Self-Care for Mothers: Your Motherhood Guide
We hear this term a lot these days. It is bounded around as a reminder to look after ourselves, to not let us take on too much, to take time out to nurture our needs. I am totally brought into the importance of this, especially as a mom. However, as a mom I find it difficult to commit to this choice and way of looking out for my own well-being. There is always something that we think is more important, which seems ridiculous as what could be more important than looking after yourself!
I was reminded of the importance of self-care in a recent trip or “momcation” I took. I had been really busy with various home and work activities, and reconnecting with my needs and spending some time with friends was just the reminder I required to get in touch with what I enjoy, more positive emotions, and importantly what I needed. Now, I know the struggles that women may face in relation to time away from home for such trips, and this blog is not about that. There’s lots of things already out there that talk about such benefits. No, instead I am going to talk about boundaries. This trip reminded me of the importance of boundaries in my own life.
Understanding Boundaries and Self-Care
Let’s start at the beginning, what do we mean when we say boundaries? Some of us may have a mental image of barriers, ‘drawing a line in the sand’, a space that we call our own, or saying ‘no’ when we need to. When I think about boundaries, I see them as a kind of framework I work to, to experience and manage my emotions, thoughts, behaviours and interactions with others. It helps me to create a bit of wiggle room for myself to deal with what I need and allows myself to meet my needs. There can be different types of boundaries: physical boundaries (creating your own personal space); emotional boundaries (allowing yourself to feel your own emotions but not taking on the emotions of others); interpersonal boundaries (understanding the relationships you have with others); or time boundaries (protecting the time you have to engage in meaningful things), just to name a few.
Identifying your Needs as a Mother
But let’s face it, being a mother can blur or even demolish these idealistic ways of looking at boundaries. When you enter motherhood your boundaries may completely transform. For example in terms of physical boundaries, it may be challenging to find your own time as you are ever focused on providing what your baby needs. Of course, this is not a bad thing, you are being a loving and nurturing mother, but remember the space for yourself. Or, it could be that you have a lot of unsolicited advice from people who think they are helping, but actually you find it quite stressful and what you really want is to figure things out by yourself or with your partner. Such situations can be tiring physically and emotionally and may leave little time left to think about what we need during motherhood.
On the subject of needs, this prompts me to think about the approach of Abraham Maslow (1943) and his Hierarchy of Needs. The basic premise is that there are a hierarchy of human needs with the most fundamental like food, water, sleep and shelter at the bottom and more complex needs higher up. In order to reach the highest ‘self-actualising’ level all the other needs have to be met, and without effective boundaries in place this would be very hard to achieve. Think about the very beginning of motherhood, sometimes it is challenging to have our basic needs met. Setting boundaries can help us with this to ensure that we not only have the more basic needs met but we also move towards having the more complex needs met too.
Taken from: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. © http://www.simplypsychology.org
Why Is It Important to Set Boundaries? 5 Reasons
Let’s be honest, some of us may feel that this is a rather selfish approach. I would respectfully disagree. Setting boundaries in motherhood is not selfish; it is looking after your best interests. There are many benefits of setting (and maintaining) boundaries in motherhood. I will mention as few that stick out in my mind:
How To Recognize Boundaries and Practice Self-Care
How do we know if we have not set boundaries in our lives? A good indication of this is that there will be some form of emotional response. Something that may make us feel annoyed, frustrated, tired, overwhelmed or sad. So recognising this and the reason for our emotions this is a good start, and then we can start to think about what we can change to ensure that our needs are met. Making plans and thinking about boundaries is important but what we also need to do is define and communicate our boundary with the relevant person or people, be that our partner, family, or friends. Without them on board, it can be hard to carry about what we need.
This sounds very simplistic, however the reality of this process can be a bit trickier to execute because we are human and there can be barriers that get in the way of healthy boundary setting. Boundary setting can be very challenging for mothers, especially where some level of self-sacrifice comes with the territory. Let’s pause to briefly think about why it can be challenging.......
Maybe there is a higher level of mama guilt, seeing your child or children as the most important thing and your needs taking a back seat, may be you have lower self-esteem in your new role, maybe you are experiencing some mental health issues, maybe you are worried about the effect on your relationships, it could be that you have never learnt to put boundaries in place before motherhood, or maybe you simply do not know what you want or need. All these reasons are valid and should be given space to acknowledge.
Some people take the perspective that setting boundaries is a form of self-care. I think setting healthy personal boundaries is self-care; it is at the heart of the process. Have a go. You are definitely worth it.
For any mother, who can relate to this blog, 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.
Read related articles from our blog:
Burton, J. (2016). The Self-Care Solution. Berkeley: She Write Press.
Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50(4), 370-396.
Momcation - https://www.scarymommy.com/10-reasons-you-need-a-momcation/
Types of boundaries - https://psychcentral.com/lib/what-are-personal-boundaries-how-do-i-get-some/
Written by Helena Virk, M.Sc.
Psychologist at AntiLoneliness
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