It’s around this time of year that mothers begin to see all kinds of messaging related to self-care and treating ourselves. While well-intentioned, these messages often promote the idea that a woman meeting her own basic needs is somehow a treat. A viral post written by Shelby Hyatt has made the rounds in mommy circles, and for good reason. She writes:
Cleaning your house without kids is not a break. Showering is not a break. Grocery shopping alone is not a break. It's chores and basic hygiene but mothers are supposed to be grateful to do these things that literally everyone else just does. And at some point, we just break.
This message resonates with so many moms right now because we’re balancing considerably more responsibilities with less time, space, and support than ever before. If this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. And you shouldn’t feel bad—mothers themselves are not responsible for this dynamic.
The ways in which our society neglects mothers and caregivers are endless, and we need to do better. In the meantime, it’s useful to be reminded of real self-care action items that can help moms maintain their sense of self and harness their innate power. Consider this a jumping-off point or a gentle nudge to set attainable goals for yourself, whatever your circumstance.
Make sure you are involved in household conversations about budgets, spending, and make building and improving/building your own financial portfolio a priority. It’s so easy and common for caregivers, and especially mothers, to overlook their own individual financial well-being. There is a huge spectrum of what this might look like.
For some, managing paycheck to paycheck is an accomplishment in itself, while others may be trying to figure out how to invest their excess income. Wherever you find yourself along this spectrum, it’s useful to try and remain aware of your own financial portfolio.
One place to start is monitoring your credit score and seeing suggestions for improvement for free with software like Credit Karma or Experian. If you’re partnered, have a discussion about how you will build your own financial portfolio, especially if you’re doing primarily at-home unpaid domestic labor. It’s not unreasonable to expect that some of the family funds will be allocated to you and your individual financial stability.
Caring for tiny humans takes a toll on your body. Whether you delivered via c-section or vaginally, birthed or not, some form of physical training or therapy can be useful in helping gain and maintain strength.
Pelvic floor physical therapy, for example, helps folks with common postpartum issues like incontinence or pelvic pain, but also aids in strengthening your core, correcting posture, and healing the connections between physical and emotional trauma. A referral is sometimes needed from your OB/GYN or Primary Care Provider, but often isn’t.
Bonus: You can begin pelvic floor PT at any time, no matter how long ago you delivered.
Intellectual and Spiritual Self-Care
Mom-brain is very, very real. Between the shifts in hormones, lack of sleep, and the all-consuming responsibility of keeping another human alive and happy, there’s definitely some time needed to regain balance. If you’re in the trenches of new parenthood, and feel like you’ve lost some aspect of your intellectuality, take heart: This is temporary. One day you will feel like expressing your creativity again.
Whether it’s writing, reading, painting, or photography, your passion is still there, promise. Finding small ways to reconnect with it is a low-pressure place to start. Do you craft with your children? Let them take the lead on their projects and you create one for yourself. Do you miss reading? Download an ebook on your phone to check in with when you’ve got some screen time. I can’t recommend Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines enough.
Parenting—not to mention parenting during a pandemic—puts relationships under a decent amount of stress. While your relationships with your partners, friends, and extended family members may have taken the back seat, it’s important to make sure you’re able to maintain a connection to your own care community.
If you find that you keep coming back to the same problems with the same people, it might be helpful to take some steps to strengthen those connections. Classes and workshops aimed at helping this kind of communication are readily available online at low- or no-cost. Dame, for example, offers an online workshop on couples communication with licensed mental health counselor Jor-El Caraballo.
Resources like these are incredibly helpful in resolving ongoing tensions between couples and loved ones, so that you can work together and focus on activities that bring you joy.
This category is one that lots of moms, and especially new moms, tend to feel really ambivalent about. Whether it’s issues with libido, breastfeeding, or just plain and simple exhaustion, sex often falls to the bottom of our priority list. The anxiety around performing with a partner during such a raw and vulnerable time can prevent moms from experiencing sexual pleasure entirely.
Which is why masturbation is incredibly beneficial here. Masturbating is often one of the most efficient, low-pressure, and safest ways to rediscover your sexuality, especially after a huge and possibly traumatic change. If you’re just getting reacquainted with yourself, I’d recommend external clitoral stimulating toys like Dame’s Pom, Kip, and Aer, all of which are known to get you off in record time. Efficiency is key when your alone time is precious.
The term “self-care” in this category might be a bit misleading—often caring for your mental and emotional health can involve an entire team of caring health professionals and loved ones. Mothering in this historical moment has been perhaps the most significant challenge many of us have seen in a lifetime. Juggling working from home, teaching your kids on top of regular caregiving, and being disproportionately responsible for household duties is too much for any person to handle alone.
But here so many of us are doing just that. We’re only beginning to understand the short-term effects of weathering all of this during a pandemic, and it’s very possible that lots of moms have made changes and sacrifices with life-long implications. Establishing a relationship with a therapist, be it virtual, via text, or face-to-face once it’s safer, is going to be incredibly helpful as we all begin to process and unpack how this past year has affected us and our families.
Seeking the help of a therapist when you’re in or near crisis is essential, but so is doing so proactively before a crisis. No matter your circumstances, it’s safe to say that you’ve been through a lot this past year. You deserve a safe and confidential space to unpack all the complexities of that.
Social self-care is an aspect of our lives that has been woefully neglected in the past year. Mothering can be a lonely experience, and doing it during a pandemic is even more isolating. But things are looking up: As the world begins to open, you have more opportunities to reacquaint yourselves with your communities.
Public libraries, for instance, often offer stellar (and free) programming for moms, kids, and teens. This is a great and low-pressure place to meet folks and possibly set up playdates for yourself and your kids. If you’re still wary of face-to-face interactions, Facebook has countless mom groups based on lifestyle, parenting techniques, sexuality, etc.
These communities can help you feel less alone, as you read and likely identify with posts from other moms. And, thankfully, we can finally plan reunions. Already have mom friends and a supportive family network? Once you’re vaccinated and feel comfortable, meet up and partake in whatever relaxes you. This may be the only time you won’t grow tired of repeatedly hearing how much your child has grown, because you’re happy to be reconnected and proud of your kids and yourself.
Asserting your worth is good for your whole family, mama. Our families are our worlds, but let’s not forget: We are also theirs. Imagine how powerful it could be if we began to really practice self-care for the purposes of longevity and transformation. Mothering, however you do it, creates a ripple effect of change in your communities. Remind yourself of your own unique value so you can continue the essential work of building that up in others.