How to practice self care as a busy mother
It can be difficult to practice self care as a busy mother. In fact, for many mothers, the mere mention of self care can send their eyes rolling back in their head as they mutter, “Here we go again!” Because most of us believe that we’re simply too busy for self care.
But for many mothers, making self care happen is really as simple as adjusting our expectations. Because for many mothers, the real difficulty is that we think self care needs to be elaborate, costly, or time intensive. We also don’t really believe that it’s going to change things. After all, we know that when our lovely bubble bath, or pedicure is over, all of our stress will still be there waiting for us. So we don’t bother.
But I believe that the real problem, is that we have the definition of self care all wrong. Self care isn’t an escape from regular life, it’s how we create a regular life for ourselves that we don’t need to escape from!
What is self care, really?
There are a variety of differing opinions about self care and what exactly it is. I often see posts on social media telling me that “Doing X is not self care!”. Grocery shopping alone is NOT self care. Taking a shower without interruptions is NOT self care. Cleaning your house is NOT self care. Bubble baths and pedicures are NOT self care. And I really hate those posts.
Because self care is whatever YOU want – and need – it to be.
Self care is really just anything you do to take care of you, and that allows you to feel refreshed, re-energised, and restored. It is about filling your cup, managing stress and ensuring you find your way back to calm so you can better deal with every day stressors. Which means that what that looks like for you may be entirely different to what it looks like for me.
And that is 100% ok.
What’s stopping you from practicing self care?
So many mothers I speak to tell me they know they should be practicing self care, but that actually doing it is not quite so simple. And I get it. I’m a mum too. I know how easy to prioritise the needs of everyone else as a mother. After all, this is what we’ve been socially conditioned to believe “good mothers” do, right?
Good mothers are selfless. And giving. They take care of their family. Put the needs of their children above their own. And they are endlessly patient and kind and caring. But here’s the thing: even if this was true (and it’s not – but that’s a post for another day), do you know what would give this “good mother” the energy to be so patient, kind and caring? That’s right – self care.
In fact, self care is so important in parenting that when I work with mothers in my clinic, one of the first things we do together is create a self care plan. We take an in depth look at her stress levels and work out how to better manage them. Because when you are stressed, you cannot parent the way you want to. And if you’re not looking after yourself, you CANNOT show up every day with the energy you need to look after your kids.
So with that being said, let’s take a look at some of the reasons you might be struggling with self care right now, and how we can move past them.
1. I don’t have enough time
I hear you. I’m a busy mum too. But self care really doesn’t have to take up a lot of time. In fact, it’s often the little things that you build into your every day routine that have the most impact. When you build self care into your daily routine, you create a life for yourself that you don’t feel you need to take a break from. Because the small things you do every day become habits that keep you physically, emotionally and mentally well.
You can also add an element of self care to the activities you already do every day. For example, I have to drop my kids off to school every morning and pick them up each afternoon. I turn it into a self care activity by walking them there when the weather is nice, listening to my favourite music or podcast in the car as I drive them, and chatting with other mums at drop off and pick up.
2. I can’t get time to myself
Of course, most of us would love to have more time alone to practice self care, and in an ideal world, that’s how we would do it. But for many of us, it’s simply not possible. And that’s ok. Because there are lots of ways to practice self care with the kids around. We just have to adjust our expectations! You can play a game together, go on a special date, take them on your walk with you, have a dance party together. No, it may not be ideal. You might prefer to spend time alone (and if you can get it, go ahead!!). But something is always better than nothing. And connecting with your kids is definitely a form of self care that will serve you (and them) well. Not to mention, you’re setting a brilliant example for them in the process!
3. I’m too tired
Being tired is the very reason you need to practice self care! Too tired to be active or social right now? That’s ok. Try a different form of self care. Take a nap. Go to bed early. Delegate some household tasks to someone else. Ask for help! What self care looks like doesn’t only differ from person to person. It also looks different for each of us in different stages of life. If what you need right now is rest, and not much more – do it!
4. I can’t afford it
Self care doesn’t have to cost the earth! In fact, it doesn’t have to cost anything at all. There are plenty of ways to practice self care that cost absolutely nothing. Again, we just have to adjust our expectations of what self care looks like. Going for a walk, sitting in the sunshine, playing a game with the kids, taking a bath – none of these activities will cost you anything at all, and all will have amazing benefits for your mind and body.
5. I feel guilty when I take time for me
This is a common one I hear from the mothers I work with. And again, this is all about our social conditioning. We are taught that as mothers, our first priority should always be our children. And listen, I don’t necessarily disagree. Of course our family is our first priority. But YOU should also be a priority because you are EQUALLY as important as the rest of your family. Practicing self care is not necessarily about putting yourself first, it’s about not putting yourself last.
6. I can’t think of any self care ideas!
This is one that I myself struggled with for years. I spent so long looking after the needs of everyone else, that I din’t even know what I needed anymore. I couldn’t think of anything I could do for myself, and the pressure of trying to come up with a self care idea each day just felt overwhelming. Like another task on my to do list. So I simplified things. I created myself a list of activities that I knew worked well for me, and when I was stuck, I simply consulted the list. So if that’s you too, here are a few ideas that you might like to try!
Self care ideas for busy mothers
Now, this list is by no means exhaustive, but if you’re feeling stuck and unsure how to practice self care, they are a great place to start. Not all of these ideas will be possible for you in the stage of life you’re currently in. Nor will all of these ideas appeal to you. But remember, self care looks different for all of us, and there is no right or wrong way to take care of yourself. So choose the activities that speak to you and ditch the ones that don’t!
Move your body
- Go for a walk around the block
- Dance to your favourite song
- Play a game of cricket or soccer with the kids
- Do a home or gym workout
- Go for a swim
- Go for a bike ride
Spend time in nature
- Drink your morning coffee on your deck
- Head to the beach
- Walk barefoot on the grass
- Listen to the birds in your backyard
- Sit in the sunshine for 10 minutes
- Go on a hike
- Water or tend to your garden
Play and have fun!
- Have a dance party with the kids
- Jump on the trampoline
- Play a video game or board game
- Get back into a sport you love
- Watch your favourite movie (don’t forget the snacks!)
- Listen to your favourite music and sing – loudly!
- Go to a play, concert or comedy show
- Paint something
- Start a craft project with the kids
- Knit or crochet
- Make jewellery
- Sew yourself something new to wear
- Draw, doodle, or sketch
- Play an instrument
- Soak in a bubble bath
- Buy yourself a luxurious body wash or moisturiser
- Buy fresh flowers
- Get a massage
- Have a DIY spa day at home
- Get your nails done
- Take yourself shopping
Nourish your body
- Make yourself a delicious smoothie
- Stock up on healthy foods for the pantry
- Book that dentists appointment or skin check you’ve been putting off
- Go to bed early
- Go to a yoga class
- Cook a healthy home made meal
Connect with others
- Text or call a friend
- Write a letter to a loved one
- Go on a date with your partner
- Meet a friend for lunch or coffee
- Have a special date with your child
- Join a book club, mothers group or class and meet new people
- Volunteer or do a random act of kindness for someone
- Cuddle up in a cosy spot with a book
- Make your favourite hot beverage
- Do some meditation or mindfulness
- Take a nap
- Read a magazine
- Ask your partner for a foot rub
- Declutter one space in your home
- Write in your planner or diary
- Cross something off your to-do list that you’ve been avoiding
- Do a brain dump and write down all the tasks you need to do
- Delegate or create a chore/cleaning schedule for your family
- Hire a cleaner
- Ask for help!
Stimulate your brain
- Do a crossword puzzle or sudoku
- Learn a language
- Write in a journal
- Do a jigsaw puzzle
- Learn something new
- Go screen/social media free for 24 hours
Sarah is a psychologist, mama of 4 and the creator of Mindful Little Minds. She has over 10 years of experience working with children, adolescents and families experiencing mental health problems and has a special interest in anxiety disorders in children. In her spare time she enjoys hugging her kids, drinking coffee, and telling anyone who’ll listen how tired she is.