Let’s Talk About Maternal Mental Health

By Dina Dimitriou

Author & Mindful parent coach

I went for a coffee with a mum-friend the other day. We were having fun; enjoying our breakfast, our kids were playing nicely and suddenly, she started crying. She needed to talk, share how she felt and thankfully she did!

The motherhood struggles we all face but rarely speak about

My friend is struggling with motherhood. She is struggling with her marriage, housework, the pandemic, cooking, work, work-life balance, missing her family back home, not having ‘her village’ to support her, home-schooling, missing who she was before becoming a mum…the list is endless.

My dear friend is struggling the same way I struggle, the same way my neighbour struggles every time I hear her scream to her children, the same way we all are struggling…but not sharing! My friend though that day needed to be heard and of course I offered her that space. 

Maternal Mental Health

Have you ever noticed how mums are neglected in our society? When we first become pregnant the doctor tells us what to eat, what to avoid, which vitamins to take for healthy foetal development, to exercise our body.

That is great and super important but how many doctors discuss mental health? How many books are there preparing us for what is to come? Are there classes we can attend to prepare us not only on how to take care of the baby but ourselves too? After the baby is born, we again focus on the baby whilst neglecting mums. 

Unfortunately, though, what we fail to notice is that if the mum is not well, then no one in the family can be well. What I always tell my clients is to think of flight attendants when explaining emergency procedures. ‘In the event of decompression, an oxygen mask will automatically appear…If you are travelling with a child, secure your mask first, and then assist the other person’. Taking care of yourself, is part of taking care of kids. 

The pandemic did not make things easier for us. A recent study by the consulting firm McKinsey &Co found that the pandemic increased the caregiving and housework responsibilities of mums around the world.

According to the report, mums were more than three times as likely as fathers to take on domestic labour during the pandemic and were 1.5 times more likely than dads to spend an additional three hours or more on housework and childcare each day. Undoubtedly, this has a major effect on our mental health too. Many recent reports point towards raised levels of depression and anxiety on mothers. 

Why Self-Care Is Important

In the years I have been working with mums, I have heard pretty much all possible excuses. They include but are not limited to:

  • I do not have the time.
  • I think it is selfish.
  • I do not deserve it.
  • I cannot stay away from my kids.
  • Only I know what they need and how to take care of them.
  • I will miss them.

Self-care is not something specific. I often read and hear people say that moms should spend time with their friend as part of their self-care or go for a walk alone or even go to a spa. I would just say that self-care is doing anything and everything that makes you happy, where you can feel like yourself…away from your kids.

Practicing self-care can make you a better parent so ditch the old-fashioned mom guild and follow these steps below to take care of you. When you take care of you, you will then give the world the best of you and not what is left of you. 

Step 1: Take Some Time Off To Do What You Like

What do you like? What makes you happy? What makes you feel connected with your inner self? There is nothing specific that you should do. Find what makes you happy, fulfilled, and balanced. It can be going to the gym or meeting friends for lunch, going shopping or reading a book at the library. It might be unrealistic to do this every day, I get it, life can be busy but at least schedule in your week a day or two to take care of you.

If you have been feeling stressed and pushed to your limits for a long time, it might take some time to see the benefits but continue to schedule time for yourself. You will soon notice a change in your mood, energy levels and of course parenting. 

Step 2: Practice Gratitude 

Gratitude is the purposeful search for positivity in your life. Notice what goes well for you, search for the good things in your life, look for them and appreciate them. Gratitude along with mindfulness has gained a lot of ground in psychology in recent years because neuroscientists can actually notice the positive changes these two practices have on people’s brain. Gratitude helps you feel happy, it supports your immune system, and it makes you feel optimistic. When you feel optimistic, you do not feel hopeless, but when you feel hopeless then you can become depressed. 

Step 3: Create Bedtime Routine

For your kids! I know what I am about to share might seem strange to you but just give it a try and you will understand what I mean. Notice your kid’s behaviour when they do not get a good night sleep or the opposite when they sleep through the night, and they wake up well rested. If kids do not get enough sleep, then their whole behaviour gets affected.

Kids need to sleep from 9-12 hours per night depending on their age. Check out the American Paediatric Association for guidelines.  You have no idea how many times I have worked with a family to help with their child’s behaviour only to realise that the kid is just lacking sleep! Now, what does that have to do with your mental wellbeing? Let’s say you have a 5-year-old who needs about 10-11 hours’ sleep. That means they will go to bed around eight and that means you have two to three hours at night for yourself! Three hours to watch a series on TV or have a date night with your husband or three hours to sit in silence.  Self-care at its finest!

Step 4: Delegate,Delegate,Delegate

Delegate chores and household responsibilities. You simply cannot do it all by yourself and you should not put pressure on you to do so. I understand you might have tried, and no one listened but for this to work you need to persevere for your own good. Ask your family members to take responsibilities in the household or outsource work if you have the financial ability. Having a high stress lifestyle can lead to headaches or muscle tension at first but if you do not stop to take care of you then your body will find other ways to stop you. You deserve more than that!

Step 5: Practice Self-Compassion

In my book ‘Are you raising the adult of the future? A practical guide of 7 life skills of the future to prepare your teenager and child’ I discuss the importance of self-compassion. Self-compassion means to be compassionate to yourself despite your inadequacy, failure, or suffering. Treat yourself the same way you would treat a friend. 

Step 6: Pick Your Battles

You cannot engage in all problems that arise because then you and your child would feel overwhelmed. If your kids are fighting -again- let them figure it out for themselves. By intervening, you are putting extra stress on yourself and you are doing them a disservice as you are not letting them develop life skills such as patience, compromise, negotiation and more. 

Step 7: Picture Perfect Motherhood

There is no such thing as a perfect mother. Do not let Instagram and Facebook fool you. The photos you see are fake, edited, and unrealistic. Oh, and many of those people who always look happy and content with their lives are battling with their own issues. The very essence of motherhood is messy. It challenges us to the core. 

Final Note

If your compassion doesn’t include yourself, it is incomplete


Read more real mom journeys and struggles and expert’s tips and advice.

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