We often hear about how important self care is however it can be almost impossible when you are a mother! With our village gone, self care is often something that often gets neglected as mums or at least gets put to the bottom of your to-do list. When Emily was little, all of my family and my partner’s family lived far away (think Rockhamptom as the closest and Canada as the furthest!). There were days were I would literally be counting down the seconds until my husband came home and I was drained and exhausted. Nowadays we are often more isolated when parenting which can be lonely and also makes it harder for us to do special things just for us.
With limited help and after 3 days of intense non sleeping and general leap difficulties, I started to think about things I could do as self-care that would include my daughter as a baby-sitter was just not an option! These are my favourite things to do for ME that also includes Emily.
A change of scenery, fresh air, being close to nature and getting sunlight has an amazing boosting quality. Even if I just walked to the local park and sat peacefully while Emily was entertained by the grass or trees, it had a huge mood boost. As much as my house is my home, some days it becomes monotonous and the day can go so slowly so getting outside was amazing. Plus Emily is learning and experiencing something different so she was happy as well!
I know that this can seem counterintuitive on those ‘touched out’ days however putting Emily in the carrier and even doing simple tasks just allows for a different approach. She is happy being with me, we both get that amazing love hormone oxytocin and I find that I can do things so I feel accomplished! Even these days when Emily is giving me decent 3 year old attitude, I put her in the carrier while I run Kangatraining class and I feel closer to her and it gives us a chance to reconnect. Plus she would sleep (and often have a decent sleep) with minimal effort and we could often do lovely things such as go for a walk or hang out at shopping (which was amazing on hot days).
Exercise / Kangatraining
We all know the benefits of staying fit and active and it is especially helpful to attend a specifically designed postnatal class as it gives us a chance to restrengthen all those muscles affected by pregnancy and labour. There is nothing like getting those feel good endorphins and with Kangatraining your baby is also getting all the benefits of babywearing! Plus group classes have the added benefit of being able to socialise with other mums and share experiences. If you can’t get to a class, even going for a walk can help lift your mood and increase your fitness.
Being Present in the Moment
Often this can be hard as we have one hundred things on our to-do list or be questioning our every parenting decision so sometimes we can easily be distracted! However learning to focus on the current moment has significant positive impacts on our life and stress. Mindfulness is a term used to describe learning how to be present similar to meditation however it doesn’t require a set amount of time to be sitting quietly not moving (which is practically impossible with a child). Have you ever spent time just staring at your baby, memorising all their features without a care in the world – this is a form of Mindfulness. Babies are amazing to help with developing mindfulness!
Other options to be Mindful include:
– Mindful Awareness: describe something (eg a tree) to your baby which helps you focus and also assists with your baby’s development and learning. Or think about how your body feels in a chair or describe how your baby feels in your arms as if you describing it to an alien (sounds odd I know but it helps you to be aware outside of your normal expectations).
– Mindful Breathing: focussing on your breathe even if it is for 10 breathes
– Mindful Immersion: this can be with anything but is particularly useful when doing your day to day chores or activities. The aim is rather than rush through something (eg washing the dishes or hanging the washing) try to pay attention to every activity, movement, sensation that occurs! For washing the dishes think about how the water feels on your hands, how your muscles move to wash, the smells, the feeling of your feet on the ground. It is amazing how interesting a usually mundane activity can become!
The other part of Mindfulness is being kind to yourself so if you notice that you are only present for 10 seconds, that’s great as you noticed! Even 5 minutes of being Mindful can help and it gets easier to focus each time you practice!
Meet A Friend or Try a Mother’s Group
We are social creatures by nature and considering the loneliness and isolation that can come with parenting, trying to meet a friend even once a week can help lift our moods. I used to have weekly catch ups with a couple of friends and it was always something to look forward to! We get how tiring mothering can be so if one of us just needs to sit, then that’s what we do! On the other hand, our children are entertained being with each other as well!
If you don’t have any friends at the same stage of life as you, going to a mother’s group can be a great option. Yes, it can be scary and anxiety provoking the first few times and you might not gel with all the people but there are a lot of positives and most groups are really welcoming! If you are not sure where to start – Australia Breastfeeding Association has regular catch ups, along with your local community health or even joining facebook parenting groups often have meet ups.
Listen to some music
Something about listening to music (especially loudly) can have a great calming effect and be a wonderful distraction if we are feeling stressed! Emily and I take turns in the car listening to music we like (yes she loves the wiggles and anything kanga related) and sometimes I turn it up and we just belt out the words! When she was little, I used to put on my favourite songs and have a dance with her in my arms which she used to love (and sometimes even fall asleep)! And the best part is she thinks all my dance moves are amazing and seeing her laugh at my silliness is a great mood lifter.
Have you seen those adult colouring books? They too are a form of relaxation and Mindfulness and you can do them with your baby. I used to set Emily up with her colouring in and we used to do it together, she would love being active and I was there with her while getting a lot of benefits for me. Nowadays we can sit and do arts and crafts quietly together for at least 30 minutes which is often enough to give me a bit of a break!
Rest Where You Can
I know you can have a thousand different excuses for this but sometimes we need to rest! We are functioning on far less and broken sleep and we literally are keeping someone alive! This is exhausting so if you need to sleep when your baby does, then do it! Emily used to sleep a lot longer if I was next to her and we would both wake refreshed. It is ok if nothing gets done around the house (story of my life) and if you had a 3 hour nap in the middle of the day! Sleep and resting is actually vital to our survival whereas a spotless house is not. Looking back at those early days, some of my favourite times where when Emily slept in my arms and I sat and watched TV! Nowadays she doesn’t fit it my arms and I appreciate those moments.
Get Support or Ask for Help
Probably the hardest thing to do in terms of self-care but sometimes things can build so much that there is no other option. Even getting 5 or 10 minutes to have a shower by ourselves can make a huge difference! Or just talking and having a vent to someone about how hard this parenting gig is really make a difference especially to another mum who gets it!
If you feel that things are getting too much and maybe something more is going on (such as postnatal depression or anxiety), going to your GP or contacting PANDA (http://www.panda.org.au/) can be your first step towards recovery. From my 10 years working in mental health, the sooner that you seek support the sooner you can starting recovering. It’s ok to say that you aren’t coping and need some support. Remember not too long ago we used to have villages to raise a child.
Take care of yourself mamas x
Certified Babywearing Consultant