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Self-care is for everyone—a busy mom shares real tips for making it a daily practice

By Christine Michel Carter

Through my work as an advocate for working moms, I’ve been fortunate to meet hundreds of new parents, all of whom have battled a range of issues that affect their mental and emotional health. I’ve heard heartbreaking stories of loss, grief, and sickness, challenges I can’t imagine overcoming, much less sharing as a testimony with others.

After I hear these stories, my response is always the same. I ask with concern, “My goodness. How are you taking care of yourself after experiencing that?” And sadly, their answers are always the same. They look down at the floor or roll their eyes, shrug, and reply, “You know, I’m just hanging in there.”

Sometimes I find their approach to coping with challenges as heartbreaking as the challenge itself. The way new parents answer the question shows me they’re battling exhaustion, shame, fear, trauma, or guilt—or even a mix of those.

My hope for new parents is that they understand these emotions stem from a lack of self-care. And really, self-care is for everyone. What I’m referring to isn’t the “lounging in a warm bubble bath with a glass of Cabernet surrounded by LED candles” kind of self-care—though not going to lie, that does sound amazing. Read on to learn more about self-care, and how you can fit it into your life, even if you’re the parent of a tiny baby.

What is self care, really?

Self care is as critical to your mental health as it is to your physical health, and practicing self care has been shown to clinically improve anxiety and depression, not to mention boost feelings of happiness. Self care as defined by the World Health Organization as the ability of people to “promote health, prevent disease, maintain health, and prevent illness.” Practically this might look like eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep and exercise, practicing some type of mindfulness, and keeping up with regular doctors’ visits.

Think about some parents who won’t smoke, or pregnant women who won’t excessively eat sweets. They either fear developing a disease, or fear passing the disease on to their children. In reality, ignoring self care is just as dangerous an activity that can also cause both to happen.  

Self care is for everyone—even if you’re short on time

Regardless of lifestyle, environmental, or socioeconomic factors, realistically, every new parent can make the time for self care. They just have to understand what self care looks like for them, and how their practice will impact their family and community. 

Self care is one of the very few things you can do as a new parent that doesn’t require a village. It is a purely individual act—hence the “self”— but practicing it positively impacts the community around you.

The best way to determine what self care looks like for you is to think about what supports your health and to make time—even just 30 minutes daily—to do it. You have 30 minutes. Yes, you do. Repeat: Yes, you do. 

You will just have to trade off the time for something else, and I guarantee you, whatever thing you’re trading off would not benefit you and your child in the long run as much as the self care activity. (Seriously—vacuuming the dust bunnies can wait!)

When we prioritize our health, we are more in control of ourselves and less reliant on the care and support of others. So yes, self care is selfish, but for a good reason.

Self care looks different for different people

For new parents, self care sometimes looks like a 30-minute nap. For others, it will be drinking water instead of soda while watching their favorite TV show. I will not tell you how to do your self care, because only you know the best way for you to genuinely recharge. 

Why would I give you the self care tip of taking a hot bubble bath if you have a skin allergy and the fragrances and dyes in bubble bath might give you hives? What if I told you to unwind with a glass of Cabernet, but you’re recovering from alcohol addiction? The practice of self care is as unique to you as your medical history. 

However, I do believe any person who withholds the way they choose to cope inadvertently neglects the care of others. In sharing our coping methods with one another, we learn practical advice and gain confidence from seeing our community succeed at self-care. With that said, I am happy to end this by sharing my form of self care with you, which is wrestling. 

That wasn’t what you expected, right? But for me personally, having a high-impact, physical, aggressive activity is what helps me release my negativity, anger, and frustration and take care of myself. 

From a medical and mental health perspective, it helps me manage my depression and anxiety, while also providing a great workout. Releasing anger helps me to be a more present mother to my children, not to mention a strong support system for the hundreds of new parents I meet every year. I encourage you to find your self-care happy place and carve out time for it, and once you do, protect it well—after all, your life depends on it.

Meet the Author

Christine Michel Carter is the only award-winning global advocate defying the stereotypes and expectations that block ambitious women from having rewarding careers and being badass moms. Christine elevates the honest truths of working motherhood as a Senior ForbesWomen Contributor, the author of the children’s book Can Mommy Go To Work?, and the author of the adult novel MOM AF. She is also a working parents and women’s ERG subject matter expert; employees have ranked her signature mental health talk the best corporate programming event of the year. 

She’s also worked on the maternal initiatives of Vice President Kamala Harris, is an advisory board member for Mom Congress and received a Congressional Citation from the U.S. Senate for going “above and beyond in ensuring that Black Moms and Moms of Color have access to important health information for their children and families.”