Say “no”
Do you find yourself saying yes to things that you really don’t want to do? Is it from a sense of obligation and not wanting to let anyone down?
This Mother’s Day, I want you to really think about your current obligations and responsibilities. Are you doing things that aren’t important just because you think you should?
Now is the time to say no!
It’s OK to stop doing things that aren’t essential to you and your family. You don’t have to explain yourself. Remember, “No” is a complete sentence.
8. Reconnect with yourself
For a short time after I became a mother, I felt like I had lost my sense of self. I believe many women experience this feeling to varying degrees.
An important part of self-care is reconnecting with yourself away from the various roles you play for others.
Who are you? What are the things that matter to you? What are your hopes and dreams? What makes you feel fulfilled and purposeful in life?
There are various ways to connect with these questions. Journaling works well but some people prefer meditation or creating a vision board.
My advice is to book time for reconnecting with yourself in your daily schedule. Treat it like an appointment that’s as fixed as your child’s sports club or dentist appointment, then make the time for yourself.
9. Put your healthcare on your calendar
You make sure that your children never miss their medical appointments. Whether it’s the optician, dentist or doctor, they attend every check-up like clockwork.
Well, now I want you to treat your own healthcare as diligently. When was the last time you had a smear test, mammogram, medical check-up, eye test, dental appointment or flu jab?
Stats suggest that a growing number of women are ignoring potentially life-threatening symptoms because they are simply too busy to attend to their own health.
Don’t let this be you!
Today, I want you to be honest about any appointments that are overdue and then get them booked.
10. Ask for a present that will help you
While chocolates, flowers and breakfast in bed are all lovely Mother’s Day gifts, why not buck the trend this year and ask your loved ones to treat you to a copy of my book No Longer Last on the List(or you could treat another special mum in your life to a copy)?
Tell them it’s a present that you’ll use and love for years to come!
No Longer Last on the List is about ways we can prioritise our own needs and why self-care is so important, not only for you but for your family too.
Essentially, it’s about putting your oxygen mask on first.
Show your children what self-care looks like!
If you can’t find time for self-care for yourself, do it for the sake of your kids.
Honestly, when you think of your children as adults, do you imagine them living a life that they feel good about or do you imagine them always putting their own needs to the bottom of the pile?
Of course, you want the former for them.
But in order for our children to grow up understanding the importance of self-care, we have to show them what it looks like and why it matters. Children do what they see, so show them that it’s OK to set boundaries, pursue hobbies, eat well, get active and connect with others.
In giving yourself this gift, you share it with your children too.
No Longer Last on the List would be the perfect gift for that special mum in your life (or yourself) this Mother’s Day. Packed full of inspiration, tips and activities. It will take you on a journey into self-love and putting your own needs first (and remind you why this is a gift to your loved ones too).
Already read and love it? Why not buy copies for the special women in your lives and get them to join the self-full revolution too?