Have we got self-care all wrong? The HUGE problem no one is talking about

Posted in Wellbeing.

Self-care is a term bandied about all over the place these days, but sometimes I wonder how seriously we’re taking it.

What does self-care mean?

Is self-care a bubble bath once a week, or taking yourself out for an afternoon of shopping? It can mean different things for people, but it seems to refer to moments of pleasure designed to ease the stress of parenting.

Which makes me think: how much of a difference is an afternoon of bliss going to make on your wellbeing overall? 

My guess is minimal if nothing is being done to change the stressors in your life that got you there in the first place.

Why we need self-care

We all know how hard motherhood can be, and it’s become even harder over the years with many women taking on work as well as running the household and looking after the admin that comes with raising a family – otherwise known as the ‘mental load’. All of this combined can become so emotionally taxing that taking care of your own needs just isn’t a priority. 

Tired mother in kitchen - feature

That’s when self-care comes into play. For many of us, the term conjures up images of steaming bubble baths or a night away from the kids. And while these experiences may be a treat, the difference they make on your mental and emotional health in the long-term is debatable. Sure, that bath may be relaxing, but how long until you’re feeling mentally frazzled again?

Baths are great, but self-care has to be more

Self-care isn’t so much about bringing in a pleasant activity now and then, or when you desperately need it. It’s about overhauling the way you think about your needs and putting them at the top of your list – for good.

Neglecting your physical and emotional needs until you’re at that burnout stage, before packing ourselves off for a massage isn’t self-care – it’s damage control. It’s like sticking a quick band-aid over a wound without treating the underlying infection, which causes it to keep reopening. When we apply a quick dose of ‘self-care’ it does nothing to work on the root of the problems.

So what’s the root of the problem for you?

The root of the problem for most of us is how important we consider our needs, who we’re talking to about them, and whether they’re being heard.

If your thoughts revolve around ‘toughing it out’ and ‘just getting on with it’, or ‘I can’t let anyone know I’m struggling’, this implies that you’re putting yourself and your needs last, which makes burnout a real risk. If you’re carrying more of the mental load than your partner, along with these thoughts, you’re probably experiencing enormous stress and possibly resentment, which has other repercussions.

Woman reading book on couch with cat - feature

Big changes are needed

Real self-care isn’t about applying a band-aid to the problem; it’s about overhauling the way parents work together to raise their families and ensuring we are putting our own needs – and sanity – first. You may gasp at this (and admittedly I used to as well – I thought to be a great mum was about being completely selfless), but we are no good to our families if we’re running ourselves into the ground.

Changing all of this means tweaking our thoughts on a daily basis. It means treating ourselves with love and care EVERY DAY, not just when we desperately need it. The next time you joke about being a #badmum, try changing your tack. Instead, pick yourself another hashtag, one that reflects the way you value yourself as a mum and as a woman.

Some tips for real self-care that you can start right away:

  • Take regular ‘me’ breaks throughout the day, where you can spend some time catching your breath and gathering your thoughts.
  • Talk honestly with your partner about the mental load you’re carrying, with the view to sharing some of it with them.
  • Pick a time or day of the week that can be your ‘quiet’ day, where you don’t have any plans or things to do, apart from pottering around the house while the kids amuse themselves.
  • Do something lovely for yourself every day, however small. Real self-care is about regular, small moments of pleasure rather than waiting for the big things or a meltdown.
  • Forget parenting pressures like making the perfect birthday cake or creating big adventures for your child. Children are not as discerning as we think and appreciate time and attention from us, not grand gestures.

Remember that watching you take care of yourself as a priority will be an amazing life lesson for your children, who will grow up doing the same thing.

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