While raising children can be extremely rewarding, it can also be highly stressful. Mothers are caretakers, teachers, chefs, chauffeurs, cleaning ladies, counselors, personal shoppers, stylists and nurses to their children — in addition to any jobs they have outside the home. Moms need to remember that in addition to caring for their children’s well-being, they need to take time to nurture their own mental health and emotions.
As mother to a toddler, I know firsthand how easy it can be to get overwhelmed by the day-to-day tasks of being a mom and juggling outside jobs, while also keeping up my friendships and my relationship with my husband. Regardless of how well you handle your responsibilities to others, it is important for you to feel happy, healthy and in touch with your inner self. Not only is it good for you, but it is good for your household and your children. It is part of positive parenting.
Here are a few tips I give my clients who are having difficulty with the pressures of raising children:
Take a break: While it may seem obvious, one of the best ways to cope with stress is to take a quick break from the situation. This is often hard when you have young children or are balancing a career outside the home. However, it is especially important when you feel your emotions are getting out of control to take a step back and try to remain calm. Whether this means leaving the room for a few minutes, allowing yourself not to clean the house during naptime or skipping running errands while the kids are at school, allowing yourself room to breathe deeply can help reduce anxiety or defuse a heated situation.
Turn off at night: For many moms, attempts to unwind and fall asleep and at the end of the day can be thwarted by persistent thoughts that are hard to turn off – about scheduling, chores, work, etc. Try to give yourself some buffer time by setting aside 30 minutes before your desired bedtime to put aside all tasks and stressors. Make a list of tasks for tomorrow or jot down some thoughts to store for later, so you don’t need to go over them in your head before bed. Take a bath, read a book or play a round of Candy Crush, but try to shelve solving problems, sorting out your schedule and answering emails that might keep you awake and stressing at night.
Find something just for you: Perhaps you want to meditate, join a spin class or take a daily walk. You might need help to pull this off, but even finding a mom friend and taking turns giving each other an hour off while the other watches the kids can be a huge benefit to your mental health. Some indoor play spaces have drop-off hours so moms can have some free time to themselves. Reconnecting with a favorite hobby, getting a manicure, hitting the gym or exploring other non-child-oriented activities helps you stay present with yourself.
Say goodbye to guilt: Motherhood stirs up a lot of guilt. I let my child watch too much TV. We ate mac and cheese for dinner again. I didn’t buy my daughter the toy she wanted. We will always have doubts and times we wish we made different decisions, but beating yourself up and feeling guilty about your choices is a huge drain on your mental health. Try to find a way to channel your feelings into something productive, such as keeping a journal of things you want to do differently in the future. Give yourself a free pass and acknowledge that you are human, rather than dwelling on imperfections or mistakes.
Talk to someone: Whether it is a therapist, your partner or a best friend, find that special someone you can be yourself with and share the things you might feel wrong saying out loud. Whether you crave adult conversation over a glass of wine or have myriad difficult emotions inside you wanting to get out, finding the right person to talk with can be a huge mental relief. It is normal to have ups and downs, to have times when you feel sad and angry, to sometimes feel loss of self when navigating motherhood. We are so strong for our children and families, we might forget to ask for help for ourselves. Mothers deserve a place where they feel safe exploring their full range of emotions.
Ashley B. Hurdle, M.A., is a registered intern working under supervision in private practice. She is earning her Ph.D. in Depth Psychotherapy at Pacifica Graduate Institute, and is in private practice, seeing individuals, couples, families and teenagers at her offices in Woodland Hills. When away from her practice, she enjoys spending time with her 2-year-old daughter and husband.