Taking Care of Yourself
Sometimes moms are so busy taking care of everyone else that they forget to take care of themselves. It can be hard to take a few minutes for yourself when the dishes are piling up and you’re trying to get dinner on the table. This is especially true if you’re parenting alone.
When moms feel better, their children benefit. Part of feeling better about your parenting is understanding how experiences of violence and trauma can impact your parenting. It can help you to better understand some of the challenges you experience and helps to minimize feelings of guilt and shame.
In this section you can learn more about how violence and trauma can impact parenting, as well as strategies to deal with stress and practical ways to take a break when you are parenting young children.
Sometimes I feel like I just wasn’t cut out to be a mom. What should I do?
At times, every mom worries about whether they are a ‘good mom’. Children don’t come with an instruction book, and women don’t get a ‘magical parenting toolbox’ the instant they become a mom.
Many different things can affect your parenting and your relationship with your children: the support you receive, your culture or religion, different stresses in your life, and the way you were raised as a child all play a role in determining how you parent.
Hurtful experiences you had as an adult, teenager and even from your childhood can also play a role in how you parent, your relationship with your children and how you feel as a mother.
Violence in an adult relationship
When a mother lives with an abusive partner or family member, the use of power and control tactics can impact how she parents her children. Putting down your parenting, undermining your authority, not allowing you to comfort your child when they are upset, and isolating you from friends and family can all affect your relationship with your child and affect how you feel as a mother.
In these situations, some women may also change their parenting style. Not setting limits with your children out of guilt, being strict with your children to keep them from bothering the abuser, sharing adult information with your children because you feel isolated, and relying on older children to help take care of their siblings are direct results of the abuse.
Experiencing abuse or neglect as a child, especially from a parent, can also affect your parenting. Parenting is learned from many different sources; however, the way you were parented as a child plays a significant role in how you parent your own children.
If you grew up with parents who were hurtful or neglectful, it can be difficult to know how to respond to your own child’s emotional needs and connect with them in an appropriate way. It can sometimes be hard to see them getting the love and affection or opportunities that you might not have had growing up. If you were hurt as a child, seeing your children at the age you were when you were hurt can also be difficult. Your child can make you aware of how young and vulnerable you really were.
Managing the impact
If you have had hurtful experiences in your life, give yourself a break. Try to separate out your parenting from the violence that occurred. Remember that it’s the hurtful experiences that are making parenting difficult, not because you ‘aren’t cut out to be a mom’. Here are some tips to help you understand how these experiences may have impacted your parenting:
- Start to think about the areas of parenting that you find challenging. Are there any links to your past experiences? Recognizing this impact is the first step toward making changes.
- If your parents/caregivers were hurtful, decide how you want to be different from them and whether or not there is anything you would like to do the same as them.
- If you have left an abusive relationship, think about whether the way you parented during the violence is still the way you want to parent now that you are away from the violence.
- Meet with other mothers in similar situations to get support around the challenges of parenting after hurtful experiences. Mothers in Mind and other programs offered by Child Development Institute and MIM Affiliates can help.
- Get professional support to work through your thoughts and feelings about your past experiences. This can help you support and respond to your children in a helpful way. Check out the Resources section for further information about available support.
I feel stressed all of the time and I think my child feels stressed too. What can I do to manage our stress?
Adults, children and even babies feel stress. Feeling stressed is a normal part of life. Some stress can be healthy - it can motivate us to get things done or meet a deadline. In these moments of everyday stress, your body’s natural alarm system reacts - adrenaline races through your body, your heart beats faster and your muscles become tense, all to give your body a boost of energy.
Stress can become a problem when it’s ongoing and we have little support. Chronic stresses like violence, poverty and homelessness can affect your mind, body and spirit. Stress affects everyone differently, but common symptoms include:
- Physical symptoms – headaches, stomachaches and body aches
- Sleeping problems – having trouble sleeping, fatigue, sleeping too much
- Feeling anxious, depressed, hopeless or exhausted
Sometimes people turn to unhealthy ways to manage the stress in their lives (drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or food), but there are more effective and positive ways to help manage stress. Keep in mind that it may take time to figure out what works best for you.
Think about what is actually causing the stress in your life. Naming the cause of your stress is the first step in figuring out how to better manage it.
If you are dealing with serious issues such as poverty, violence or homelessness, ask for help. There are many free resources that can provide support on issues related to financial stress, homelessness, accessing childcare and counselling. Check out the Resources section for more information about support that is available.
Stress can take over if you are isolated and feel alone. Consider accessing professional support, talking to someone you trust or connecting with other moms. Going to a drop-in centre is a great way to meet other moms. The Ontario Government runs Ontario Early Years Centres (free drop-in centres) throughout Ontario. Check out the Resources section for more information about the support that is available.
Being active can be a great way to manage stress. Go for a walk or run, dance, play basketball, whatever you like to do. Try to get into a routine of doing something physical every day. This is a great way to model healthy coping strategies for your children, and is something that you can do together.
Often when we are feeling stressed we forget to breathe deeply. Breathe in through your nose, letting your stomach rise and then slowly breathe out through your mouth. Controlled breathing helps to combat stress by releasing muscle tension, slowing your heart rate and clearing your mind. And it can be done anywhere, anytime!
Express your stress! Write in a journal, use paint, music and movement to express your thoughts and feelings.
Take a break
When you’re feeling stressed, find a quiet place and take a five minute break to clear your head.
Sometimes I feel like it’s impossible to get a moment to myself. I’m exhausted and overwhelmed. How can I get a break?
It can be hard for moms to find time for themselves. Some moms may feel they’re being selfish. But the truth is everyone needs a break at times in order to relax and re-energize. When you feel better, your children benefit. Taking time for yourself will help you be more patient, caring and attentive with your children.
But let’s be honest, it’s unlikely that you are going to get half an hour to yourself to have a hot bath and a cup of tea every day, especially if you have small children.
Sometimes you might have to get creative when it comes to finding time for yourself. It’s often about finding little moments in the day to take a break, and even seeing the everyday moments with your children as opportunities to take care of yourself.
Here’s how some Mothers in Mind moms take a break:
“A few times a week I try to get up 20 minutes before my kids. I use this time for me. No laundry or dishes, just 20 minutes to sit, take a few deep breaths, have a coffee and get ready for the day.” – Surinder
“I am trying to look at things differently. When I am doing everyday tasks like reading to my son before bed, I try to see those moments as taking care of myself too. We snuggle together under a blanket and my feet are off the ground! It helps me to feel relaxed.” – Charlotte
“I have started to see a counsellor. It helps me to work through my thoughts and feelings about everything that has happened to me. Even though it can be hard sometimes, it helps me feel better.” – Shanniqua
“I have figured out that I really like to draw. It helps me express myself and makes me feel relaxed. So now instead of trying to get something done when my daughter is colouring, I sit down with her and we colour together.” – Audrey
“After I drop off my daughter at daycare, I use the bus ride to work as ‘me’ time. I often bring paper and a pen and jot down my thoughts and feelings or sometimes I just close my eyes and relax.” – Natasha