Updated: Jan 12, 2021
As a mom when my son was young, I was completely committed to my child. Making sure he was heathy, had what he needed for school, and had access to whatever programs I could find that captured his interest. I wanted to make sure he was getting everything he needed for his physical, cognitive, and mental health. Sometimes I was so completely concerned with his needs that mine were a distant, dusty, long forgotten thought. I think this is common, especially with mothers. Often, we get so busy that we neglect our own self-care. We believe that we don’t have the time or that our needs are not as important.
I want to remind all the fabulous moms out there that you are worth the me-time you so deserve. Yes, I said deserve. A tricky word often loaded with “stuff”. Yes, you deserve to take care of yourself. The way you show up for yourself determines the way you show up for others. For kids, moms are the first people they often look for when they are feeling frightened or stressed. Mom can be a comfort when in pain, either physically or mentally. Mom is who they look to when they want to share their triumphs and celebrations. As a mom, you are their first teacher. You’re helping a young one navigate their world, develop the skills they need to one day be self-sufficient, independent, and you play a key role in helping them to have confidence and a healthy self-image. Through all these important influential roles and duties, moms often forget to practice good self-care. In one study, nearly one-third of all those providing care for others neglect their own health and well-being. Additionally, many caregivers are classified as being in “poor health” themselves.
Children are very impressionable. They are taking in what they see and modeling from their caretakers. It creates neural connections and pathways in their brains that neuropsychologists call neuroplasticity. It’s what enables learning. The saying has become, “neurons that fire together wire together”. These patterns that children are exposed to become their wiring, long-term memory, and habitual behaviors. In behavioral and educational psychology, three types of learning have been identified: learning through association (classical conditioning), learning through consequences (operant conditioning), and learning through observation (modeling). This learning through observation becomes important because if your child does not see you practicing healthy behaviors, they “learn,” through the impressions that were made by watching you as their example, that health is unimportant. If you are not practicing healthy habits for yourself but you are expecting your child to do so, you are sending very confusing messages, and likely not teaching what you think you are teaching. Modeling is incredibly powerful and impressionable with children. They believe what they see.
You can choose to practice healthy habits that also engage your children. Practice taking slow, purposeful deep breaths when you are feeling stressed. Your child will see you and learn that he or she can also take calming breaths when feeling anxious. They will be able to regulate difficult emotions, which leads to improved mental health and self-esteem.
Becoming more physically active is also important. Physical activity not only improves heart, lung and brain functioning, but it also elevates mood and reduces stress. If it doesn’t seem like you have enough time to go to the gym, you can try activities that you and your child can do together. Take a walk, ride your bikes, go swimming, play ball, dance to some music, or take a yoga class together. There are a host of benefits, including demonstrating to your child that a movement is part of a healthy lifestyle and that it is important.
When you take care of yourself, you ensure that you are able to be the best mom you can be. You are showing that you love yourself enough to be in good health. After all, children of any age need their mothers.
I think we as moms tend to write off self-care as a luxury… we see working out as spoiling ourselves when we should be spending time with our kids. Taking that time, though, can make you feel better about many things. You might even find you have a more positive attitude, sleep better, and can do MORE with your kids. It’s time for moms to commit to a little self-care. Your kids will be fine with a little of their own down time, too. They can learn to play alone and enjoy their own company, or with their siblings without mom constantly being the referee. They learn that they can problem solve and navigate through difficult challenges. This, too, will serve them well and help establish self-competence and confidence.
The hardest part is showing up. I still find this challenging even now that my son is grown. I literally have to schedule my self-care into my planner. I even have a list that I keep on my desk that has my favorite self-care practices on it. It's specific! It doesn't just say "read". It lists the book(s) I'm currently reading! It doesn't just say "yoga" - it says what yoga practice I want to go to next. That reduces the decision fatigue and serves as a reminder to me to include something from my list every day. How do you feel about self-care? About showing up for yourself? Do you find it challenging? Beneficial? How do you think you can incorporate more self-care into your life?