Letting Go of Guilt and Redefining Self-Care as a Mom

By Nicole Dahl

In my twenties, I was a champion for self-care.

Every morning, after seven hours of peaceful sleep, I would rise with the Arizona sun, stretch, and do ten minutes of yoga and meditation. Next, I would walk to the kitchen and take the time to sit down and savor a warm cup of fair trade coffee with just the perfect amount of cream.

I showed up to the gym religiously, making exercise fun with yoga, Zumba, and barre classes.
I fueled myself with wholesome and delicious meals, often served at my favorite downtown Tucson restaurant.

Beyond the basic fundamentals of self-care, I made sure to treat my young self to a few of my favorite things each week: live music, a one hour massage, or perhaps a glass of wine with a close friend. I did all of this while attending university, working full-time, and being in a long-term relationship.

Inspired by my own ability to seemingly do it all, I reached out to a few of my friends who had children but seemed to have lost themselves in the process.

Ever so gently, I reminded my sisters that self-care is a must.

“You can’t draw water from a dry well,”  I contended as I strong-armed my friend Madison, a mom of three, into signing up for Tuesday Night Bikram Yoga with me.

Waving my self-care flag, I would organize monthly Girls’ Days, which consisted of pedicures and a long lunch or a desert hike with a post-summit margarita.  An Evite went out to a core group of friends, and follow-up texts to those with kids, imploring them to let their husbands take care of the kids for just one day, emphasizing the vital need of quality friendships.

Self-care is of the utmost importance, especially when you take on the role of a mother.

I wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t right. Also, turns out I was kind of an asshole.

The first month after my daughter was born was a roller coaster of emotions in an earthquake of feelings. Hormones went berserk and my body wrecked in pain (hello, mastitis, you suck).  A healthy sleep cycle was no longer under my control, and it got to the point where I no longer recognized myself in the mirror.

To be honest, I didn’t even recognize my own thoughts.

I had read the books.
I knew this stage would pass and I would get back in my groove. Sure enough, right around the time my sweet girl reached three months old, I felt my spirit regulate and my emotions settle.

Alright,” I said to myself, “Let’s get back on track with some self-care and love.”

After all, I knew in order to give the best of myself to my husband and child, I had to feed my mind, body, and soul first.

My gym offered yoga, but only in the evening and I didn’t want to add an extra hour to the nine I would be spending away from my infant while at work. Weekend pedicures were out after I read that the fumes could harm the baby. My husband’s work schedule gave us all two waking hours a night together and he was gone most weekends. I had no one else to watch my daughter.

Ever so gradually, I gave up.  Self-care became a thing of the past.

Far too many months later, my friend Izzy, also a mom, recognized in me what I had seen in so many of my friends as they had children. Defeat. Luckily for me, Izzy approached me with love rather than shame.

“You doing okay, Nicole? When was the last time you did anything for yourself?” she inquired.

I began to protest, a tactic I had seen my mom friends use, and explained that there just wasn’t time and I didn’t have the energy to do anything extra, even for, maybe even especially for, myself.

Izzy smiled and laid down some simple wisdom:

“The very definition of self-care changes with the seasons. You are in the season of motherhood.
Loving yourself is going to look different and, you’re not going to like this, but you have to be brave and ask for help.

It took me about a month to gather the courage to take Izzy’s advice.

Slowly, I began to find ways to care for myself as a new mom. It started with forcing myself to put down my phone, take a break from social media, and read a well-written novel instead. Eventually, I decided to trade weekend childcare with another mom, allowing us each a few hours a week to be alone.

The new version of treating myself was so different from the approach I took in my twenties, at times I felt as though I was failing.

But what so many of us forget is that self-care is not one size fits all.

Loving yourself is going to look different from season to season. 

What should always be the same is the end result: you, more centered, able to breathe, world off the shoulders for a moment.

Twenty-year-old me may have been pretty naïve when it came to self-love as a mom, but she was on point when she said, “You can’t draw water from a dry well.”

Be kind to yourself. The more love you get, the more love you have to give.