Self care seems to be the buzz word du jour in the health and wellbeing world, as well as mothering circles. But it can mean so many things to so many people. You've probably heard the sayings "look after yourself first, so that you can look after others better", "put your oxygen mask on first" or "you can't pour from an empty cup". But depending on your situation, self care, or how you fill your cup / charge your batteries will look different. What does it mean for mums? Where does it fit in when you're so sleep deprived you're mainlining coffee and life seems like someone has set the incline and speed on the treadmill to max? If you have young kids it's most likely not spa days and leisurely lunches with your friends. Or even soaking in the bath for 20 minutes. Those things are nice, of course. But what you really need are some realistic and doable things you can do frequently to get you through, and thriving, in motherhood.
After having my second child I did a lot of research into self care and how to use it to manage my PND and anxiety. Much of what I found was not at all realistic for new mums and quite frankly, made me pretty cross. Here's just a small selection of suggestions:
* Get 8 hours sleep (sleep always seems the most important advice for anything (for good reason) - yet it's so far out of reach for most with small kids!)
* waking up before your kids so that you can have some quiet/me time (lovely in theory but in combination with the first point utterly unattainable)
* journal in the morning, and if possible at night, too
* meditate for 20 - 30 minutes
* body brushing (no joke. Apparently very good for dealing with anxiety. Not so good if I'm barely managing to find time to pee.)
* low/no sugar diet, all organic and cooked from scratch (again, lovely in theory but who has the time - small kids or not? The pressure of "clean eating" drove my anxiety through the roof like nothing else and sleep deprivation will do a number on your willpower and cravings. Hello carb city!)
* taking time away from your kids. A lunch, some shopping, a spa day every couple of months. (3 problems with this. 1) breast fed baby won't take a bottle 2) no money 3) no childcare)
Don't get me wrong, all of the above would have helped massively with my PND and anxiety, and as the kids get older I will most likely incorporate some of them into my daily routine (except body brushing. Ain't nobody got time for that), but it's currently just not realistic.
If you're anything like me your situation may look a little like this - Husband works long hours so you are unable to leave the house by yourself before 8pm, if at all. You don't eat dinner until 8:30 at the earliest and collapse on the sofa afterwards (or you MAY accomplish ONE task on your 15000 item to do list before you crumble), you breastfeed so need to be around every couple of hours at least to feed a tiny human, you're up before dawn with the baby as well as being up at night and and you don't have family near you that would be able to give you a break even occasionally.
So, let's re-frame self care for mums. In a simple and realistic way.
Self care are things you do to ensure you don't go bananas. It stops you from snapping at your kids (or your partner) on the regular. It makes you feel like a person that's worth caring for and reminds you that you matter, too.
Depending on where you are in your parenting journey, self care will look very different. Here are just a few examples that ring true from my own life.
Early days / tiny baby survival mode / hysteria:
Brushing your teeth on your own while husband holds the baby (who'd have thought this would feel like a luxury one day?).
Sleeping in shifts to stay sane.
Buying ready meals or eating out so there's no washing up to do and no meals to plan.
Remembering to take a few deep breaths a few times a day.
Going out for a walk with baby in the pram/sling (fresh air and an outside perspective really are amazing).
Have a shower. Even if it means letting baby have a little cry in the bouncy chair. You'll feel much more human. Promise.
And most importantly some mind set adjustments - Lower your expectations. Of yourself and of your life at this stage. It will pass (as everyone will remind you, although the jury is out on whether it will go quickly or not) but it is flipping hard.
A little later, when baby is crawling/walking things can become a little more adventurous:
The perfect toddler group where your child is happy, the coffee is good and there are some mums on a similar wavelength for you to chat to.
The odd trip to the supermarket by yourself (aka mum's holiday).
Having a little stretch on the floor while baby eats lunch / watches tv / tries to put on a sock. Throw in some light exercise if baby is of the "will play by itself variety". Not many are!
Having a bath.
A little later still, baby is weaned and sleeping a little better:
Some nights out with a friend where you'll fight the temptation of talking about your kids all night but you'll be reminded that there is life after 8pm and you can be part of it!
Starting an exercise class or committing to some scheduled movement of sorts at home.
Adding more veg and fruit into your diet to nourish yourself and replenish some of the nutrients that having a young baby may have depleted.
A shopping trip (and NO shopping for your kids).
But most importantly, and at every stage, it is the really small, generic things that can make the biggest difference in this season of time and sleep starvation. Like wearing clothes that fit well. Clothes that you're "saving" for a special occasions. That occasion is now, because you deserve to feel good in your own skin. Using a really nice shower gel or light a lovely candle. Allowing yourself to breathe deeply a few times each day.
And in many ways the most important part of self care is working on your mindset and your thought processes. Your life now may be so far removed from your life before kids, it's hard to let go of the standards you had for yourself previously. Either in the work space or at home.
Learn to talk kindly to yourself, cut yourself some slack and be accepting of and patient with yourself. It's a really, really, ridiculously hard job to be a mum. If you were someone's boss, you wouldn't ever talk to them like you do to yourself in your own head. So find some kindess and patience for yourself and fit in some self care every day. You matter. So much. Look after yourself.