Who cares?

Self-care seems to be the buzz word of the year and we’re only half way through February.  I am going to jump on the self-care band wagon and challenge us all as mummies to think when did we actually last take some time to care for ourselves?  You may have been a mummy for 2 days, 2 months, 2 years or even 22 years, but nevertheless self-care never becomes any less important.  Ever heard the phrase “happy mummy, happy baby”?  I’m not sure it strictly works like that, but I might add to it and say “happy mummy, surviving mummy”.  It is so unbelievably crucial that we look after ourselves.  I’m the first to hold my hand up and say I’m pretty hopeless at it, but every now and then I’m reminded of the importance.

I’ve always thought of “self-care” as an excuse to pamper oneself for no apparent reason, or to be entitled to something, just because I need to self-care.  Well, to a certain extent, I guess that is a little bit of what it’s about, but it’s also so much more than that.  As a play therapist one principle of the ethical framework I have a responsibility to abide by is self-care.  Again, when I started out this was the bottom of my priority list.  I had my regular supervision (I’ll say a bit more about that in a minute) but other than that I thought the other elements of the framework (such as, non-maleficence (not harming the client) and justice (the fair and impartial treatment of all clients) etc) were so much more important.  But I have come to realize this is not the case.  As therapists we have an obligation to have regular supervision – this is a space in which the therapist can not only learn and grow in knowledge of practice, but care for themselves and technically off-load.  This is crucial to avoid burn out and potential secondary trauma (this can be experienced when you work with a lot of children/young people/adults who have experienced primary trauma and “technically off-load” that with the therapist).  I’ve explained that very crudely, but basically supervision is essential. However, it only forms one aspect of self-care.  As mothers, I would challenge us that we daily face the battle of burn-out, and for some of us, trauma comes in the form of child-illness, post-natal depression, single-parenting, and all sorts from our own histories which we might never of thought would return to haunt us.  Yet, despite parenting being potentially one of the most challenging professions going, there is no obligation for supervision.

surviving mummy!

Until I had Poppi, I never really grasped the temper I have.  I always thought I was quite good at removing myself from a situation and allowing myself time to calm down before confronting whatever it was that had made me angry.  But what if you can’t escape the situation?  What if it follows you around the house and continues to push the buttons as you try and take the time to calm down?  So, many times have I failed to not become angry.  And this results in anger upon anger as I then become angry with myself for getting angry with Poppi.  During Poppi’s “terrible-twos” there were often days when I worried if it was just me and her all day and dreaded that it was going to end badly.  So, I have had to find ways to self-care.  Each of us will have different ways in which we relax but the important thing is finding what that is for you and literally booking it into your diary.

I have three main ways in which I have found I can help myself to manage situations better and reach the end of the day without feeling like a total failure:

  1. Meeting with other people
  2. Getting out
  3. Praying

When I say meeting with other people, I don’t just mean other mums with kids too.  Sometimes I found this stressful too.  Poppi was a two year old, and two year olds are undergoing massive hormonal changes (same hormones as when you reach adolescence (help me now!!)) and their prefrontal cortex is by no means fully developed yet (this is the part of our brain which helps us with decision making, gives us the ability to think and be rational, moderates social behaviour, and informs our cognitive behaviour and expressions of personality).  Therefore, as she explored the boundaries of social interactions it wasn’t always fun for me, if I wasn’t in the right frame of mind, to deal with the snatching, hitting, shouting, pouting (you name it) behaviours directed at other kids, or me.

I have been fortunate enough to have found a lovely friend who is a little older than me so has been there, done that, got the t-shirt when it comes to kids.  It was SO reassuring, and I mean SO reassuring to hear how she often ended up sitting on the stairs in tears with the kids running around and she often felt like tearing her hair out with the challenges she faced.  Hearing this made me feel normal.  I wasn’t the only one.  It might not have made me feel any better about the way I reacted, but it did help me to know I wasn’t alone.  I have found I can be that person for a friend too and our kids are only about six months apart, but I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, everything comes in stages and they do pass.  Sometimes, it is good to find someone other than family to have these conversations with, as family, as wonderful as they may be, can often be too close for comfort.  My mother-in-law, in my eyes, is superwoman and it seems that nothing is too much for her (so that just made me feel worse) and my own mother is so much more chilled than me I didn’t think she would truly empathise

Another massive help for me is getting out of the house.  Although I tend to dislike the winter and hate being cold, I do understand the value of sucking it up and getting outside.  The fresh air not only wakes me up but revitalises me.  This might mean getting out with Poppi (to the woods or the park), as a change of scene can be helpful for her too, or when I get the chance to get out for a run or on my bike by myself.  The added bonus of physical exercise helps elevate stress and allows me space to clear my head before facing the day.

And finally, but perhaps most importantly, praying.  I can’t do this by myself.  I have a temper and I struggle to be patient.  But, I believe in a God that can and does help me.  Recently, when I’ve been feeling like I’m going to snap I say a quick prayer and trust in the strength God gives me.  When I forget, the reaction I give is noticeably different.

I’ve said all this to you as mothers, but let’s remember that our little one’s fathers need to have a chance to self-care too.  I tend to feel my husbands “self-care” has more of an impact on family life (such as training for an Iron Man), but nevertheless, it is essential for us all and when we work together, communicate well, and look after ourselves Poppi gets our best.  And when Poppi gets my best, I feel at my best.