illustration by Jeanne Seagle
As mothers, we kiss away boo-boos, correct messy grammar, and encourage our kids when they strike out at bat. It’s part of our job — to fill up our children when they are depleted — and we wouldn’t have it any other way. But caring for others takes time, energy, and real effort.
Yet moms often stay so busy with caregiving that we overlook the need to exercise or simply enjoy those activities that replenish our own spirit.
Self-care is necessary
“Women must learn to see taking care of themselves as a necessity, not a luxury,” says Christina Burns, a licensed professional counselor with Germantown United Methodist Church’s Counseling Center. “When we are in the role of caregivers, we can push our needs aside for an extraordinary amount of time. Eventually, there are consequences. Some women experience fatigue, emptiness, stress, anxiety, or depression. Resentment can build and negatively affect relationships, causing marital conflict and friction with children.” Instead, we must strive for balance.
So how do other moms do it? What activities do they pursue to achieve that balance? Many say exercise is an important part of their weekly routine. Gina Morgan dances and kick boxes in four to five Jazzercise classes each week. She has a 4-year-old daughter and is expecting another baby in August. An associate director of call center sales support at ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Gina sticks to her exercise routine.
“I go right after work and at 7 a.m. on Saturdays,” she says.
Kari Armstrong has five children ranging from toddler to tween-age. The stay-at-home mom rarely has time alone, but daily exercise and naps restore her energy. She does Pilates exercise at home and gathers the kids for a walk and picnic in the park. “When I pack a picnic, there’s no kitchen clean up,” she says. “Being involved in a Bible study group is also very helpful to me.” She also sets up a babysitter so she and her husband can enjoy an occasional night out with friends.
For Donna Prasse, a monthly massage relieves stress and tension. “It’s quiet and soothing, and I enjoy listening to the water fountain that sounds like a babbling brook.” After the massage, she takes a nap. “Then I’m good for another month. I also lose myself in a good book for an hour before bed.” She tries to follow the advice from her son’s pediatrician. “He recommends mothers find an hour of time for themselves every day.”
Elvira Camarena reserves two nights each month to celebrate her friendships. “My Hispanic girlfriends and I go to a restaurant and talk and laugh.” She teaches at Bolton High School and is raising an elementary school-aged son and 14-year-old daughter. “I also run four afternoons a week after work and just leave the housework behind.”
Tune in to yourself
On a deeper note, self-care is about much more than an occasional night out to decompress, says Burns. “Truly taking care of the self involves an emotionally healthy approach to living. Become aware of your inner dialogue. How do you speak to yourself? Are you compassionate and encouraging? Practice mindfulness, be intentional about focusing your thoughts and attention on what is happening in the here and now.
“Make an effort to be truly present to experience life without being pulled away by the daily busyness,” she says. “Be intentional about gratitude. Work to grow spiritually. Your cup will be running over.”