The past year has been hard on nearly everyone. But it’s been exceptionally hard for moms – particularly moms of babies, toddlers and school-age children.

Kids, nudged by their dads or other family members, may decide to go big celebrating Mother’s Day this year. (Reminder: It’s Sunday, May 9.) Maybe breakfast in bed will include overcooked pancakes and undercooked bacon. But let’s be honest, if Mom is left to clean up the mess, that’s really no picnic.

Self-care is way more than the occasional  treat.
Jaren Doby

So, what can moms do to make themselves a priority? And what can spouses and partners do to ease their load? Jaren Doby, a therapist with Novant Health Psychiatric Associates in Huntersville, has plenty to say on the topic.  

How can moms – who are so often overworked on the job and at home and put everyone else ahead of themselves – make self-care a priority? And self-care means more than a massage, right?

Yes, self-care is about much more than spa appointments. It all starts with acknowledging the fact that there is something different going on now (because of the ongoing pandemic). If there are any physical changes or changes in routine, that can be an indicator you need to take a deeper look within yourself. If there are changes in sleep, changes in mood, changes in your coping skills that used to work but are no longer working, it’s time to do something different, make an adjustment, seek some assistance.

When you can't do it alone

Act now

And when somebody decides to seek that assistance, what does that look like? I can imagine a mom of young children saying, “I don’t have time for therapy!” How often would she need to come? And does it always involve an in-person appointment?

It’s important that, before people even get to seeking professional assistance, they seek the assistance that is literally right under their noses. Tap into your support system. It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to keep your peace. Make sure you’re utilizing those supports – and they come in different shapes and sizes – people, places, things. Engage with your support system. Go to your place of relaxation that helps improve your mood and diminish anxieties. Do the things you enjoy doing. Everybody’s got a different set of coping skills; it’s not one size fits all. What helps me relax may not help you at all.

So, let’s say, you’re tried all those things and it still isn’t enough, and now you find yourself in a therapist’s office. How frequently you come depends on the need. Some people need to be seen every week. Some people can go every other week. Some, once a month. The effectiveness comes with consistency. And it also entails you opening up – telling your therapist, honestly, what’s going on in your life.

And teletherapy can be a great option. We have a lot of folks taking advantage of that and they’re loving it because they meet me from their own territory – their home or while walking around the neighborhood. Or maybe they drive to a park or other place they can find peace. But there are some folks who genuinely enjoy sitting in front of their provider, in person, and we definitely understand that.

You mentioned the best place to start is with an existing social network. So, if a mother has a partner, what can that partner do to support her? And not just on Mother’s Day, but every day?

Stick to the basics. What are the basics? Ask someone what it is they need. Never assume that you know what’s helpful to someone else, no matter how close you are to that person. On any particular day, what you may want in one moment may be different from what you want in the next. So, don’t assume that the child-made pancake breakfast is what your wife or partner wants. Ask her. And then allow that response to guide you.

What if a mother has a partner who’s not that intuitive? What’s a way to bring that up without it leading to a fight?

The way you communicate is so important. When it’s involving a partner – or anyone you’re with a lot – it’s a lot more palatable to use “we” and “us” statements. Imagine if I came to you and said, “I feel like you’re never doing what you’re supposed to be doing. I’m doing all these things by myself, and you just sit around and you go to work and you come back home.” Do you feel like I’m blaming you yet?

Yes. I’m already on the defensive.

Exactly, but let me try that a different way: “I want to talk to you. We’re both very busy, but it can really benefit us, as a household, if we could come together and recognize where some of the pitfalls are now. Understand – I’m not perfect, either, and by no means am I blaming you. But could we make some adjustments? We’re in this together. I hope you heard me and didn’t feel I was attacking you in any way. I appreciate you.” That’s a whole lot different, right?

A lot.  

Being able to show and tell a partner that you are in it together increases motivation, and it increases results.

What about the mom who doesn’t have a partner? Everything really is all on her, and there’s nobody she can go to and say, “We’re in this together.”

I’m a firm believer that I cannot help anyone else unless I am OK myself. So, it is about being mindful of your own thoughts, feelings, behaviors. Take an opportunity to become a student of yourself. Do a personal scan. Has there been anything that’s been triggering me a lot more than it should? If you went from running once every three days to running three times a day, that’s not about exercising. That’s probably about something else.

I like to think of problems as strangers in your home. If you were sitting on the couch, and a stranger walked into your kitchen, made a sandwich, sat down in the adjacent chair and began watching television, most people would say, “I need you to leave.” That’s exactly how we should approach negative thoughts, negative feelings, negative behaviors. They are strangers who have come to disrupt our peace. We can't just sit back and allow them to make sandwiches, right? We’ve got to get them to leave. Use your coping skills. Use your support network.

I love the visual of a stranger helping himself to my food. I would tell him to leave. Anything else you want to share?

Just one more thing: Moms are superheroes.