Moms Need to Take Care of Themselves – Without Guilt

Psychotherapist Debra Gilbert Rosenberg on the importance of moms taking time for themselves each day

I don’t really like bubble baths; to me, they are more trouble than they’re worth. Sure, it’s nice in theory to soak in a fragrant, warm tub, engrossed in a great book, candles burning and beautiful background music calming and soothing me, but it always seems that as soon as I get fully relaxed, the water starts to cool, the bubbles dissolve, and instead of feeling peaceful, I am chilled, covered in suds, and aware of the scummy bathtub ring I am creating and will undoubtedly need to clean before I get to go to bed.

Caring for youngsters and managing the rest of your family, home, and work obligations seem to leave little time or capacity for self-indulgence, and indeed, moms who take time for themselves often feel guilty that they aren’t doing more for everyone else. When I was a new mom, friends urged me to take care of myself, and often they recommended wine or bubble baths – sometimes both. I appreciated their intent, but I don’t actually enjoy drinking alcohol, and bubble baths leave me, literally, cold. But even the most well-meaning suggestions as to how to relieve the stress resulting from trying to be the best mom ever always seemed to make me feel worse. Telling me to take good care of myself, instead of sounding wise and loving, became still one more thing I was supposed to do to be a good mom, one more thing at which I could either do well or fail.

Image by Sarah Gilbert

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Nowadays, mothers of young children are bombarded with advice. The parenting sections in bookstores and libraries are overflowing with the ultimate solutions for everything imaginable, from raising brilliant children to getting your little ones to sleep through the night. Mothers are constantly being advised what to do, and often that includes how to take care of themselves. Any woman who wants to be the best mother possible (isn’t that every mother?) is faced with trying to do everything “right” for her children and family, as well as keeping up with the housework and her job, while also finding time to do something nice for herself. Instead of helping mothers relax, that push to “take a bubble bath” can feel like one more impossible task on the never-ending to-do list. To me, that well-meant suggestion to sleep when the baby sleeps, or to take the dreaded bubble bath, became not a support, but one more thing at which I might not succeed.

So here’s what I tell mothers who are feeling overwhelmed and stressed: Don’t take this advice as something else you must do to be a good mom, or as one more thing to make you feel guilty if you don’t. Understand the concern others have for your well-being as a message that you are a valuable member of your own family who deserves to have some personal enjoyment in life. Remember that even though you’re a mom, you are still a healthy adult, with needs which deserve to be met every bit as much as anyone else’s.

So set aside a little time every day to do something, anything, which makes you feel better. For some women, taking care of themselves may involve that candlelit bubble bath, but for others, something else may better fill the bill. Do something that makes you feel good or happy or, simply, more like you. What is important isn’t the specific activity; it’s that you remember to make time for yourself, even if it’s only a few minutes every day. It doesn’t matter if you watch soap operas, call a friend, train for a triathlon, organize a cooking club, write romance novels, design skyscrapers, or simply gaze out the window and daydream. But it is important and valuable to take time to do something that the adult, unique person you are enjoys.

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Keep in mind that it doesn’t matter if what makes you feel refreshed seems relaxing or enjoyable to anyone else. Take the time to enjoy being you, whatever that means. Remind yourself that you are a valued member of your family, and everyone in the family occasionally warrants your full, indulgent attention, including you. Do something on a regular basis that makes you personally feel good, and remember that only you know what that might be. If those guilty feelings cling to you despite sincere efforts to indulge yourself, remember this: Taking care of yourself allows you to take better care of others. That means that when you spend time on yourself, you’re really doing everyone a favor.

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Category: Family, Parenting, Relationships

Debra Gilbert Rosenberg, LCSW

About Debra Gilbert Rosenberg, LCSW: Debra Gilbert Rosenberg, LCSW is a nationally-recognized psychotherapist and motherhood expert who focuses on helping mothers feel good about themselves while adjusting to motherhood. She has written The New Mom's Companion: Care for Yourself While [...]
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