The early years of motherhood are an amazing time. Full of love, hope and wanting to provide the best for your family. Those early years are also a time of incredible change and pressure for women. Navigating new roles and new identities open us to highs and lows of a whole new scale. Comfort zones become stretched in ways that can’t be prepared for, even though you tried, inviting in feelings of doubt and not being good enough. The sense of responsibility is immense and trying to do it all can feel like you are compromising yourself and the people you love daily.
Then there is the over focus on physical form and societal ideas about what being a good mum means. Conflicting advice and judgements abound no matter what you decide which just amplifies the pressure boiler that early motherhood is.
It is no wonder that women struggle most with their emotional and mental wellbeing in the first year after giving birth. But there are things, small and big, that working mums can do to look after their mental wellbeing. When women are grounded, calm, nourished, reflective and connected they live their best lives.
Being grounded is about connecting to your why and living from your values. It is the foundation of taking stock in the moment, harnessing your resources and knowing that you will get through no matter what.
- Tune into what is going on in your life right now: What is going well and feels good? What is tough at the moment and stops you from living how you want to?
- Remind yourself of your parenting and life values: What sort of parent and person do you want to be? How do you want to be living and spending your time? What relationships and activities sustain and energise you? What matters most to you about parenting and family life? What is important to you as a woman?
- Make a list and take action: What are the gaps between what you really value and how things are for you at the moment? What small changes would make a big difference to your life right now? Make a plan and implement these changes at a pace that is doable for you.
We respond best to situations when we are calm and non-reactive. This is helped with forward thinking, routine, feeling unrushed and looking after yourself.
- Have routines in place for your family: Set a routine that works for your family. Routines that are structured yet flexible and evolve with your family are best. Make sure there is time for yourself and individual interests too.
- Be an example of calmness in your home: Humans feed off the emotion of others. When you are calm your children will be calmer and how you respond to their emotions in any given moment has a big impact on what will follow. Remind yourself that you have a choice to respond or to react and of the example that you set.
- Know and practice what keeps you calm: What helps you to feel calm? What helps the other people in your family to be calm? Teaching these skills young will benefit everyone.
When we are nourished physically, emotionally and spiritually we show up best for ourselves and for others. Nourishment is beyond basic needs and is essential to vitality.
- Make space for what nourishes you: What fills you up? When do you feel truly alive? What feeds your soul? Engage in these things regularly and without compromise.
Taking the time to reflect on your situation brings perspective and can help you share the load.
- Keep your expectations in check: Are your expectations appropriate for your current situation?
- Be gentle with yourself: You are able to do this. You have been doing your best. Having more ‘good’ days than ‘bad’ days is what matters.
- Balance the overwhelm: Pay attention to the good times. Notice all of the small ways that make your life yours. Appreciate what is going well and do more of it.
- Let your partner in: Talk to your partner about what is going on for you. Share the load. Ask for help or for things to change that need to.
I really think there is something in the old saying that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. Parenting can feel like an isolating and insular experience that doesn’t need to be.
- Connect with your community: Find and be with your community, whatever it may be. For example: a mum’s group; your church group; a local playgroup; online forums and groups like Working Mum’s Collective; and so on.
- Ask for and accept help: From your partner, family and friends. Adjust work schedules as required and look at all childcare options that are the best fit for your family and circumstances.
- Strengthen relationships: Relationships where we feel valued, understood and supported can make all of the difference. Strong relationships are created mutually and start with the people we care about most, including our children and ourselves.
- Reach out for professional help: Accessing extra help could be the best thing for you and your family and is not a reflection of weakness. You don’t need to wait for the wheels to fall off completely before reaching out. Here are 7 things that I know about mental health that you may find helpful. Beyond Blue is another great resource and starting point.
These are just some of the ways that a mother can look after her mental health and emotional wellbeing. When a woman looks after herself she is more available to the people that she loves and supports. It is not selfish and it is not a sometimes task. Grounded, calm, nourished, reflective and connected women are resilient and create environments where children thrive.
Quick Practices for Wellbeing
Ellie has kindly put together a downloadable PDF containing quick practices for wellbeing. Download it. Print it. And put it somewhere you will see it on a regular bassi to remind you to look after your own wellbeing.
Ellie Hodges is an Adelaide-based counsellor and coach + curator and creator. She has particular experience and passion for supporting women to (re)claim their lives from: food, eating and body struggles; anxiety; trauma and illness experiences; the journey of pregnancy and parenting; life transitions; and feelings of wanting more but not knowing how.
Ellie believes that recovery, (re)claiming our lives from struggle, and living an emergent life is absolutely possible … for everyone. She has seen others do it and she has done it herself. You can find her on her blog, Facebook or Pinterest.