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It’s the start of a fresh year, and people everywhere are trying to follow through on their new year’s resolutions. But there’s one resolution that many busy mothers neglect to make: to take better care of their physical and emotional needs.
“While mums focus on giving their best to work and family, self-care often ends up on the bottom of their to-do list,” says Family Life Specialist Judith Alagirisamy from Focus on the Family Singapore.
And when they try to tend to themselves, many of them feel guilty because they “may be comparing themselves to an unrealistic ideal of complete maternal self-sacrifice,” says Jolene Tan, Head of Advocacy & Research at the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE).
But as Alagirisamy points out, mothers need to be well-rested and emotionally well to manage their multiple tasks and responsibilities as care-givers.
“Research has shown that the physical and emotional well-being of parents has an impact on parent-child relationships. To ensure they don’t get burned out, investing in self-care should be a priority for mums. By doing so, they will also be a positive role-model for their own children in how to prioritise personal wellness.”
So there you go. Mothers need to give themselves a break. Here are some self-care strategies to help you do that.
Banish the guilt
To stop feeling guilty about looking after your own needs, the first step is to confront the guilt. Acknowledging its presence allows you to process your thoughts and emotions more clearly.
“There are no perfect parents, and this is a good time to consider if you have realistic expectations of yourself as a parent,” says Alagirisamy.
So rather than beat yourself up for failing to meet your own – possibly unrealistic – expectations, “you can find encouragement from what is working well in your parenting journey.”
Alagirisamy adds that if you find any areas you would like to work on, such as spending more time with your children, you can take small practical steps to achieve these goals. Having a plan and working on it will help relieve your negative emotions.
Don’t try to do it all
Mothers are not super heroes and should not shoulder all responsibilities themselves, whether it’s childcare or housework.
As Aware’s Jolene Tan explains: “It is vitally important that others – especially fathers and other family members – proactively take on childcare responsibilities and provide material and emotional support to mothers.”
To avoid taking on every responsibility, you should consider whether it’s vital for you to do the job yourself, or whether someone else can help you with it. For instance, do you need to personally take the kids to their enrichment classes or can someone else do it? And can anyone help with the housework? If so, ask for help – and make sure you get it.
It’s equally important to say no to things you don’t want to do. While saying no may disappoint some people, agreeing to everything – especially those things you don’t want to do – can cause you to resent yourself and the task you promised to do.
Connect with others in the same boat
When things get hectic, it’s easy to lose sight of the importance of staying connected with people. A busy mother may, for example, skip lunch with colleagues to run household-related errands, or forgo time with her spouse to take care of the kids.
Being a parent is demanding. It can emotionally and physically exhaust even the strongest adults, says Dr Cecilia Chu, a Clinical Psychologist at Raffles Counselling Centre. It can help to seek out other mothers with whom you can share issues you may be facing in motherhood. Talking to people who are in the same situation as you will make you feel less isolated and your problems will seem less daunting.
See life beyond motherhood
Sharing with other mothers can help, but as Dr Chu points out: “It is important for parents to have other areas of life from which to draw strength.”
She suggests that busy parents make a conscious effort to regularly spend child-free time with their spouses. This will help them build their relationship beyond just relating to each other as parents.
Another idea is spending time with good friends, as they can help keep life interesting.
So pencil in a date night with your spouse, or a coffee break with a friend. These can do wonders for your mental and emotional well-being.
Get some me time
Dr Chu also suggests making time for self-care and personal growth, such as doing a workout you enjoy or engaging in hobbies. Give yourself permission to do things that you find pleasurable: an hour at the spa, a movie on your own or 30 minutes a day to yourself, whether it’s before bed or in the morning after the kids have left for school.
“Remember that being a healthy person in body and mind, makes one a better parent,” Dr Chu adds.