Expert Opinion

Self-care tips for mums

With Mother’s Day done and dusted for another year, it’s always a great reminder about the importance of self-care. Although, I always think this should be an everyday thing and not just reserved for Mother’s Day! If we are not firing on all cylinders, it makes it very hard, and sometimes impossible, to provide the emotional and physical care our kids require. ‘Self-care’ takes on a whole new meaning once you become a parent, and it takes quite a bit of creativity to ensure you’re able to not just look after your little one, but nurture yourself as well.
There’s a difference between simply looking after yourself (i.e., going to the gym and eating well) and ‘self-care’, which focuses on nurturing yourself. This can come in various forms depending on your priorities and values. For some, self-care might look like taking a day off to spend on the couch with a book; for others it might be the strengthening of your personal boundaries and consequently putting the needs of you and your family before your work. It can look like a dinner with girlfriends, or going to bed early and everything in between. Fundamentally, it should make you feel good!

So, what’s the answer to helping our kids to do less of the stuff we don’t want and more of the listening? The secret is largely to do with changing how we are communicating with our kids in the first place. Here are a few of the communication strategies I’ve used successfully in my practice with parents over the past 15 years:

The challenge, however, lies in being able to make time for self-care activities when you’re a busy parent. And while I am absolutely all for booking in at the day spa or taking a weekend off, it’s just not a possibility for most mums. So, here are four ways that you can prioritise yourself on a daily basis simply by changing your thinking:

  1. Encourage positive self-talk. Be kind to yourself and if you wouldn’t say it to your kids, don’t say it (or think it) to yourself.
  2. At some point every few months, set aside time to reflect and review your life. Have you got any goals? Is there anything you want to achieve or change? How are you going to do it? Without investing time to think about these things, nothing will change.
  3. Get comfortable with asking for help. Challenge yourself in terms of why asking for help is hard and try to work on this habit.
  4. Stop comparing yourself to others. Stress less about your appearance, possessions, or parenting. The sad thing about comparison is that while we often compare against those who have ‘more’ than us and end up feeling unhappy about ourselves, the instances of comparison where we come out ‘on top’ (as the ‘better’ parent, or ‘more attractive’ person) inherently reinforce the unhealthy habit of comparing ourselves because these rare instances make us feel ‘good’ and the cycle continues.

As a psychologist who is also a mum, I found it helpful when my daughter was a toddler and pre-schooler to think about activities where I could feel nurtured while still engaging my daughter. I guess it’s the multitasker in me, which I know goes against the premise I’ve just described in terms of nurture, but we need to be practical! This could look like:

  • Going to the park and while your child plays, take a few moments to be mindful and notice the sensory experience – the sights, sounds, smells, and what you can feel for example. Simply spending this time being mindful can have a multitude of physical and emotional benefits.
  • Teach your child mindfulness activities while you practice alongside. It might not be quite as relaxing as it would be minus child, but you might still receive some benefit!
  • If you both find it enjoyable and it wouldn’t cause further stress, engage in some creativity with your child. For example, you could get the watercolours out and both have a go of copying a picture or creating your own.

Remember, we need to look after ourselves so we can look after our kids and model self-love and care. Get your thinking cap on, and start to prioritise you – every day.

About the author

Amanda Abel is a paediatric psychologist, mum, and founder of Northern Centre for Child Development (NCCD) and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development (HCCD) – multidisciplinary paediatric practices in Melbourne. Working directly and indirectly with hundreds of clients each year, Amanda’s mission is for every child to achieve their best outcomes by equipping families and educators with the tools they need to help kids thrive.
Amanda draws on her own experiences of being a parent along with her extensive training and well-honed skill set to get families thriving. Having worked with families for almost two decades, as a psychologist for the past 11 years in a variety of settings, and a valued board member of the Autism Behavioural Intervention Association, Amanda loves building the confidence of the adults in the lives of children so that they can connect meaningfully, help them reach their full potential, and live a life that reflects their values.
Often appearing on Channel 7 and 9 News and regularly featuring in print media, Amanda is on a mission to make the world better for kids through her clinical work, consulting to some of the biggest global toy manufacturers and educating the digital media industry about making the internet safer for kids.
Photo by Brett Sayles