Let's clarify "Self-Care"
In my previous blog post, I talked about boundaries, which for me is core to the act of self-care. Without boundaries, self-care is a non-starter. This post is a continuation, and talks about self-care, and its importance in motherhood. It is interesting to hear different perceptions of what self-care entails, and what mothers may say about self-care. It typically can sound something like this...
Part 1: The misunderstanding
Mother 1: Yes, of course I do self-care. I managed to leave the house, without kids and get my hair done last week.
Mother 2: Oh that’s so nice. I went shopping on Saturday, on my own for a few hours. It was great.
Mother 3: How lovely. I too managed some ‘me time’ and got my nails done on Sunday.
And the conversation continues....
What is "Self-Care" then?
So what’s the big deal? This is self-care, right?
No, not exactly. Self-care may include such activities; however it takes more thought, commitment and planning than the random trip to the salon to get your nails done. Here are some definitions to illustrate:
“Self-care is an attitude that says I am responsible for myself.”
“The practice of taking action to preserve or improve one’s own health.” (Google)
Specifically to motherhood:
“The mother’s ability (or willingness) to take care of herself both physically and emotionally” (Barkin, et al, 2010).
Therefore, self-care is a deliberate act of looking after your mental, emotional, and physical health.
It is about taking responsibility and investing in yourself to live in a way that his more sustainable to look after your needs.
It is a life choice, as opposed to random activities to ‘pamper’ yourself and escape for a few hours from the day to day stresses.
Becoming aware of the barriers
Now, as a mom myself the theory of self-care sounds very straight forward, pleasant, and self-nurturing. I am a big advocate of self-care, but I understand some of the challenging it may bring in motherhood. Whatever roles you have in motherhood, there can be different challenges you may face.
These could be external barriers; things like practical issues such as finances, transportation, time limitations, or childcare. Or it could be more related to internal barriers; lower self-esteem, lack of confidence, procrastination, fear, poor planning, lack of flexible thinking, perfectionism, or guilt (a big one for mamas).
One study highlighting some of the barriers was undertaken by Barkin and Wisner (2013). They carried out focus groups with 31 new mothers (who had given birth in the last year). One of the themes from the support groups was barriers in practicing effective self care. Mothers identified three main barriers: time, limited resources, and difficulty asking for help and setting boundaries. Not all moms may know, or understand the reasons for their own barriers to self-care. This is ok, understanding some of the barriers may be the first step in taking responsibility for themselves and implementing changes to engage in self-care.
Let’s be realistic.
Moms have lots of responsibilities, so self-care may feel like adding something else to the pile of growing tasks. Especially when you are already running on empty with what seems no light at the end of the tunnel. So I think it is also important to be realistic with self-care goals and plans. All the more reason to try and carve out a little time to think about your self-care goals. Some things in motherhood are absolutes, and Julie Burton (2016) identified three things she discovered in motherhood:
Understanding your own limits, boundaries and ‘absolutes’ is important when identifying what it is you want from the act of self-care. It can also help with providing a sense of control; what is in your control to change and what is not.
What are our self-care options?
When it comes to deciding how to engage in self-care, there are lots of options. I found this really nice infographic that shows the different forms of self-care:
So there are lots of options available, and this is just something to give you an idea of the different types of self-care. And getting your nails done could be one of the activities you want to do, but it does not define the act of self-care. Finding something that it genuinely beneficial and realistic for you is fundamental to the process.
Ready, set, go!
The next step is formulating goals and plans in order to achieve self-care. So, it is not without some efforts, but it will pay off. “A goal without a plan is just a wish” (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) and “it takes as much energy to wish as it does to plan” (Eleanor Roosevelt). Here are some tips to help with implementing change:
Is self-care really that important in motherhood?
By now I hope you are getting a favour of the real side of self-care. Yes, it can be challenging, time consuming and require effort in the first instance, however the paybacks are greater. Self-care can personally positively affect your mental and physical well-being, develop a stronger sense of self (this is important in motherhood), empower and can have a positive effect on your relationships with your family and friends. By engaging in self-care you are recognising that you are important and that you deserve attention.
Self-care may be an area of your life that you would like to develop, and talk to other mothers about. Talking and sharing experiences can be a first step to realising your needs and formulating self-care goals.
For any mother, who can relate to this blog post, or mothers that want to connect and talk about their motherhood experiences in an open and safe place, we are here to offer support. There are a number of ways you can take control of your motherhood and take action:
Barkin, J. L, et al. (2010). Assessment of functioning in new mothers. Journal of Woman’s Health, 19, 1493-1499.
Barkin, J. L. & Wisner, K. L. (2013). The role of maternal self-care in new motherhood. Midwifery, 29, 1050-1055.
Blessing Manifesting (2019). Home page. https://www.blessingmanifesting.com/
Burton, J. (2016). The Self-Care Solution. Berkeley: She Writes Press.
Melody Beattie (2019). Home page. Retrieved from: https://melodybeattie.com/
Virk, H, (2019). Not another self-care-in-motherhood blog post. Retrieved from: https://www.antiloneliness.com/family
Written by Helena Virk, M.Sc.
Psychologist at AntiLoneliness
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