Kate Kripke, LCSW, PMH-C
What a loaded term.
I mean, what mother out there has time for self-care, right? Not to mention that so often self-care feels selfish, self-absorbed, and totally irresponsible when we are needing to care for others, like our children.
Well, quick frankly, if this resonates for you, I am going to rock your world for a minute.
While many of us have been raised to see self-care as selfish, extravagant, a privilege, or simply impossible, when it comes to motherhood, self-care is a non-negotiable for good-enough parenting. Taking care of ourselves as parents is the most generous thing that we can do for our children. When we don’t take time to focus on our own health and wellness, or own needs, our own sources of joy and pleasure, and our own rest, we burn out. We all will. It’s just the way the bodies work. Our brains, like other living things, need food, water, care, and rest to thrive. Without these things, our brains become depleted and have less ability to function adequately. Like anything else, if we are not filling the tank (putting our oxygen masks on first, filling our buckets, meeting our needs, mothering ourselves) we will have nothing to give to those who need us. You can test this and see for yourself if you want. I certainly have. I get burned every time.
It is without a doubt that the following barriers will inevitably get in the way of taking care of ourselves well:
- Financial resources
- Childcare support
- Cultural misrepresentation
- Inadequate role-modeling
- Lack of self-love and self-respect
But I want to make something really clear here. In order to access self-care, you don’t necessarily need money or lots of extra time or even outside support. While child-care help, financial resources, and time certainly make accessing self-care easier, these things are not required to do “self-care” well. And if you fit into the group of the many, many women who have been taught to not see self-care as valuable or acceptable or the group of many women who do not particularly like themselves, know that you are not alone. The internal beliefs that get in the way of accessing self-care are real. Committing to doing things differently than you were taught to do and/or learning to like yourself enough to actually take care of yourself (let’s be clear, we don’t really feel like doing nice things who those who we do not like) is hard work but absolutely possible.
And just one more thing before we go into what self-care can look like: I want to make something super clear. Self-care will not necessarily bring comfort and happiness. It will not suddenly make motherhood and parenthood easy. Taking care of ourselves is required in order for us to tolerate the very inevitable stress and discomfort that comes with mothering. Parenting is uncomfortable, and stressful, a lot of the time. So, we take care of ourselves well so that we can be resilient to that stress. So that we can sit with the discomfort without reacting to it. So that we can stay steady in times of total chaos. The bad news? Self-care definitely will NOT make us love every moment of parenting.
But I’m assuming you already knew that.
Ok. So, let’s look at some ways that self-care can look.
1. PAY ATTENTION TO HOW YOU TALK TO YOURSELF
Yes. It starts here. Are you beating yourself up with words like “I suck”, “I’m a terrible mom” “What is wrong with me?” If so, this is where you put your practice first. Those are words that a bully would say to you. What would a kind and caring friend, therapist, or mother say to you? Find those words and practice saying them to yourself.
2. PRACTICE FILLING YOUR TANK
Remember, an empty tank or a tank filled with junk has nothing to give. Can you eat just a bit healthier? Can you drink just a bit more water? Can you move your body just a bit more? Can you get to bed just a bit earlier? Notice the word “bit”. This does not have to be a giant shift for you. It’s the intention that matters. Baby steps count. I promise.
3. PRACTICE SETTLING YOUR NERVOUS SYSTEM
Our physiology doesn’t know the difference between real and perceived threat. If we tell ourselves something is bad or dangerous, our bodies will respond accordingly. So often in motherhood, we assume something is a problem when it really is not (think baby crying, not knowing what our kiddo needs in the moment, not being sure what choice to make, etc.). In these moments, we so often start to freak out, right? Our heart races, we feel panicky, and we can’t think straight. Instead, try a grounding practice- feel your feet on the floor, take 3 deep breaths, go outside and feel the sun on your face for a moment. Yes, tiny things like this help. We’ve got the science to prove it.
So, Lets break it down:
In summary self-care is:
- In service of your kiddos
- A work in progress
- Specific to each individual mother
- Distress tolerance brain work
Self-care is not:
- Taking care of yourself instead of your children
- Intended to remove or prevent discomfort
Self-care can look like:
- Anything, and I mean anything, that has the intention of keeping yourself healthy. So that you have what you really need to mother well.
So, what now? Pick something. One thing. And go do it. Yes, self-care can be that simple. Do it for your children. It’s great modeling and I promise that they will benefit from it. As will you, of course.
Kate Kripke, LCSW, PMH-C
Founder, Director, & Psychotherapist
The Postpartum Wellness Center/Boulder www.pwcboulder.com