As a Massage Therapist it’s almost ingrained in us to promote Massage as THE way to care for yourself. I admit I do promote it as self care but it is one of many ways we can care for ourselves as parents. The real self care for parents looks much different every couple or family. In the early days of parenting there isn’t much in the way of alone time to get a massage or a haircut which form the usual images of self care. Instead we need to look at what makes us feel great. What is it that connects us back to ourselves and to each other.
When our babies are brand new they need us more than we ever imagined. One thing I always tell my pregnant clients is that there is no way to describe the absolute dependence that child has on you. Everyone tells you that you won’t sleep, you won’t shower and you won’t eat. In reality, you will do all of that. However, the control of when you choose do to that is dictated by the needs of your baby. You are learning how to become a parent. You are learning how your baby communicates their needs and your needs might need to wait. There will be glimmers of hope. There will be times when your baby sleeps longer, will be more settled or you get help.
As time goes on, you will understand your baby’s needs. You will work out ways to create more time and will begin to feel better in your role as a parent. Remember the early days are a stage and while it may be tough now, it will get easier. This time will be over soon and you may miss those days of having your baby so little.
What Real Self Care for Parents Might Look Like For You
Take A Shower
Ok let’s start really easy. In the very early days of parenthood self care involves the basics of personal hygiene. Many Mums complain that they couldn’t take a shower as their baby was so needy. A shower can make us feel better. It takes away the smell of vomit, poo or anything else that may have ended up on you during the day. It gives you a moment to take a breath and recharge so you can get back out there for your baby. Try making a shower a priority over loading the dishwasher or putting on laundry. When your partner gets home, I’m sure they would love some time with your baby too.
This form of self care has benefits to both mother and baby. Get Dad involved too and the whole family benefits. Cuddling helps your baby develop secure attachments to their parents. It also promotes relaxation, reduces anxiety and improves sleep. When our babies are unwell or tired, they seek out cuddles to feel comforted and supported until they are feeling better. You cannot spoil a child with too many cuddles. So why not take some time to stop and enjoy some family cuddles.
When exercise is spoken about following pregnancy, the focus is always on getting your pre-baby body back. Mums feel they are only back to normal if they fit into their pre-baby clothes and have lost their belly. It’s unrealistic to feel that your body will snap back so instead focus on the other benefits of exercise. I recommend clients start by walking. Walking is free, allows you to get some fresh air, clears the mind, improves your stamina and is simple. No complicated routines, just one foot in front of the other. Walking is gentle enough to get your body working but without completely exhausting yourself. Go for a walk as a family and enjoy some adult conversation while bub sleeps.
Once you are ready to do some more, try my Clingy Baby Workout. The workout is strength focused and aimed at giving you simple exercises to do while holding your baby. Workouts in the early days will not be perfect. You may not get time to complete your workout in full but remember that’s ok. Your baby needs you now and going back to cuddles anytime is perfectly fine. Also as your baby grows, find activities you can do together as a family. It gets you active and bonding as a family. Many parents will enrol their kids into sports or activities but forget about themselves. Why not find something to do together.
Leaving the house to do anything as a parent takes much more effort. There’s all the extra stuff to pack, being prepared for the inevitable poo-nami and the time to load and unload the car. I have heard many mums talk about going to the supermarket as a Mum vacation. Leaving the house alone can feel wonderful, even just for 10 mins to go to the shops or sitting in the car listening to music. Time out is a great action of self care. A change of scenery, quiet time and a moment to breathe.
Together as parents creating time for date night can be an important form of self care. It may not be a wild night out with high heels and cocktails. It may be simple as enjoying a quick meal together to start. Building up to dinner and a movie before trying a night away from your baby. We easily forget the relationship we had before kids and the person we fell in love with. The relationship dynamic is different and you are facing challenges of broken sleep, hormones and a body recovering from the stresses of pregnancy. Working together you can find a new way to connect and experience the moments you enjoyed before children.
The idea of returning to work following the birth of your bub is a time parents dread. Dads often get a short break to support Mum and it’s back to work. Mum is left home alone craving adult conversation and missing the routine of work life. However, work brings many of us meaning and brings out our passion to help others.
For me, returning to work was about feeling useful again. I know caring for your baby is useful but when you are alone and disconnected from others, work gives you a way to connect, learn and help improve the lives of others. I absolutely enjoy writing blogs and sharing stories to help other mums. It gives me purpose and connection with other mums. I’ve been told so many times I work “too hard” or “too much” but I love what I do so I don’t see it as work. I see the value to my self worth, my mental health and my contribution to my community through the work I choose to do. There’s time I have to admit I take on too much but that’s my decision to make. Work has been created that is flexible around my family, provides for us financially and sets a positive role model for our son. We were proud of the moment Tristan could join me in the business full time as it meant we could both be around for Blake and do a job we love. At times it is challenging working together but we do our best.
What does your picture of real self care as parents look like?
Your picture of self care will change as your baby grows, as your family grows and as you return to work. It’s time to ditch that perfect picture of self care being all about flowery spa treatments and blissful moments of alone time. It’s about re-framing the things we see as mundane or normal and realising the positive impact they can have on your physical, mental and emotional health. Remember to enjoy your time as parents and connect again as a partnership.