Motherhood: Self-Care - "Me before you"

by Grace Ko

I’m sure you’ve all heard of the proverbial airplane air mask analogy when it comes to self-care - "In the event of emergency, put your oxygen mask on first before you help others."

This is something my dear husband has had to remind me of often. But let’s be real. When a child is utterly dependent on you for life, when he needs to be fed, when dirty diapers need to be changed and clothes need to be washed, caring for yourself gets placed on the back-burner. Even the most basic needs like eating and hygiene get lost in the shuffle. Not to mention that when I was really really new to this “mom” thing, I somehow let lies get to my head, that if I took care of myself first, I was less-than. The lie was that if I cared for myself and my needs and desires, I was “selfish”. But thanks to loving friends and dear husband, I’ve come to realize that you truly do need to care for yourself first. When we’re filled, we can love from a place of overflow, not from emptiness.

So, what have I learned about self-care? What does it look like for me?

  • Do something for yourself once a day/week/month: This could mean taking 15 minutes to read a book you’ve been meaning to crack open, or getting your nails done or making a monthly commitment to have a “mommy date” with a friend.

  • Embrace joy: Motherhood rocks your world and your identity. It’s been grounding, energizing and life-giving to go back to things I enjoyed pre-motherhood but also to try and find new things. For me personally, this has been going to Zumba class, practicing yoga at home or devouring books of all genres.

  • Create a routine that works for you: I’m a sucker for routine. And structure. But it felt like that all went out the window with motherhood (especially in that newborn/infant stage). But over time, I’ve found little things here and there that have created routine and stability in the chaos of parenthood: a morning routine that involves waking up before everyone else for a bit of me-time, an evening routine that I look forward and that helps me unwind (usually involving a good book or show with the husband).

  • Ask for help: I’ll confess, this is one that’s been really hard for me, one I’m still working on. For those familiar with the enneagram, I’m type 2. One thing the enneagram has helped shed light on is how often I find my worth in helping others and when left to its vices, it’s often at the cost of myself. The internal tape in my head is one of “I’m worthy to be loved if I’m needed”. But what about when I need others? It’s hard asking for help, letting down my guard and being in need. Whether it’s asking someone to watch your child so you can enjoy a date night or some alone-time, going to a lactation consultant for guidance on breastfeeding or seeking professional help in counseling to better navigate the vast emotions, hurts, pain that surface with parenthood, asking for help doesn’t show weakness. It takes courage and strength.

  • Find your inner friend: Recently, I watched a video uploaded by one of my favorite YouTubers, Do it on a dime. She’s a mommy of two boys and posts content on organization and low-budget lifestyle. But in this video, “An open letter to mediocre moms..” she urged us to “find your inner friend”, to show yourself the grace you so easily show friends. Be a kind and gentle friend to yourself.

  • Stay curious: At the beginning of this year, I signed up for life-coaching. Though I’m a counselor by trade, it was the first time I received coaching or counseling of any kind, outside of work/training. After receiving life-coaching from Jenn and the many conversations I’ve had with my family and friends as a result, a new motto I’ve adopted is, “Stay curious”. Staying curious means creating space for communication - not just with others but within myself, allowing myself space to explore and grow in self-awareness.