Self-care for Moms: Realistic Advice for Radical Results

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A No-BS Response to Self-Care Culture

Ohhhh, self-care for moms.

Moms are constantly urged to take time for ourselves, to prioritize self-care, to fill our own cups first.

This battle cry of the #tiredmom has become so ubiquitous that it’s now yet another item to cram onto our already-stuffed to-do lists.

“Today I will: do laundry, make three meals and 37 snacks, drive carpool, work my 9-5, help with a science project, spend time with my partner, clean the bathrooms, and also do Self-Care.”

Guess which item gets dropped from the list first?

You Are Enough

Here’s the best-kept secret of parenthood: you the best possible mother for your children. Yes, you. Right now. Even with the dirty dishes and the yoga pants and the crazy-busy job and the family commitments.

This is not a conditional situation. There are no qualifiers.

You do not need to find more Pinterest art activities or make more homemade meals.

You do not need a cleaner house or to lose weight.

You do not need more stuff. You do not need less stuff. KonMarie is not the answer (at least, not necessarily).

None of these will make you a better mother for your kids than you already are.

Sure, some of these things might make parenting easier. They might make you happier or help you manage, but none of them are required to be a good parent.

You, right now, just as you, are the absolute best possible mother for these children.

HOWEVER.

Self-care can make it easier to take care of these kids that we love so much.

Yes, we love our angels, they are the light of our lives, and we’re so #blessed…yada yada yada.

But the reality is that it is impossible to show up for our kids and to respond to their needs with love if we are completely depleted.

And here is the second Great Big Parenting Secret that no one will tell you: the best possible gift that you can give your kids is a happy, healthy, emotionally stable mother.

And the answer to this quandary isn’t necessarily more pedicures or girls’ nights (although these are awesome, and I fully support them).

It might mean signing up for a twice-monthly cleaning service. It might mean dropping the homemade baby food and using pouches or jars instead. It might mean going to therapy. It might mean ending your breastfeeding relationship, if it’s causing you agony and keeping you from connecting with your child. (*Cue the hate mail, but for some, it’s true.*)

What REAL self-care means is that you need to give yourself a break from the things that are NOT priorities to make time for what really matters. It means letting go of the things that are causing more pain than they’re worth, to leave space for the joy.

True Self-Care Means Making Time For What Matters

So often, self-care is described as a solitary activity. Time at the gym, by yourself. Time at the spa, solo. A hot shower, alone.

And yes, with small children underfoot, alone-time is hard to come by.

But what if we looked at true self-care as something we did to make our normal, every day routines more enjoyable?

If our days are so challenging that we need to schedule time away from them, then maybe we need to take a look at how we’re filling our days.

What if, instead, we structured our days and our lives to allow time for the activities that fill us up? That nourish our souls?

Yes, that might include reading a great novel in bed with a bowl of ice cream balanced on your chest (wait, is that just me?).

For you, that might mean a regular visit to the nail salon. It might mean a daily trip to the gym. It might mean a long walk by yourself. Those are awesome, and I’m not saying that alone time isn’t an important part of self-care.

And don’t get me wrong, life with small children is incredibly draining — it’s impossible to #loveeverymoment and #cherish, 100% of the time. This isn’t about that.

What I’m saying is that it’s also self-care to turn down the birthday party invite and instead go for a weekly hike with your family. It might mean more family dinners, with no screens in the way. It might mean saying no to a million extracurriculars and committees so that you create some breathing room for yourself and your family.

It might mean that you embrace the fact that getting down on the floor and playing make-believe drives you insane after five minutes, or that if the kids break out the play-dough on the carpet one more time, you might lose it.

It might mean that you say “no” to playdates at your house because the clean-up stresses you out too much, or it might mean that you avoid taking your kids to the noisy play-space at the mall because they turn into impossible heathens the second they’re let loose.

Self-care can mean cutting things out of your life — even good, valuable things, if they make you crazy. Own it, mama, and move on.

But what if self-care could also be something bigger?

What if self-care meant creating a life that you love, right now?

Creating a Life You Love

Creating a life you love can look like big changes or little changes.

I was tired of the life we were leading back in the US — too expensive, too disconnected, too focused on career over family. We moved abroad, I quit my job, I pulled my kids out of school, and I started writing a book. I made BIG changes so that I could live the life I wanted.

For me, self-care meant accepting that traditional professional success just wasn’t going to fulfill me long-term. It meant accepting that I believe this is really, truly the one chance we get to live this life. Right now.

I was tired of constantly thinking, “Well, I’ll just endure this until…” Until we move next. Until I find a job. Until I get promoted. Until I finish this degree. Until my baby sleeps through the night. Until I get pregnant again. (And so on and so on.)

This is it, guys. This is our CHANCE.

And these are our kids! For the most part, we get 18 birthdays with them. Eighteen summers. Eighteen holidays. Eighteen back-to-school pictures where they awkwardly smile while standing on our front stoop holding a sign we printed off the internet. How many of these moments have already slipped by? How many did you just “survive” without really noticing?

What if, instead, you could enjoy these moments with your kids right now? With your job? With your partner?

Don’t Apologize for Your Privileges

I fully own that this idea comes from a place of privilege — I have the privilege to have a partner who earns enough money that I don’t have to work unless I want to. I have the privilege to live in a country where we can afford quality household help. I have the privilege of a good education, making it easier to chase after those Big Dreams that keep me up at night.

But, first of all, we made choices — hard choices — to allow for those privileges. We gave up traditional life in America to have these privileges, including birthday parties with cousins, traditional linear career paths (and the financial security those entail), being able to grocery-shop in a language we understand, and family Christmases with the grandparents. (And Target. Don’t forget about Target.)

Second of all, just because we have these privileges (either earned or granted by virtue of the fact that I was born into a wealthy country to loving parents with ample resources) — that doesn’t mean we have to apologize for them or refuse to use them.

And to be clear, I am not talking about inherent privileges because I am white, raised in a majority religion in my part of the world, and middle class. That is a whole separate issue. But also — it is an opportunity. An opportunity to be cognizant of my own privileges, where others might lack, and how we can all enable each other as part of a community. That is a big topic, and too much for this post, but I want you to know — I am aware. I don’t have all the answers there, but I’m working on it.

And finally, these privileges are a gift that is meant to be used. We have these educations, these kids, these partners, these homes — and yet so many of us are still unhappy. Or maybe it’s not that bad — we’re just a bit discontent. Something feels off, and we’re not sure what.

We did everything we were supposed to do — school, marriage, mortgage, good job, kids. What gives?

We go to the gym, we get the pedicures, we schedule the girls’ nights, we join the book clubs — why isn’t our “self-care” working? Why are we still so run-down?

We cannot change the privileges we were given. We can only move forward, accepting where we’ve come from, and with determination to create a life we love, no matter where that takes us.

And I want to be clear, I am not minimizing those who have experienced serious trauma, or poverty, or loss, or upheaval, or abandonment, or illness or abuse. There are people all around us with very real struggles. What I’m saying is that we all have certain circumstances in our life that are a given, and it’s our choice how we use them moving forward.

Wait, I Thought This Was About Self-Care?

Stick with me.

What I’m trying to say is that if we’re constantly having to seek out self-care AWAY from our families and our homes, then perhaps we need to re-think how we run our families and our homes.

Don’t get me wrong, I will always need a little quiet time to myself. No matter how great things are going with my kids or my spouse, I will always need some time for my own projects. And also, I really like pedicures and girls’ nights.

But I encourage you to also look at structural changes to your day and your home and your life that make it easier to enjoy your life right now.

It can be big stuff, like changing jobs or going back to school or moving closer (or farther) from family.

Or, it can be little things — like dropping a few unnecessary commitments, making more time for family outings, or even taking an evening off every week for a painting class in your community.

Yes, I moved to a new country and quit my job and started chasing after some big dreams.

But I still have little kids who drive me nuts and a ton of projects pulling me in a lot of different directions.

So, on a small-scale, self-care means that I have to drop that extra hour of productivity around the house and go for a walk with my kids every day. The sunshine and fresh air does so much to buoy my mood that it’s become both non-negotiable and self-reinforcing. I also admitted that I needed to send my older daughter to a pre-k program two days a week, even though we’re homeschooling, just to give myself a little chance to re-set.

But the bigger picture meant that I also had to accept that I was willing to let go of the number on my bank account balance and the line-items on my resumé for the opportunity to stay home with my kids and pursue some non-traditional projects.

That was my ultimate act of self-care.

Honor Your Reality

If you have a sick child, or if you’re going through a divorce, or you have serious financial issues — I get it. You won’t be moving overseas or quitting your job any time soon.

And there will always be periods in our lives where we’re in survival mode for a short period — new babies who don’t sleep, difficult pregnancies, challenging patches in our careers or marriages that we otherwise love. That’s okay.

Some of us deal with depression or anxiety, some of us have to support extended family members, and some of us have kids with special needs — I am not minimizing that.

This isn’t about running away from our responsibilities. It isn’t about ignoring the challenges of our day-to-day realities.

But there is no prescriptive answer for how much is “too much.” We have to be honest with ourselves if this is simply a rough patch in our lives that requires some white-knuckling, or if we’ve gotten into a bigger pattern that needs to change.

If it’s simply a rough patch, self-care in these situations might look smaller. But it still requires bravery — bravery to admit that you might need help, that you need more community, that you need more time alone, that you need fewer commitments — whatever it means to you, right now, to make your days not just survivable, but enjoyable. Even in the midst of chaos.

Where can you catch those moments of joy, and turn them into something that you look forward to every day or every week? Maybe it’s as small as the special high-five you give your kid as they leave for school, or taking a few seconds to smile over the family pictures on your wall. Whatever it is, find the moments that give you joy, and be intentional about seeking them out and savoring them.

Fill Your Cup…And Don’t Apologize For It

Self-care is not selfish.

Taking time for yourself, your family, and your mental health — these are not selfish acts. These are the acts of a courageous mother who knows that she cannot respond lovingly and peacefully if she is burnt out. It takes bravery to ask for help, to take a stand a say, “I need this time for myself” or even “I want a different kind of life.”

What does it mean to fill your own cup? Are things generally okay, and you just need a break? Do you need to schedule a mother’s helper for an hour so you can do an exercise video and take a shower in peace? Does it mean that you need to take a nap every day while your kids nap, even if it means leaving dishes in the sink?

Does it mean that you need to stretch yourself to make more friends in your community? Does it mean you need to be more vulnerable and open with your spouse or your family when you need help?

Or does it mean you need to re-think your career path? Go to couples therapy? Or maybe downsize (or up-size) your home?

What I’m saying is that self-care is about so much more than pedicures.

And that’s not selfish.

It makes us better parents, and it models to our children that we value happiness, family, and community above bank account balances and fancy degrees on the wall.

It takes bravery to stand up and say, “I want to ENJOY my motherhood and my children and my marriage and my job — and that might look untraditional.”

It might mean working less, and for some, it might mean working more.

It might mean weekly date nights and family hikes, and it might mean an annual yoga retreat away from your family.

It might mean homeschooling, and it might mean traditional school.

It might mean breastfeeding past age two (or three), and it might mean using formula from the day they’re born.

What I’m saying is that it takes bravery to create a life that you truly love. It takes bravery to say that the traditional choices aren’t working for you. It takes ENORMOUS bravery to put your foot down on yet another year of “survival mode.”

But it’s the difference between laying on your deathbed with regrets and laying there with the satisfaction that at least you lived.

Don’t just do it for you. Do it for your kids. Do it for your family.

Be brave, mama.

You got this.


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9 thoughts on “Self-care for Moms: Realistic Advice for Radical Results

  1. This is post is so good! I absolutely agree with you. If self-care is something we seek away from our families then maybe we need to think how we run our homes and families! Brilliant!

    1. It’s easier said than done! Life with little kids can be sooooo draining, even on a great day. But alone-time is just part of the bigger picture of self-care, right?

  2. You know something that stuck out to me that you probably didn’t intend, but partway through your post it clicked for me. It is so pushed that “self-care” means having to do something “alone” like you said, though for someone like me who also has moved to another country I crave miss having time with people. It was something that came up when I first became a nanny here, and now 4 years later as a mom….sometime we need time with other adults without children around to interrupt our conversations or pull us away as we save them from climbing the sidetable. Having the time to have a full conversation with other adults and have meaningful conversations that stimulate our minds. Self-care can also mean making time to do a club or activity once or twice a week to have time with other humans besides your partner (my hubby always takes this personally, but it would mean a lot to me to have something of mine to make friends again…but never seems to happen in our small town). Anways…i’ve waay sidetracked there, but that it where my mind went reading your post. Self-care has many faces, not just “alone” time to have a mani/pedi or gym sesh.

    1. Yes!! I feel like “self-care” has become the new buzzword for the simple concept of just doing things that make us happy, for creating a life that fulfills us. For example, one weird way I’ve embraced “self-care” is admitting how much a clean, beautiful space lifts me up. It’s not necessarily frugal or easy to do this when we move every 2-3 years, but having a lovely space REALLY affects my mood and well-being. I wish I could be more like my husband, and just roll with bare walls or weeds in the garden or mis-matched curtains — it would certainly be cheaper and easier, considering how often we move. But I’ve tried that route, and those things bother me on a daily basis, I just never get over them. This makes me realize that I could never be a full minimalist, whatever that means. But that’s okay. It’s how I’m wired. I now embrace it, I make changes to my space even if I’ll only be there a few months, and I try to make every place we stay lovely and restful. Is that self-care?

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