For the third time this morning, the baby raises the dog dish above his head and soaks both his clothes and the floor. In another room a daughter has quietly begun drawing on the table, with a permanent marker she conjured from nowhere. My husband can be heard laughing on a required “Happy Hour” call for work, where he is winning a trivia game via Zoom. On my way to soak up the spilled dog water, again, I spot a hole in my rug, where the dog chewed through in pursuit of the casually dropped chicken juices from last night. The hole bares the raw base of the floor and simultaneously a truth I had long suppressed: I am not cut out for this.
Welcome to pandemic parenting.
In the wake of complete and total burnout for so many moms, our society’s solution seems to be pushing the idea of more “self-care” on moms. And what does that self-care look like? Well, it looks like things such as: Perform basic grooming and hygiene while your partner parents so you can get a ‘break!’ Watch Netflix even though you will fall asleep! Go for a walk in the dead of winter!
The truth is, life as a moms would be easier to manage if we stood up to the idea that we need to do more to feel better about our lives. Instead of lecturing moms on all the things they need to do or buy for self-care, maybe we should focus more on helping them implement self-compassion in their lives just as they are.
“Instead of lecturing moms on all the things they need to do or buy for self-care, maybe we should focus more on helping them implement self-compassion in their lives just as they are.”
Maybe we can embrace the radical idea that we as parents are doing the best we can, and that effort is valuable and worth celebrating in itself. In other words: right now, despite our failures and successes, we are worthy of self-love as moms.
How to Love Yourself as a Mom
Pandemic parenting bears a massive mental load, especially for moms. We are trying to protect our loved ones and make the right decisions for our kids’ social development. The result is a debilitating daily decision-making dilemma: should we go to this family outing, or skip it? Should we send our kids to school today or keep them home? How do I tell my boss I have to watch the baby today? How will we pay for *gestures wildly around*? Do I have the virus? Let me check your symptoms…
So many long-term decisions, for both ourselves, our parents, and our children, rest on the shoulders of moms at this moment in time. And on top of that, our social interaction has shifted almost entirely online. Some will argue that this is better than no interaction, but it comes with its own thorny set of consequences. This is especially true in regards to social media, which has been tied to depression during the pandemic. Without vigilance, anyone could fall into the trap of feeling defeated, paralyzed, or dissatisfied with our own lives in comparison to the endless highlight reel of social media. I
But by practicing self-love, it is possible to overcome those damaging feelings of low self-worth. We have to start by accepting that self-love isn’t selfish. We have to let go of our preconceived notions that we have to repeatedly sacrifice our well-being for everyone and everything in order to be a good mom.
“We have to start by accepting that self-love isn’t selfish. We have to let go of our preconceived notions that we have to repeatedly sacrifice our well-being for everyone and everything in order to be a good mom.”
In fact, self-love is about having compassion for yourself, accepting our mistakes as human nature, and steadfastly resolving to be patient with your own attitude and setbacks. When we treat ourselves this way, with the full knowledge of our own failures, we can more easily treat others with the patience and forgiveness they deserve. We can maintain a sense of calm as we make decisions with the best of our abilities. Who doesn’t need that resilience in the midst of the world’s ugliness and uncertainty right now?
How to Practice Self-Love as a Mom
Self-love is more than just another buzzword. It’s an important component for making it through these bizarre, unsettling times. Here are some strategies to help you learn to love yourself:
Learn to Let Go of Guilt and Shame
Practicing self-compassion towards yourself is just as important as being compassionate to others. If you struggle with guilt and shame, remember to treat yourself with the same kindness as you would with anyone else. It can help to come up with some affirmations to say to yourself throughout the day, such as, “I’m worthy of love and forgiveness.”
Focus on the new and now that each day grants, and allow yourself to acknowledge baggage from the past without it ruining your present. And while that might sound much easier said than done, remember what you would tell your kids: if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. You might also try some strategies to help you focus on the present and let go of shame, such as journaling and meditation.
When we are at home all day, every day, the lines of routine are easily blurred. Whether it’s your time to work, time to teach your kids, or your time to shower, setting boundaries with your family members throughout your day can help you set healthy limits and minimize the feeling of being overwhelmed by the day. Sticking to firm boundaries for work hours, social media, homeschool hours, or relaxation can help you to maintain a healthy work-life balance when your day feels like a constantly tipping scale.
And another tip here: keep in mind that even though you have established boundaries, odds are, you will need to revisit those boundaries on a regular basis—and discuss them with your partner. For instance, you might establish a habit of talking through what you need in the upcoming week on Sunday evenings, along with what didn’t work for you the week before. It’s a good habit to get into so you can communicate your needs and reassess boundaries as needed.
Take a (Real) Break
Making the time for self-care really can do some good, but it’s not all about new products and vacations. You can work with what you have to “walk away” from the stress of the day without going anywhere. There’s nothing wrong with leaving the dishes out for an evening to read a book with your kids, or to talk with a friend about some silly meme, or to listen to a podcast meditation.
Intention is important with any kind of self-care. When you build in a break, you owe it to yourself to be intentional with that break. If an activity isn’t serving you, like mindlessly doom scrolling social media, commit to pausing that behavior and choosing something else that will help you truly recharge. If binge-watching a show is truly going to relax you, go for it with the mindset that this is your break and you deserve some moments to enjoy yourself.
Care for Your Physical Health
Caring for physical health by eating a balanced diet and exercising may look different now, with gyms closed and constant childcare duty. Finding small ways to implement movement throughout your day is a great way to take care of yourself. If it feels impossible to find the time to work out, remember to practice self-kindness and focus on small ways to get moving—like a living room dance party or taking a quick walk. Any small movement forward matters and your best right now is plenty good enough. It’s not about weight or what you look, but about your health.
“Any small movement forward matters and your best right now is plenty good enough.”
And Your Mental Health
The deep pain of cancelled plans, isolation, financial stress, and the trauma of lost loved ones have been major influences on all of us this year. Negative self-talk, guilt, and shame can easily collude during this time of uncertainty and isolation to damage our mental health. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help if these thoughts become overwhelming or intrusive.
You are valuable no matter what you have accomplished or failed at this year, and you deserve to be happy and healthy just as much as anyone else. One benefit to come out of a worldwide pandemic is a major advance in telehealth, so it’s much more convenient to find an online therapist or other mental health resources, right from your phone.
Love the Mom You Are
Your humanity itself—not your accomplishments, your salary, your brilliant kids or your clean house—makes you worthy of love and compassion. For moms, the mental exhaustion during this time is real and we deserve some peace when we can find it.
So the next time you feel overwhelmed, make a mistake, or discover that hole your dog chewed in your carpet, keep in mind that you are just as deserving as anyone else of patience, love, and forgiveness.
Especially from your hardest critic: yourself.