Upon becoming a mother, I really worried about being a good one. I wanted to fill my child’s life with happiness and comfort, to teach him, feed him, love him, and float from one blissful moment to the next. I’d read a lot books, talked to friends, babysat, and I felt ready. I naively thought the best way to achieve these high expectations was to give everything I had to serving the baby. Isn’t this how “good” mothers do it? After months and months of striving for these unrealistic expectations, I hit rock bottom. One day I found myself in a blubbering mess while on the phone with my boss (poor guy). I couldn’t stop crying. I felt like my soul had been sucked out of me and a hollow robot shell was left going through the motions. Worst of all I was filled with resentment toward my baby and husband, like this was somehow their fault. I knew something was wrong but had no idea how to fix it. The only reasonable explanation I could come to is that I wasn’t cut out to be a mother, and I wish I’d known beforehand.

Valuing Self Care as a Mother

It took several more years of life experience to learn the invaluable lesson and secret to enjoying motherhood and life—The value of self care. In order for me to become the best version of myself I needed to invest time in, and practice loving myself.

I received quick validation as I first started trying this out. I had an obligation fall through one morning and found myself with 2 hours of unexpected free time. I initially started running through my to-do list in my mind and then remembered I was going to start trying more self-care. It was a beautiful sunny day (sometimes a rare occasion in Portland, OR) so I called my good friend to see if she wanted to join me in a walk. She did. We walked and talked and connected on so many levels. I came home completely energized, and felt so good that I wanted to do something for someone else. I thought of my friend *Jenni who just had major surgery and I decided to make her dinner. I surprised her later on and she was so grateful. I was full to the brim. I learned that self-care does not breed selfishness (as I had feared), but rather it breeds a greater capacity to love.

The airline safety advice to secure your own oxygen masks before helping children is a good analogy. If you you pass out while helping your child, due to lack of oxygen, you are no good to anyone. The same goes for motherhood and self-care. You can’t give from an empty bucket; and if you are trying to, what you are giving out is low quality and pretty useless. This is a great children’s book about filling your and other’s buckets.

I adopted this new affirmation from Melody Beattie. “I am a gift to myself and the universe.  Nurturing self-care delivers that gift in its highest form.”  

So, how can a mother invest in herself and still be a useful, productive woman, wife, and mother? I have a few suggestions.

Things to keep in mind when first starting out

self care as a mom

Drop the guilt

Guilt serves one purpose, to alert us when we’ve done something wrong so that we can make restitution. That’s it. It is not helpful to let it creep in where it doesn’t belong and tell us lies about not being enough, or that we are selfish for leaving the children to do something for ourselves. Dismiss the guilt and stick to your guns.  Write down some positive statements and read through them at the beginning of your time. Like these:

  • When I take care of my needs first, I am a better mother.
  • If I fill my bucket, I will be refreshed and ready to face my responsibilities with more energy and joy.
  • I am teaching my children that my needs are important. When they are parents they will understand that investing in themselves is worthwhile.

Start with some ground rules

Boundaries are your friend. Set some for the children and for yourself. These are the rules I follow.  

  • No bothering mom allowed. If my kids disturb me during my “quiet time” they get to lay in their beds for the remainder of the time. More on how to occupy children during Mom’s Time later.
  • Set daily and weekly appointments with myself and treat them as such. If I receive an invitation or am asked a favor that overlaps my scheduled time, the answer is usually no. I have an unbreakable appointment…with myself!
  • No to-do lists allowed. No running errands. I am only allowed to do things that rejuvenate my soul. I keep a list of ideas handy (more on that later).
  • No “vegging out” on social media. Not only is it a time trap, but comparison to social media “perfection” can be a quick recipe for depression. Right now, I need something to recharge me.

Learn to say no

We all love to be “team players,” help out friends, and volunteer ourselves. These are all good things, but they have to be done in balance. I think of the balance as a pendulum. On one side is service to others, and on the other side is selfishness. It can take a lot of practice to understand what it feels like for the pendulum to rest in the middle; a nice balance of meeting my needs and helping when it would fill my bucket to help. I remember the mantra “Just because I can, doesn’t mean that I have to.” I also like to Brene Brown’s philosophy to “choose discomfort over resentment.” It can be uncomfortable to say no to making 60 cupcakes for the PTA fundraiser that’s tomorrow, but if you will be aggressively whipping that batter with resentment, it’s better to decline.

Ask for help

This can be very hard for someone who is used to being a “people pleaser.” Guilt may creep in, but remember the purpose of guilt? To remind us when we’ve done something WRONG! Asking help of people is not wrong. In fact, accepting help provides an opportunity for others to show their love for you. Let one of your friends drive a carpool, or come and fold your laundry when you are sick. Let them love you and your children.

How to logistically make time for self care

babysitting self care

Make a plan

Childcare:  If you have young children at home, it can be tricky to get some time, but can also be the phase with the most urgent need for self care. You might need to get creative. Here’s some suggestions:

  • Set up a babysitting co-op with some friends. Sit down together and assign a few days a month for each of you where you will watch everyone else’s children for a few hours at a time.  
  • See if your community or rec center offers babysitting. Some will give up to a few hours at a time for a small fee. Remember, no errand running allowed!
  • Take advantage of gym time. Many gyms offer a few hours of childcare at a time while you exercise. Use the extra hour after you are done working out to sit in the hot tub or sauna, take a long leisurely bath, do a mediation, or even just sit in the lobby with a magazine or book.
  • Swap with your partner. Choose one night a week that you have “off.”  Hand off all responsibilities to your husband, while you go have some fun for a few hours. He gets another night for himself. This has worked great for my husband and me. I sometimes choose Saturday morning instead of an evening (because I’m usually exhausted by 4pm). That’s awesome too!
  • For some daily peace, instigate quiet time. I have been doing this for years. Right after lunch, the kids know they go up to their rooms for an hour. I usually pull out some activities that are reserved only for quiet time, so it’s exciting for them (books, puzzles, building toys—things that occupy their minds), and they have to play quietly.

They know they have to stay inside their room and I come to get them when their time is up. I get an hour to myself to take a quick nap, read, meditate, connect spiritually, or work on a hobby or project. It’s the perfect break I need to recharge and then I’m ready to see my kiddos and tackle the afternoon. This can also be particularly helpful when you have a new baby. You can even do it a few times a day in smaller doses.

Give yourself an allowance

It makes quite a difference to have money set aside that is just for you. Add it into the budget. Buying something nice for yourself is an act of love, and it makes you feel really good. It is much easier to say “yes” to fun activities, lunch dates, or nights out with friends when you have some money set aside for that exact purpose.  

Get to know yourself

  • Make a list of things that bring you joy. If you are not used to having this time to yourself, you may find yourself wandering around wondering what in the world to do with your time. Take some time beforehand to write down a list of things and activities you love to do. You might have to think back to before motherhood!
  • Think about your personality and your needs. Are you energized by being with people (extroverted) or does that drain you (introverted)? What phase of life are you in? What do you want and need the most right now?  Some good girl talk? A massage? To sleep for 3 hours? A combination?

sleep when baby sleeps

List of ideas for Self-Care

  • Gather a support group of friends that can have “real talk,” and get together regularly. I credit this one thing for my emotional health the past several years, and those girls are my most prized gifts. Our get togethers are safe places where there is love and acceptance, healing and support.  
  • Keep it well rounded. Make a list of physical activities you enjoy, things that uplift you spiritually, and things that are healing emotionally.
  • See a therapist regularly. Even if it’s once a quarter. My college psych 101 teacher stated, “Even the healthiest person will benefit from seeing a therapist.”  
  • Meditate. Listen to guided meditations, long or short. Light a candle. Do it while some tea is steeping. Indoors or outdoors. Meditation classes can also be fun.  Keep a list of affirmations handy. Statements about you as a woman, a person, a mother.
  • Yoga. It doesn’t have to be a physically challenging class (unless that’s what you want!) to be effective. Even some gentle yoga stretches or poses can rejuvenate your body and soul.
  • Listen to an uplifting podcast, book on tape, or music.
  • Take walks in different environments. Get to know your city. Find a peaceful garden, a country road, or a neighborhood with stunning houses.
  • Schedule regular massages.   
  • Take a bubble bath. Add some bath salts or essential oils, light some candles, play some music, read a book. Really use your senses as you soak.
  • Sleep. Make your nap really restful with cozy blankets, temperature, clothes, lighting, and quiet. You’ll awake completely refreshed.
  • Create something. Draw, paint, sew, decorate, write. A friend once said she tries to do one thing everyday that cannot be undone (by the kids!). It makes her feel like she accomplished something.  
  • Discover a new hobby. Take a class, go to a craft store, take up a new sport, make some plans.
  • Do things that enliven your senses. Light aromatic candles, use essential oils, discover new music/soothing sounds, gaze at beautiful or interesting art, snuggle with fluffy blankets or buy a new sweater. Taste new flavors at a restaurant, sample new drinks—seasonal flavors are fun.
  • Write. Start a self care journal. Record your recent thoughts, dreams, and ideas.  Include things you are grateful for.
  • Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to take care of myself today, or for this moment?” Truly listen to yourself, and trust the answer that comes.

Learning to love and care for yourself leads to the best version of you.  It’s a very worthy and worthwhile investment. Best of all, you’ll find an increased capacity and love for your family and others.