When my son was five months old and I was at my lowest point with postpartum depression (PPD), my mother-in-law came for a visit. She encouraged me to go for a walk by myself and lay down for a nap. At first, I balked at her suggestion. What if he needed to nurse while I was gone? What if he started crying and I wasn’t there to comfort him? But my mother-in-law insisted and after spending a few hours alone, I felt like a new person.
The notion of taking care of myself after having a baby was honestly something I hadn’t considered at first, nor was it something many other people emphasized.
“The notion of taking care of myself after having a baby was honestly something I hadn’t considered at first.”
Parent or caregiver burnout is a little different than normal day-to-day stress. Burnout is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion that often occurs gradually over time as a result of neglecting your own needs, which is exactly how it manifested for me. My son is now almost five years old, and with the addition of his little sister almost two years ago, my life looks much different than it did in those early (and often dark) days of motherhood.
But a big reason why I’ve been able to find so much joy in motherhood is these days is because of the lessons my mother-in-law taught me that day—my needs matter and when I take care of myself, I am a better mom. Here are the ways I take care of myself to avoid mom burnout.
I Lean on Others
When my son was a baby, I, like many new moms, felt a huge burden to be his primary caregiver—to respond to his cries in the night, to feed him around the clock and to be his source of comfort. I felt uncomfortable allowing others to step in and put a huge amount of pressure on myself to tend to his every need. This hypervigilance on my part left me little time to pay attention to how I was feeling and respond to my body’s cries for sleep, nutrition, and alone time.
I still tend to put this kind of pressure on myself sometimes, but I’ve learned through the years how important it is to let other caring adults play a role in my children’s lives. Not only because it gives me a chance to focus on myself, but because it helps create a community of support for my kids as well. When I’m feeling on edge, I will often call up my sister to come take the kids out for ice cream or I’ll plan a weekend trip to spend time with my parents. Having others around to help care for my kids so I can relax helps me reset when I’m feeling at the end of my rope.
I Create Moments for Myself Throughout the Day
While outside help is nice, it isn’t always possible for other people to come running when I need a break, so I do my best to find pockets of time during the day to tend to my own needs.
Sometimes this means turning on a television show (and turning off the guilt), so I can cook dinner in peace. Other times it means ditching the “nap time hustle” to binge Netflix during the two hours a day when the house is actually quiet. This can also mean taking a few extra minutes in the morning to prepare your own breakfast instead of eating your kids’ scraps or actually taking five minutes to rinse the shampoo out of your hair in the shower even after you’ve heard the baby start to cry.
The most important lesson I’ve learned in my short motherhood journey so far is that I really don’t have to do it all, and the kids will be just fine if they have to wait a few minutes for my attention.
I Get Some Form of Exercise Everyday
This is huge for me. If I don’t move my body in some way, I am definitely cranky and find it hard to remain positive. Sometimes this looks like taking a long walk in the evening once the kids are in bed or getting up just a little earlier in the morning to do a quick yoga session. Other times it’s simply stretching while I’m playing with my kids on the floor or inviting them to join me in a plank. It isn’t always easy, but I know some form of physical activity is vital for my mental health and I find ways to prioritize exercise.
Exercise may not be what everyone needs to get through the day, so whatever that “thing” is for you that makes all the difference in your mood, try to find a way to prioritize it. I promise it’s worth it.
I Remember That Taking Care of Me = Taking Care of Them
It is definitely hard to put yourself first as a mom, especially when we are bombarded with messages that idolize selflessness. But mom burnout is real, and at least in my experience, I can’t be the kind of mom I want to be when I’m feeling depleted.
“I can’t be the kind of mom I want to be when I’m feeling depleted.”
Finding ways to pay attention to your own needs can make a world of difference in not only your mood, but also how you interact with your kids. So the truth is, taking care of myself directly impacts how I’m able to take care of my kids. I’m happier when I take care of myself, and that’s the kind of parent I want to be.
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