Written by: MacKenzie Bradke, LCSW
As Moms, we are givers. We take care of everyone else. We eat cold food. We might get a shower every other day (I said might.) We might wear the same shirt two days in a row because we weren’t able to get to the laundry yesterday. We put ourselves at the end of the list because we’ve grown up with the misnomer that that’s what makes a good mom.
I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit. And it’s time to flip the script on that. Today, we’re talking about taking care of yourself. If you don’t do it, no one else is going to do it for you.
Over the last several years, a big buzz word has been self-care. What the heck is it; what does it mean and how do I do it; especially, as a busy Mom?
Many people would describe self-care as getting a massage, mani/pedi day with a girlfriend, watching your favorite show, or having a glass of wine or cocktail after the kids go to bed. While these are not wrong, they aren’t exactly getting to the heart of self-care. Self-care is more accurately described as everything you know you need to be doing to take care of yourself, but you’re not.
Self-care is moreso moving your body daily. Eating foods that nourish your body. Soaking in a hot bath. Going to the doctor when you need to. Sleeping when you need to. Putting the screens down an hour before bedtime. Having a bedtime routine that you actually practice. Breathing. Quality time with your partner (this may or may not include intimacy). Reading a good book. There are about a million other things that I could list for you that could be described as self-care. Some of these things will depend on each person’s needs, but there is a common quality to all of these activities: they are good for you. They nourish your mind, body and soul.
Our bodies need time to rest. They need time to reset. They need the opportunity to release toxins that build up in them. This is done by exercise, eating non-inflammatory foods, and breathing, to name a few. Breathing allows your body to slow down and activate it’s parasympathetic nervous system. Plainly stated, that is the nervous system that is responsible for the rest and digest functions of our body. When our body has time to rest, our digestive system actually has the opportunity to pull out the nutrients that it needs from the foods we eat so our bodies can use those nutrients. If our brains are always activated and the sympathetic nervous system is always fired up, those things stop and our bodies are prepped for running or fighting. You’ve heard this referred to as fight or flight. When our bodies spend too much time in that state of being, it causes inflammation, stress, overwhelm and pretty soon you’re sitting in my office (not that that’s a bad place to me, it’s pretty comfy there and I’m a fun therapist) feeling overwhelmed and wondering how you got there.
When I have a Mom in my office and we’re talking about her stress and she comes to the realization that she is putting herself last, we talk about how she has the important people in her life ordered and how jacked up it is. The order needs to read YOU, partner then children. Now hear me out on this before you start blowing up my email. This is not the order in which you love the people in your life. It’s just order of priority.
Let me paint a picture. If Mom is well rested, got in a walk/run, ate a good meal and is happy, how does the day go for pretty much everyone in the family, including the pets (and maybe even the grocery store cashier)? Everything runs smoothly and people are in a good mood. There is minimal yelling and Mom feels on top of the world today! Now, if mom hasn’t slept more than four hours for the last three days, the dishes are piled up in the sink and she hasn’t showered in as many days, do you think that’s a happy household? Hell. No. Run.
Ladies. We MUST take care of ourselves. We must tend to our relationship with our partner. If that relationship is on the outs as well, do you think Mom is going to ask for help? Nope. If none of the parents are happy, are the children happy? No! Do you see how important it is to take care of yourself?
We have to do these things for the health and well-being of ourselves, but also for our families. Is it easy? Goodness, no. But is it an essential part of being a good mother? You bet. Are you going to be better at it some days? Um, obvi. But is any little bit going to help? Yes.
So let’s focus on how we can improve our self-care while feeling like we are kicking butt at being a Mom. The list above is a great way to start.
Have the buy-in of your partner. If you’re getting up early some days to go to the gym or walk the neighborhood, your partner is going to need to know that and take over. Clearly communicating your needs and wants to your partner is key.
Have an accountability partner. Are you walking/running with a neighbor? Do you have an app that tracks your sleep? Do you use a Mindfulness app? Some great ones are Calm, Headspace and Balance. They track how many days in a row you’ve participated and if you’re anything like me, the little stars or “good jobs” are motivating to keep up with the streak. Do you go to an actual gym or class? Some instructors will actually check up on you if you miss a class or two. Talk about accountability.
A good bedtime routine. What does bedtime look like for you? Do you veg out in front of the TV after your kids go to bed (don’t judge me)? Consider taking a couple nights off and play a board game with your partner instead. There are some great companies out there that have relationship-specific games. You can subscribe to some of them and they send you a new game or adventure based on the frequency you choose. You might also consider a long bath one of these nights. A colleague shared with me recently that a warm bath or shower has the same effects that 30 minutes of exercise has in reducing inflammation stored in your body. Mind blown!
Here’s a simple recipe for a toxin-releasing bath: Add 1.5 cups Epsom salt and 1 cup baking soda to warm bath water. Other online recipes will have you add ginger or ground mustard and even apple cider vinegar. I prefer to add in high-grade essential oils, such as peppermint or eucalyptus, sometimes both, but those are optional. I also love lavender essential oil in my bath water. It smells relaxing as much as it does help me relax.
Breathe. Mama, I’m not talking about the breathing that our body already does beneath our conscious thought. I’m talking about intentional, Mindfulness breathing. Mindfulness is the art of “Paying attention to something, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Mindfully breathing is simple and oh so good for you. Put a hand on your chest and a hand on your belly. Inhale to the count of 4 pooching out your belly. Now, exhale to the count of 8 with your lips pursed like you’re blowing out a birthday candle. Pursing your lips helps you slow down the exhale. This is called diaphragmatic breathing. This is breathing that activates our parasympathetic nervous system, our relaxation nervous system. This is breathing that will breathe life into each cell of our bodies and calm you to a peace you didn’t know you were capable of. There is a whole lot of Mindfulness out in the world. One of my favorite Mindfulness practices is by creator Jon Kabat-Zin called Body Scan. The link to it is here: https://themindfulcoach.com/mindful-body-scan-by-jon-kabat-zinn/
This is 41 minutes of breathing that will legit put you to sleep. It’s amazing, give it a try, along with any of the others on the website. Guided meditation is helpful for reducing anxiety, depressive feelings and many other symptoms. There are so many places to get Mindfulness or meditation exercises. Find one that you like.
I challenge you to choose one new self-care practice to put into place this next week. Work on that for the next couple of weeks and then add another. Remember, self-care practice is as much for you as it is for the overall well-being of your family. As they say, If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. ;-)
MacKenzie Bradke is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Missouri and Arizona. She studied Family & Consumer Sciences at University of Northern Iowa, and she received her Masters in Social Work from Saint Louis University. You can find more information on MacKenzie, her services, and you can read additional blog posts from MacKenzie at https://bradkecounseling.com/