We have so many questions when we first have a baby. Much of our focus up to that point has been on pregnancy and birth so when we are suddenly faced with looking after that baby it can be quite shocking. No matter how much we feel we prepared it can be very daunting when we take baby home and suddenly, we have all this responsibility. I remember feeling completely lost and just staring at the baby thinking now what? What do I do? How do I take care of you?
I’m sure I am not alone in having those thoughts.
All our energy goes into thinking about caring for our new baby and actually caring about our new baby and wondering if we are getting it right. Feeling like we are getting it wrong. Feeling like it isn’t how we imagined it would be. People told you you’d be tired right? But that didn’t prepare you for how tired you would be!
And all the focus is on the baby. People want to see the baby, talk about the baby, ask questions about the milestones and what the baby can do, give you advice about the “right way” to be doing everything. It’s amazing how much other people are an expert on what is right for you and your baby!
I remember when the friend I lived with had a baby the main offer of help was “I’ll hold the baby” so that we could get on with cooking, cleaning etc. and my head was screaming “That’s not what we need!” but I couldn’t say that. It didn’t feel right. What we really needed was care, support with everything else so we could just focus on looking after the baby.
Society seems to expect that we can do it all. That we are failing if we are not back to a pre-pregnancy weight by the time baby is 6 months old. And so, we push ourselves to do everything. In doing so we forget about the most important person of all.
We forget about ourselves.
We forget that we matter, that we need to take care of ourselves before we can take care of others. If we don’t look after ourselves then we are running on empty batteries!
This is where self-care comes in. It can feel like a buzz word or a nice to have and very often we dismiss it thinking we haven’t got time for that. There is far too much going on in our lives to do with the baby and the house and our partners and maybe other children that we focus on everyone else, and this ultimately results in us feeling run-down, resentful, un-seen, taken advantage of, uncared for. There is a fundamental rule at play here.
The way we treat ourselves teaches
other people how to treat us.
If we don’t take time for ourselves to care for ourselves in all ways, then other people won’t see that’s how we need to be treated. If we disregard ourselves as unimportant and not worth taking time over, then this is exactly what we get back from other people. It’s human nature, it’s responding unconsciously to the signals we receive. So, when we don’t practice self-care we can also lose out on care and support others may have offered.
What is self-care?
Self-care is a general term that describes everything you do deliberately for your mental, physical, and emotional well-being. ‘Deliberately' is one of the most important words in the definition. You need to be conscious of your well-being before you can achieve true self-care. It starts from the simple acts like not checking social media or emails at night if you know it affects your sleep and includes bigger things like booking holidays and massages you need one.
Why is it important?
Self-care encourages you to maintain a healthy relationship with yourself so that you can transmit the good feelings to others. You cannot give to others what you don't have yourself. Self-care isn’t selfish! When you pay adequate attention to your well-being, you're not considering your needs alone. You're reinvigorating yourself so that you can be the best version of yourself for the people around you. Everyone around you also benefits from the renewed energy and joy you exhibit. This is a really important point to remember when you are resistant to it as a parent. Because by taking care of yourself you are directly making a difference to your child or children. If you don’t take time to charge your batteries, you are more likely to be short tempered and be triggered by things your baby or child does and this can lead to feelings of guilt and shame which further reduces our ability to parent the way we want to. We need to break out of this cycle by focusing on what we can do to help ourselves.
5 top tips for Self Care
It can be really hard to start thinking about how to start practicing self-care. But there are several things you can do. They don’t have to take a lot of time and they don’t all have to be done when you are on your own. When you have a baby or small child then a lot of our time is taken up in their presence. So, let’s look at some things you can do which can help to recharge your batteries:
1. Pay attention to your physical health
Physical health is a core part of self-care. The body and the mind have a unique connection, and it's difficult to be in high spirits when you are not feeling good about your body. Research has shown that regular exercise increases the level of serotonin in our body significantly improving mood and energy. I struggle with lots of traditional exercise suggestions but one thing I know is certain to boost my mood is dancing. Just sticking some cheerful music and having a dance in your living room. It’s a great way to exercise. Your baby can be in arms and enjoy the movement, older children can join in and have fun. It can be a whole family activity or just something you do on your own, but make it fun and the benefits are huge
2. Get enough sleep
This can seem laughable to any parent but there are ways in which we can improve on how much sleep we get and also our perception of that sleep. One of the things that I have found really useful in how the next day feels is that, regardless of how my night has been, when I wake up, I say to myself “I feel great! Today s going to be a great day!” Our perception of sleep is almost as important as the sleep itself, so if we tell ourselves we have had a rubbish night’s sleep and that the day is going to be a struggle we are likely to find that is exactly the case. Conversely if we start the day telling ourselves we feel great, and acting as if we feel great, then our day is much more likely to be easier.
3. Eat in a way that is right for you.
There is a lot of information out there about diet. What we should be eating and when we should be eating it. But I have found that the best way to eat is in a way that is right for you. That doesn’t necessarily mean eat whatever you want and have a total diet of junk food. When I eat food that is high in fat or sugar of course I enjoy it in the moment, but the impact that it can have on my thought patterns later is not something I enjoy. There are lots of messages about eating at the table and maybe we were brought up believing that we should, maybe we prefer to eat off our laps watching TV. Whatever works best for you as a whole is the best way to be. With thinking about what is best for you it is not just about in that moment. It is important to consider what leaves us feeling the best and most cared for. If, as a child, you felt most cared for snuggled on the sofa eating treats, then allow yourself to feel that way again and do just that as an act of self-care. If it is more likely to leave you feeling guilty then think about what would give you a lingering feeling of being cared for.
4. Change your language to change your mindset
We attract what we focus on. If we focus our minds on the negatives, then we will see more and more negatives around us. If we focus on what is good, then we are more likely to see what is good and pay attention to the things which elevate our mood. How often do you talk about things you should do? How often do you berate yourself for not having done these? For not living up to expectations? For the way you look? For what you eat? Yet how often do you use kind words with yourself? Encouraging words? The kind of language you would use to support a friend.
If we speak to ourselves in a negative way, then we are reinforcing all the negative things which have ever been said to us and trapping ourselves into negative ways of thinking. Moreover, in doing that we are teaching our children how to talk to themselves, how to treat themselves, that self-kindness isn’t important. How much more could we be if we only took time to look for the good in ourselves? Took time to celebrate our little wins? Be your own cheerleader and focus on what you have done well, use kind language and be compassionate with yourself as you would be with a friend.
5. Do at least one thing each day just for you, which makes you feel good
This is a definite commitment that it is good to make. Before you can commit to it you need to write your list of things that tick this box. If I am asked on the spot to think of something ,then I can be flustered and find it hard to imagine. But by spending some time thinking about all the things you could do for yourself that make you feel good you can identify things which are really simple (such as feeling the sun on your face), or things which may take more planning (like having an hour to yourself to soak in the bath). Before we were parents these things came naturally to us. Before the pandemic we had more opportunities available to us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t remember, plan, and do. Here are a few of the things that could make you feel good:
Drinking a ‘hot’ drink - Take the time to savour a hot drink and be in the moment enjoying it rather than spending the time thinking about what you will do next or expecting an interruption. The other trick is to get yourself a heat retaining mug so that whatever the interruptions your drink stays hot until you are ready to drink it!
Having a mindful walk - Walking is good for the exercise and fresh air but try and be present during your walk by noticing what is around you and looking at things as if for the first time. Basically quiet your mind and enjoy the walk rather than spending the tie thinking about your to do list or how you could have done something differently.
Reading a good book - or listening to one! I love Audible as I can listen to a story and be transported elsewhere even whilst doing mundane tasks.
Meditating - this can be as simple as just focusing on your breath and coming back to it whenever you realise you have followed a thought. Meditating is the art of letting thoughts go without interacting with them.
Soaking in the bath - again be present in your mind when you do this so you get to enjoy the experience, not realise 30 minutes later you are wrinkly and haven't stopped worrying if the silence is ominus and what you are going to find when you leave the sanctuary of the bathroom.
Journaling - this is one of my favourites, although I am guilty of not doing it as much as would be beneficial to me. But the act of writing down or drawing hat we are feeling and thinking can be as good as talking it out with someone. Possibly even better as you can be completely honest and quite often discover answers and ways forward that were inside you all along.
Using Affirmations - A great way to help you shift your mindset. Affirmations do need to be something you can believe though, so if you struggle saying something like I accept myself with conviction try changing it to "I am learning to accept myself" or even "I choose to accept myself" as these variations can give your subconscious less to object to. Prefacing affirmations with "I am learning...", "I choose..." and even I give myself permission..." has been one of the bests things I introduced to my own practice.
Self-care is not selfish. It is the foundation which allows us to care for ourselves and others. Self-care gives us the resources to pay more sensitive attention to what is happening both within and in the world around us. The more you practice acts of self-care, the stronger the message you send to yourself becomes.
“You deserve this.”
“You are enough.”