Self-care is a term that’s been tossed around a lot lately. Sure, we all need alone time and long walks, and a silent soak in the bathtub is nice (if you like that sort of thing), and yeah, I love a sheet mask as much as the next girl, but trying to pretend like those things are actually self-care is a bit of a stretch. Those things are sweet little pleasures life, many of which we, as moms, certainly don’t get much of. Small breaks and little things that lift us up are indeed very important. But, is that self-care? I’d have to disagree.
Actually taking care of yourself looks very different and it’s not always sweet and fun and instantly refreshing. It can be difficult, complicated, uncomfortable, and sometimes, downright soul-shaking.
But, I’m of the mindset that the hard work of bettering one’s self is always worth the effort – to be better each day in both big and small ways is something we should all strive for and work towards. As mothers, particularly, we hold a lot of weight on our shoulders while cradling the future in our hands and if we are not our best selves (let’s be clear – this means the best version of every individual self and not any one particular definition of “best”), it gets much hard to lift and love on others.
I am a flawed person, but what I want my children and loved ones to remember of me is that I constantly tried to take hard looks in the mirror, learned from my errors and missteps, and grew with the knowledge that I took in each day. I want them to remember that I was not perfect, that no one is, but that every person is capable of great and beautiful things – one of which is the evolution of a soul through a lifetime.
Face masks and hot showers are lovely. So are occasional Netflix binges and big stacks of gooey brownies. But the real work of self-care goes beyond those things to actually create a meaningful life and a strong, healthy person in which you can take great pride.
So, here’s how I’m planning to prioritize myself more this year:
1. Accept help
Listen, as someone who is very reluctant to ask for help, I get it. Sometimes, it’s much easier to just do it yourself. The reality is, though, that you can’t do everything yourself, and asking for help is not a sign of failure or shortcoming. It’s just a sign of, well, reality. Everyone needs help at some point.
Many times, we resist asking for or accepting help because the helper is not going to do the task exactly as you do. This often results in us, as mothers, feeling largely overwhelmed, frustrated, and alone. What we need to do is let go of the reins a bit and let others help.
Yes, your husband, mother-in-law, or nanny might not approach child-rearing exactly how you do. Yes, the babysitter might not put all the dishes or toys away in the right place. Yes, your neighbor or friend might not make dinner the same way you do. But, you know what? In the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t matter and it’s on you to let those things go.
Accept help, and use that time to spend on something you really want to do – like a workout, coffee date, or a nap. Not only will you feel refreshed and rejuvenated from the momentary release of responsibility, but your kids will also be just fine (albeit, maybe slightly more messy/sugar-crazed/wild than you left them).
2. Find a healthy emotional outlet
Speaking of strength, being able to manage emotions in a healthy way is the mark of a truly strong person. What people don’t always realize is that this is a skill that requires know-how and practice, and many of us weren’t taught how to do so growing up. Mental health skills simply weren’t emphasized as they are now (and even now, there’s work to do).
This means, if you don’t have a great grasp on your emotions (this includes emotional outbursts, anger, sadness, negative self-talk, resentment, jealousy, or anything of the sort), you might have to spend some time learning. Therapy is great for this – so are support groups, self-improvement books, and guided mindfulness journals, depending on where your needs are.
As mothers, we have a tendency to go-go-go without taking the time to sit with our thoughts and feelings and move through them. This sometimes leads to feeling overwhelmed, out of control, and like you’re failing. When we neglect this major part of our psyche, it directly impacts our most important relationships, particularly, our kids. If you’ve been feeling completely stressed out and on edge lately, there’s a good chance you’re not addressing many of the layers within. Now is the time.
3. Start standing up for yourself
Whether it’s at work, in your personal life, or in response to mom-shaming, get used to the idea of sticking up for yourself. Yes, it’s scary and stressful and sometimes feels impossible, but it’s important. It’s an exercise in self-respect, and for a lot of us, building self-esteem is something that requires constant practice.
At work, learn to be firm and take credit for your work and ideas. Be aware of when you’re being asked to do something consistently beyond your job description (staying late, working overtime, being overwhelmed with additional tasks) and ask for compensation if you choose to take those duties on.
When someone questions your parenting decisions, it’s okay to brush it off. But, if you’re the type (like me) who holds on to others’ negative comments for a lot longer than you should, try a firm and brief response: “We’re going to keep doing what we deem best,” is simple, non-confrontational, and gets the point across. Responding this way will help you validate your own choices – after all, you do know your child better than anyone else.
4. Stand up for others
On the same note, it’s important to step outside of yourself, as well. If you’re not in the habit of volunteering, donating, and making strides towards social justice, it’s never too late to start.
This doesn’t have to be complicated either – you don’t have to give thousands to charity or pledge to support an international village (though those are both amazing thoughts). Sometimes we get caught up in the idea of not being able to do enough that we forget to do anything at all. But small, simple things can make a tremendous impact, especially in your community. Ask your child’s teacher if she needs any help with daily tasks, call a women’s shelter and see if you can pick up some extra groceries for them, offer to collect blankets and towels for your local dog shelter. Make it a point to call your representatives when there’s an important issue coming to vote, refuse to frequent establishments or brands that don’t practice inclusivity, stop using plastic straws.
Social impact doesn’t have to be grand, it just has to be meaningful and done with good intentions.
But small, simple things can make a tremendous impact, especially in your community.
5. Take a long, hard look at yourself
The most meaningful self-care you can do is the work of knowing and growing yourself. Yes, that means digging into your goals and dreams, building good habits, uncovering scars, and taking time to heal.
But, it also means digging deep and unveiling longstanding prejudices and unearthing deeply rooted stereotypes that could make their way into your kids. It means learning how to recognize your privilege — your white privilege, your feminist privilege, your economic privilege, your education privilege, your religious privilege, your privilege in never having to deal with documentation, colonialism, or language or cultural fluency. Whatever applies to you, make yourself aware and learn how to translate those privileges into support for people whose struggles you will never understand, but from whom you can learn so much.
Recognize that you have something, many things, to learn. Recognize that you don’t know it all. Recognize that your pain, your grief, your worries are different from others’ – not less than, but different. Recognize the intersectionality involved in racism and feminism and how you can’t stand for one thing without standing for the other. Recognize that many mothers all over the world hold a weight from which you are free.
Commit to learn from them and stand with them.
6. Take a social media break
We all love social media – it’s a way to stay connected, entertained, and get some awesome inspiration for all the things. It’s also something that can take a toll on our well-being if we’re not careful.
The problem with only consuming curated content is that, after a while, you begin to think that your real life is not up to par. Social media doesn’t often show the piled up laundry and messy kitchen and raccoon eyes after a long night up with baby. When you look around your reality and compare it to everyone’s highlight reel, your negative self-talk is sure to increase. Why am I such a mess? Why does my baby never sleep? Why don’t my kids pick up their toys, why are their toys not as cute as everyone else’s? What am I doing wrong?
The problem with only consuming curated content is that, after a while, you begin to think that your real life is not up to par. Social media doesn’t often show the piled up laundry and messy kitchen and raccoon eyes after a long night up with baby.
It’s easy to fall into a rabbit hole of comparison and self-doubt, but here’s the thing: it’s just as easy to climb out. Want to hear my secret? Stop scrolling. Take a break – for a day, a week, a month, as long as you want. When you decide to come back, do one thing before you make your big return. Unfollow or hide posts from anyone who makes you feel less than. This could be big brands, bloggers, or even family or friends. Just don’t look anymore. I promise you won’t miss them. Keep following accounts who inspire you or teach you or add to your life in some way. You’ll start to feel lighter almost immediately.
7. Look at your budget
I’m not a budget person, I’ll admit. But it’s ignorant to not know how much you’re not spending or saving, especially when, as moms, we’re probably doing the majority of the spending and shopping for the family. It’s easy to get out of hand unintentionally (those Target trips to pick up milk or diapers don’t help).
Creating and sticking to a budget can give you a much better handle on how much you’re spending and on what. This will give you a better idea of how much you have to save to actually get what you want, need, or what you can give. It’s not fun, but it is necessary.
8. Cut out toxic relationships
We all have them – friends, family, or acquaintances who take advantage or constantly criticize or demean. We often tolerate as best as we can, but as you get older, it seems a little silly to keep doing so. What’s the point?
If someone is filling your life with negative energy, if someone is making you feel overwhelmed or stressed out or bad about yourself – just let them go. We often feel so trapped by obligation that we neglect to think about the wear these sorts of relationships can take on our well-being. But, we’re not required to hold the weight of another. We can keep our space sacred.
This doesn’t mean you have to be rude or cutthroat. It just means you create space for yourself. You can still be civil at gatherings, pick up a FaceTime once in a while, or tolerate a play date every now and then. You can also say “no” – you can say “I prefer not to talk about this,” you can say, “Please don’t speak about others like that,” you can say, “We’re just going to spend the day on our own.” You can fill your space and time in a way that feels good for you and takes into account the energy you want around your children.
9. Reflect and accept
The ability to self-reflect is one of the greatest tools you can have in your self-care arsenal because reflection is what brings growth. Once you are able to take a look at your choices and mistakes, you’ll be in the mindset that allows you to learn from them and see where you can improve.
You’ll also be able to be to begin to accept those parts of you that make you you and understand that every strength you have likely has a corresponding weakness (for instance, I’m pretty creative, but I am not tidy). Understanding these things give you room to grow in self-acceptance. You can choose what you want to work on, and what’s really okay as-is.
10. Learn to say “no”
This is a big one, y’all. In fact, this is something that we can stand to learn from our kids. They’re not shy to say “no.” In fact, they say it all the time. Usually, it’s not at appropriate times or places, but the intent is always the same – they don’t want to do what they don’t want to do.
Of course, that’s not always possible for toddlers and not always possible for adults, either. But, learning how to say “no” firmly and directly, without the need for explanation or apology sends an important message – you are in control of your own life. As social beings, we tend to want to please others and feel a sense of obligation in saying “yes.” But, as those yeses add up, what we actually do to ourselves is overcommit our time, energy, and resources and leave ourselves, and often our families, stretched way too thin.
This is something that we can stand to learn from our kids. They’re not shy to say “no.” In fact, they say it all the time.
Learning to say “no,” guilt-free, is a skill that can go a long way in creating a life from which you don’t feel like escaping.