“You can’t pour from an empty vessel” is a well-worn motto for a reason. And yet as mothers we are notorious for putting ourselves last and prioritising the welfare of others. We want to be everything to everyone and more often than not we land at the bottom of the heap. We neglect our own emotional health. Sound familiar?
Motherhood can be a deeply fulfilling experience but it can also be challenging and confronting. You hit the ground running, without training but with full responsibility. It is relentless, demanding and all-consuming. And this is on a good day. When things go a bit pear-shaped, or life throws some epic challenges at you, it can feel impossible.
At various times I have suffered complete motherhood burnout. At one point a doctor said to me, “You can’t drive around on an empty tank forever. Sooner or later you will run out of petrol and break down.” These words rang true for me as I had been totally neglecting my emotional health. I put some measures in place to prioritise my own health and wellbeing.
Here are 4 ways I have built my emotional health:
- Good enough parenting
If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll know I am a staunch supporter of “good enough” parenting. Shortly after the birth of my third child, when I was deep in the baby/toddler trenches I made the liberating decision to lower my expectations and standards. At a time when my life was turned completely upside down and chaos became my norm (having three kids under three will do that to you!),I had to kick “perfect” to the curb and get satisfied with “satisfactory”. It was a revelation. I don’t try to be the perfect mum anymore. Besides, the “perfect” mum is a myth. I accept that I’m a flawed human being but I think I get it right more than I get it wrong. And I am sure you do too!
- Ditch the guilt
I know this is a hard one for mums, as we seem to feel guilty from the moment of conception. And sometimes it occurs even earlier than conception! But we need to make a conscious effort not to allow guilt to tarnish the joy of motherhood and affect our self-esteem. “Mummy guilt” can be toxic and often it is unwarranted and unhelpful. We need to trust our instincts more and listen to others less. I do not feel weighed down by mother guilt. Certainly there are times when I feel pangs of guilt, like when I recently missed my daughter’s first certificate at Assembly! But mostly, it is temporary – I don’t feel consumed by guilt.
- Me time
Repeat after me: “Me time” is not an indulgence, it is a necessity.” The following statement is a myth: “A good parent always puts their child’s needs ahead of their own”. I wish I had learned this much earlier on but it took me some time. I look back now and I think I lost a sense of my self in early motherhood. I wanted to be always available and I gave so much of myself but I forgot about me. It’s taken me a while to realise that giving back to myself is not selfish and it’s not a luxury – it’s essential. I have been a happier and healthier mum since I realised that I matter too. In fact my needs matter just as much as the kids’ needs. These days I prioritise “me time” even if it’s a simple activity like going for a walk by myself. Nature instantly restores me and I make sure I let it work its magic on me several times a week.
- Regularly “check in” with yourself
The way to avoid mum burnout is to check in with yourself regularly, so you can see it coming. You shouldn’t have to emotionally combust to realise you need replenishing. These days I am much better at recognising the signs of exhaustion, burnout and anxiety and I can do something about it.
There is a great tool that makes it easier than ever to check in. mummatters is a free tool that you can save to your phone’s home screen. You can use it during pregnancy and in the year after birth, to help you get a better sense of how you are going. In less than five minutes you are guided through a series of questions to gauge where your emotional health is at. And, if more support is ever needed, mummatters can help you find it. mummatters will also remind you when you next need to check in to see how you’re going. And I am all for reminders!
Do you find it hard to prioritise yourself? What do you do when your mood needs a boost?
* Disclosure: NASD is partnering with Bupa on a series of emotional health blog posts. This is the first in a three-part series.