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Hey Moms: Prioritize You Don't put your health last!

As a follow-up to last month’s look at creating healthful habits for kids, it’s time to turn the camera on ourselves and see if we are setting healthy examples. Moms tend to focus so fully on everyone else that it can take a toll on their own wellness, in mind and body.

Why does self-care feel selfish?

You get the kids to the dentist, the pediatrician and their activities on time, but still haven’t scheduled your overdue mammogram. Your kids are outfitted in new sports gear, and you’re wearing worn-out sneakers. You pack healthy lunches and snacks for everyone, yet grab crackers and a soda from the vending machine to eat at your desk. Someone else’s needs are always more pressing. Who’s looking out for you?

“The identity of self as an independent person versus as a parent is often hard to separate,” says Lauren Pantoulis, licensed clinical professional counselor (LCPC). “Most women assume if they take time to look at their own needs that they are being selfish and less of a mother. A feeling of discontent can build over time and result in resentment, relationship issues, fatigue, lack of patience and burnout.”

Stress, pressure and anxiety

“We are living in a culture of the ‘super mom’ who works, keeps a perfect home, hosts Pinterest-perfect parties, volunteers at school, coaches a team, cooks healthy meals every night, helps with homework and is raising kind, gifted children who will go to Harvard on scholarship. At least, that’s what we see on social media and television,” Pantoulis says. “There is a pervasive message that unless she’s devoting all of her time and energy outward, she’s not doing her best for her family.”

“We are drowning in the pressure of how we ‘should’ be living,” she adds. “The result is high levels of stress and anxiety, and sometimes depression, as mothers give everything to their various roles in life without stopping to think about what makes them feel happy as an individual.”

Don’t wait until something gives way

It’s often not until a crisis point that we think of ourselves, and even then it’s more likely because we’re worried about what will happen to our families if we become unable to care for them than because we’re concerned about our own well-being.

Reframe it, if necessary, to see that in taking care of yourself you are ensuring that you are around to care for your loved ones, Pantoulis says. Think of the airline safety pre-flight speech — in an emergency, you are instructed to secure your oxygen mask before tending to those in your care. Prioritizing yourself allows you to bring your best self to those you love and sets a valuable precedent in affirming that your needs are important.

Think about what you are modeling

Learning how to set boundaries and goals are lessons that will serve children well in life, and they can learn by watching you. “Teaching your children that self-care is important not only teaches them to respect you as an individual, but it also shows them healthy habits for caring for themselves,” Pantoulis says. “When they see you doing things for yourself, they learn that not only is that OK, but it’s good for their own mental and physical health.”

Model independence and show the kids that they don’t need you for everything.

“You want your daughters and sons to value their own self-care and not feel the need to grow into ‘people pleasers.’ Let them problem solve, take on some additional responsibility or seek support from others,” she says. “These are life skills.”

Set aside time for cultivating YOUR healthy habits

Nobody thinks they have enough hours in a day, yet if necessary you’d carve time out of thin air to make sure your loved ones get their needs met. Do the same for yourself. “Start small. Pick one thing and begin there. Maybe a daily walk, a block of time to read or joining a gym,” Pantoulis suggests.

Be creative.

Try a guided meditation app. Rediscover an old hobby. Take a healthy cooking class with your spouse. Sign up for a 5K with a friend to keep each other motivated and accountable. As you commit to finding time and enjoyable ways to reflect, recharge and restore healthy balance, your confidence and contentment will soar. And that’s an example worth setting.

“Your kids will see you growing as your own person and take pride in the fact that their parent is well rounded, strong and independent,” Pantoulis says. “It also helps with the relationship between spouses/partners, as intimacy can also suffer when parents are feeling tapped out and frustrated.”

‘When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy’

The old saying does hold true. “Mom tends to be the center of the home,” says Pantoulis. “And, like a body, when the heart isn’t healthy, the rest starts to falter.” Consider your self-care needs the same as you would your children’s: balancing emotional, physical, nutritional and self-expression needs. Consider ways you can restore healthy balance, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Do a regular check-in with yourself, and take inventory of your feelings. Ask yourself:  Do I feel resentful? Do I rely on autopilot to get through my day? Am I missing out on enjoying little things and being present in the moment? Am I always fixating on what I have to do next? Are guilt and obligation my motivators for getting things done? Can I find laughter and contentedness in my day? Am I neglectful of my own health — sick more often, gaining/losing weight or sleeping poorly? What percentage of my day is spent focused solely on others?

Keep that Mother’s Day vibe all through the year

Pantoulis admits that even she sometimes feels hypocritical in advising moms to be more attentive to self-care, when she knows all too well how easy it is to neglect one’s own needs for the sake of others.

As the writer of “Bmore Healthy” and a mom myself, I don’t want to go overboard on advice and add to the pressure of what you should be doing (besides, it’s easier to give advice than to follow it). But I do want to give you this reminder: In this month when we celebrate moms, please take an opportunity to pause and consider your own well-being, recognize your worth and promise yourself the ongoing gift of prioritizing YOU.

About Courtney McGee

Courtney McGee is a freelance writer, cancer warrior, runner/triathlete and compulsive Candy Crusher. She lives in Towson with her husband and their two teenagers, preschooler and high-maintenance rescued hound dog.

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