Moms deserve way more than one day of recognition for all that they do. We’re not only talking about growing a human being inside of their uterus, giving birth, and providing all of the support they do for their children. Mothers also face unique mental challenges.
“Mothers can go through a massive change in their identity when they have children. In fact, many will talk about their lives in two halves: before kids and after kids, with becoming a parent as such a significant marker,” says therapist Kate Borsato. “Many mothers experience significant changes in their career paths, hobbies, interests, social connections, and overall lifestyle and can feel like they lose themselves along the way.”
In addition to a changed sense of self, moms “feel the intense societal pressure to meet unrealistic standards of motherhood,” she adds. As a result, they feel depleted and often wind up last on the priority list. Yet the idea of “self-care” can seem laughable.
But mothers need to take care of themselves, otherwise they risk burnout and can’t fully be there for all of the people they support. Luckily, self-care isn’t only bubble baths and meditation. Check out these expert ways moms can support their mental health. Try any or all of them and see what works best for you.
Reset your expectations. Thanks to social media, many women feel pressured to be super moms, baking homemade 100 percent allergy-free cupcakes for every school holiday and DIY’ing Martha Stewart-level decorations for birthday parties. First, remember that those images are often staged. And if they’re not, you have no idea what that woman’s life is really like—maybe she does have time to do all of that, or maybe she pays a crafty neighbor.
More importantly, set your own standards of what a “good mother” is, Borsato suggests, and work toward that each day. “There might always be someone who does one or two things better than you. But that doesn’t mean the things you are doing aren’t good enough,” adds licensed psychotherapist, psychoanalyst, and certified coach Babita Spinelli.
Don’t try to do it all. You simply can’t. Shari Foos, a marriage and family therapist and founder of the Narrative Method (an approach to building meaningful human connections), suggests adopting the mantra, “I can only focus on one thing in this moment.”
Connect with other moms. You can do this in person (if safely distanced) or through online meetups and Facebook groups. Try out a few communities until you find one that feels right. The emotional support and realizing you are not the “only one” feeling what you feel or going through whatever you’re facing can be life-changing.
Rediscover your hobbies. Or create some time in your schedule to find new ones. “Find creative outlets, try new hobbies, and pursue fun so that you feel like you’ve got more going on than fulfilling your job as mom,” Borsato says. “Sure, this is an incredibly important role, but mothers benefit from having other areas of life that bring joy.”
Acknowledge that you matter. You don’t have to do it all. “Mothers need to give themselves permission to take time, resources, and energy for their own well being,” Borsato says. This could mean asking your partner to put the kids to bed so you can do a home workout, asking a family member to watch the kids so you can take a solo walk, or, if you can afford it, hiring a cleaner to come every other week.
Set boundaries. Every week, sit down and determine what really needs to be done. “What is one thing that would be helpful to you?” Spinelli asks.
Then think about your boundaries: Are you doing more than you need to? Is someone—even your own kids—taking up too much of your energy? Do you need to ask your older children to pitch in more or your partner to stop doing something?
Shift your thinking about what is essential. This can be hard, but it’s important: Find at least one moment every day where you can let the dishes or laundry or whatever “needs” to be done go, and instead do something for you. “Allow yourself to take 30 minutes to sip tea or coffee, breath, watch a TV show you love, or have a conversation with a friend,” Spinelli says. If daily moments seem like too much, start with one day at a time and keep adding more days.
Exercise. Even 15 minutes can do wonders in terms of how you feel about yourself, Spinelli says.
Start a confidence journal. “We often focus on the negative. Instead, notice and write about things done that are positive and give you resilience,” Spinelli suggests. Even if it’s one note each day, acknowledging the good things will give you concrete evidence that you’re crushing this mom thing.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.