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How and why do mothers need to take care of themselves?

No one understands what it takes to be a mother until they become one. On a theoretical level we understand that mothers will “do anything” for their children and their family. We understand that they experience unconditional love and a deep yearning to nurture and protect. Just how does this translate into practice?

Most moms will put their own needs aside in favour of their children’s needs. This happens almost automatically (and often with some resentment, which is normal). An example is spending their bonus money on the new dress that their daughter really wants for the upcoming party, or buying the gear necessary for her sons cricket matches.

Putting their children first is as natural and automatic as breathing and often results in sacrifices and neglect of self. The reality of being a mother is that this is a never ending job. Yes it has deeper and far more meaningful rewards than any ordinary job, but it is as unforgiving and thankless as it is rewarding.

Coming home from a day at the office does not mean that it is time to relax for a mom. At this point there is an entire family to see to with dinner, bath and bed routines. Sleep time does not mean time out either, as sick and needy children will require mom’s attention too. It is a job that never ends and most moms feel too guilty to take a little time out and do something for themselves.

Most moms will feel that they chose to have a family and they will do what it takes to care for that family. The above and other myths of “perfect mothering” has also been ingrained into society in such a way that most moms will try to go above and beyond what they are emotionally, mentally and physically capable of in order to be the ‘perfect mom’. And when you ask a mother if this is what she is doing, her likely answer will be “no!

She knows there is no such thing as a perfect mother” and yet, perhaps subconsciously, that is what she is striving for. Unconditional love, endless meeting of needs and demands, ever present, ever patient, ever nurturing. This is, of course, a totally unrealistic and unachievable goal.

All mothers have breaking points and reach saturation levels leading to bouts of irritability, impatience and a deep desire to just get away from it all for a little while. All mothers’ doubt their ability, to some extent, to mother well and all mothers will endlessly put their needs last in that effort at being the best mom they can be.

Realising that we are all flawed and that we all have this breaking point is the first step in embracing the concept of “good enough mothering”. Taking care of yourself is the first step required in being able to be ever present for your family. If you have nothing left then there is nothing to give. Taking time out and being a little selfish every now and then is a necessary part in being a good caregiver.

We all need to refuel on emotional resources and if you don’t do this as a mother then the breaking point gets closer and closer. Why do mothers need to take care of themselves? Because they need to take care of their families.

Annabelle Young | CFHP
Annabelle Young

Clinical Psychologist Annabelle Young has extensive experience in working with people with depression, anxiety (including panic), adjustment difficulties, stress, trauma, PTSD, bipolar disorder, low self-esteem, grief and loss, interpersonal difficulties, as well as alcohol and drug use issues.

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