My friend’s teenage daughter and her friends have a weekend routine.
While Saturday night is “friend night,” Friday night is “self-care night.” When possible, they stay home to rest and decompress after a stressful week.
These girls are high school juniors, and given the demands of junior year, I like this habit they’ve adopted. I think it’s a good example of how the next generation values self-care.
The mothers raising them, on the other hand, are still playing catchup. Unlike our children, we didn’t grow up hearing buzzwords like self-care, self-love, and self-compassion. To no surprise, it’s left us a little confused. While some moms eagerly embrace self-care, others roll their eyes and see it as vanity or self-indulgence.
Maybe it’s because we associate self-care with two opposing extremes. We feel like we must choose one:
- The spa day mentality (a constant mindset of “I’ll treat myself because I deserve it”), or
- The mommy martyrdom mentality (a mindset of “my kids are my world, and I can’t do anything for myself.”)
Neither extreme is healthy because real health means moderation. Overdoing it in either direction can lead to self-worship or self-neglect, both of which hurt a mother and her family.
Am I saying it is wrong to visit a spa, and that motherhood does not require a lot of sacrifice? Absolutely not. Most of us enjoy a good massage and would sacrifice anything for the good of our family.
But after parenting for two decades, I’ve learned there must be a middle ground. There must be self-care that strengthens us – and expands our bandwidth – so we can thrive and handle life trials.
Like many moms, I’ve wrestled with burnout from the pandemic. I’ve felt overwhelmed by the demands pressed upon moms as we return to a full-throttle speed. I may be hitting the marks (driving carpools, keeping appointments, meeting the needs of my kids), yet in trying to keep up, I sometimes feel robotic and empty. I’m learning to tune into my internal health and broaden my idea of self-care.
I used to think that self-care meant bubble baths and fancy vacations. It was the “reward” earned by hard work. Today I see self-care as habits, mindsets, and choices that build wellness from the inside out. It’s what strengthens us and keeps us healthy in mind, body and spirit.
As moms, we need that strength. The older our kids get, the bigger problems they face, and the more inner strength it takes to guide and love them well. While it’s tempting to postpone self-care until our kids are grown, we need it while they’re home. It equips us to handle the difficult days.
In the toddler and teenage years, for instance, we need extra self-care in the form of friendships. On a good day, friends are a bonus — and on a bad day, they’re a lifeline. They restore us when we’re exhausted and boost us when we’re discouraged. They give us the strength to face monotonous days and to love a teenager who’s acting salty. This helps us become the parent our children want and need.
I have a counselor friend who coaches moms on improving their mental health. Her clients often tell her, “I know what I need to do, but how?” They feel overwhelmed and crave practical tips on how to fight burnout. They’re not alone, for we’re all exhausted on some level.
Self-care for moms
While each mom is unique, there are ways to replenish your reserves and counter feelings of depletion. These thoughts can get you started:
1. Real self-care brings you back to your family as a healthier, stronger, better version of you. Think about what energizes you. What recharges your battery and makes you feel more like yourself? Maybe it’s tennis lessons, running, or growing a garden. If you’re an introvert you may want to paint alone, and if you’re an extrovert you may prefer coffee with friends. Whatever rejuvenates you is worth your time and energy.
2. Baby steps are key. Trying to reconstruct your whole life at once will make you want to quit. Instead, focus on habit at a time. Spend a week improving your thought life. A week eating a healthier breakfast. A week controlling your temper or a bad habit you’re trying to break. Keeping it simple and taking it slowly makes it easier to sustain new habits.
3. A motivating motto helps. During one super-stressful year, my friend gained 30 pounds. After much frustration, she told herself: “Today is the day.” She started with one small change – wearing tennis shoes to work – and began by walking 15 minutes during her break. Gradually, she added in other 15-minute walks and worked up to an hour daily. Finding an anthem that speaks to you may inspire action.
4. Your kids like to see you in your element. So let them see you laughing with your friends, dreaming up a new business, planning the church chili cook-off, setting a gorgeous table, or performing your high school routine to “Ice Ice Baby” to get the party started. What makes you you and gives you life may one day be some of their favorite childhood memories.
5. You thrive by living out of your strengths. Are you a glue mom or a glitter mom? Do you create order or creative messes? Do you give great advice or a great listening ear? While it’s good to grow in your areas of weakness, don’t forget to embrace the gifts you bring to the table. Work with your personality, not against it.
6. Negativity that seeps into your heart will eventually seep into your home. It will steal your joy, peace, and ability to love. So set boundaries with toxic people and don’t engage in debates online that keep you angry all day. Instead spend time with uplifting people who keep you in a positive headspace for yourself and your family.
7. The perfect mom in your head doesn’t exist. And mom guilt keeps you stuck in shame. God created you to parent with a spirit of strength, not defeat, so give yourself grace and space to be human. Aim for progress, not perfection.
8. Knowing what your “feel good” is leads to deeper fulfillment. Self-care doesn’t have to be expensive or excessive. In fact, the best way to fight burnout is through small routines that calm your soul. A cup of coffee on your porch after dropping kids off at school. Cuddling with your child or dog. Calling a friend instead of texting. Time in nature. A date night with your husband. A deep conversation with your mom. Baking a pound cake for a hurting friend. Devotional time in the morning. Five minutes of prayer or meditation. A job or calling that elevates your joy and taps into your mother’s heart.
Being a mom is important, but you’re more than just a mom. You’re also a child of God with legitimate human needs in mind, body, and soul. You can only take your children as far as you’ve come, and as you grow your wellness, you teach your kids to do the same. You give them a vision of a healthy adult.
My prayer for my girls is that they become better, stronger, and smarter than me. I want them to learn from my mistakes and build on what I started. While I’m aware they’re learning from me, I’m also constantly learning from them. I’m taking notes from them and their generation — especially as I learn to value my wellness and broaden my view of self-care.
Kari Kampakis is an author, speaker, podcaster, and newspaper columnist. Her latest book, “More Than a Mom: How Prioritizing Your Wellness Helps You (and Your Family) Thrive,” was released in April 2022 through W Publishing. She and her husband, Harry, have four daughters and a dog named Lola.
More in Seattle’s Child:
Quarantine slice of life: Cake is the new self care for moms (humor, May 2020)
Busy working parent? 5 tips for taking care of yourself