Winter is nearly over and I have to say, I am so grateful to be seeing spring finally arrive (albeit with it’s strange weather patterns this past week!).
What has been coming up a lot for me this winter has been the topic of self care.
Now, if we’re truly being honest with ourselves, we would admit that people, and especially new parents, really don’t need any more self care.
They need more COMMUNITY CARE.
While the topic and practice of self care, still has great validity and remains an important consideration in our lives, it is just one side of the coin.
Over the past hundred years or so, our western society has changed dramatically. With colonisation and industrialisation more people left their local communities and moved to centralised city areas.
Today, with the added evolution of technology making the world more accessible, connected and perceivably smaller, it’s not uncommon for people to leave their friends and family behind to travel, explore the world and/or take job opportunities in far away places… and like many Canberrans, I have done this myself – twice in fact, over the past 13 years.
The cost, however has been a significant loss of support networks and traditions that have a major impact on how we feel and the ways we parent when we have our own children.
Parents are more technologically connected than ever before with people, information and resources, however parenthood, especially in the early days, has never been a more lonely and isolating time in one’s life.
Nuclear families have become the norm and this, combined with the lifestyles and expectations of modern times, have led to many primary caregivers physically parenting alone. In most nuclear families, one partner spends the majority of their time working (often the Father) to support the family financially, while the other does the primary parenting role (often the Mother). In most industrialised societies, fathers’ work does not significantly decrease when they become parents – their earning role continues uninterrupted and is more likely to increase if the mother’s income decreases¹.
With partners off working more than ever, it’s not surprising to find statistics as alarming as the following:
- 76% of mothers report feeling lonely and/or isolated after having a child¹¹
- 1 in 3 new mothers, and nearly 1 in 6 new fathers experience anxiety symptoms after the birth of their baby¹¹¹
- More than 1 in 7 new mums, and up to 1 in 10 new dads experience postnatal depression and 22% of women attribute lack of support to their postpartum depression¹¹¹¹
Additionally, as many as 71% of new mothers encounter a ‘conspiracy of silence’¹¹ in their parenting journey, where the ideology of motherhood and their reality are experienced as entirely different things.
It’s not uncommon to hear statements like “Why didn’t anyone tell me?” from a new mother’s mouth and to find new mothers thinking they are the only one experiencing what is actually just one of many common parenting challenges.
Generally, this lack of communication about the realities and challenges of parenting has led to an expectation that new parents should ‘do it all’ themselves and has cultivated a culture of parents not perceiving themselves as being worthy of help, or not honouring their parenting role as a valid profession which requires support as much as any other.
They are overwhelmed as they adapt to the physical, emotional, psychological, financial, social, spiritual, relational and other changes that come with their new role of parent.
At the bare minimum, following pregnancy and birth, new mothers are healing from major changes and massive wounds to their bodies, and in some cases major abdominal surgery, while expected to put another person’s needs before their own.
In any other circumstances, if our loved ones were experiencing displaced organs, wounds the size of dinner plates, and tears to their skin and internal muscles, we would be rallying around to look after them. We would help them with everyday household tasks, offer to walk their pets, babysit their kids, bring them a warm cup of tea or a nourishing meal and reminding them to sleep, rest and relax!
So let's stop doing that...
Lets stop setting new parents up for failure and then blaming them.
Instead of telling parents to do more self care, lets just help them out!
Lets show them with our actions that we are here to genuinely support them so they can support the next generation (that will eventually support us).
Instead of continuing the self-care burden I’ve found 33 “self-care ideas for mums” (and yes it seems so ridiculous to think some of these have actually been recommended to new mums, but they have!) and turned them into Community care ideas you can do to help your loved ones out:
From Self Care
To Community Care
Eat healthy foods and ditch the junk food
Prepare and bring a meal for your friend, do a cook up together, or arrange a Meal Train where a bunch of friends can all chip in to help together. (Double check any dietary restrictions such as limiting caffeine or any serious cravings first, and get creative – lactation cookies, breakfast on the go, easy lunches or dinners are all appreciated)
Get out and go for a walk
Offer to take a walk with your friend. Go kid free, or pack bub into the pram. Consider taking their dog along too and check that task off the list for them.
Make your own cuppa when you visit – and one for your friend!
Buy yourself some flowers
Buy your friend a bunch of flowers!
Take a nap when the baby naps
Make your friend a sign for the front door saying “Mother and Baby Sleeping” so she wont be so rudely interrupted if she does manage to have a nap during the day. Better yet, offer to spend time with the baby so your friend can take a power nap uninterrupted.
Reduce your technology and get playful with your kids and partner
Be patient and understanding when your friend’s replies aren’t as timely as she used to. Check in with her semi-regularly but don’t take it personally if she doesn’t answer your texts. Give her permission to drop off the grid for a while.
Join a new class
Brainstorm a list of classes you and your friend are willing to attend (or what you’re willing to support your friend to attend). It could be a local mums exercise class, a baby swimming class, a mother’s group/circle, or a creative class just for adults. Support your friend to get to the class by offering to look after baby, help her get ready, carpool there or just be the extra motivation by tagging along/joining in for support.
Get social, Meet a new friend or schedule a coffee date/dinner with your friends
When you catch up with your friend, remember to listen. Ask her how she is doing then let her guide the topic into baby-led or baby-free conversations… and steer clear from giving advice unless asked!!!
Use your shower time to pamper yourself with a body scrub, some fancy moisturiser and essential oils
Pamper your friend with an indulgent treat just for her. A new robe, a good hand moisturiser, a refreshing room spray or a new candle.
Take a bath
Offer to look after baby and/or siblings to free up some time for your friend to have an uninterrupted shower/bath. Run the bath for your friend, pop a few candles on, set up a play list and get a cup of tea ready for when she gets out!
Turn on uplifing music and dance
Make a playlist of songs or podcasts for your friend to listen to throughout the day.
Write daily in a gratitude journal
Write a sweet message in a card telling your friend how grateful you are for them and what you admire about them. Remind her how she is doing a great job.
Release your thoughts by journaling
Buy your friend a new journal, some lovely pens and encourage her to jot ideas down, write how she is feeling, reflect on and document the birth; whatever she feels is right for her.
Get creative and design a vision board that will keep you focussed on whats important
Set up a time to do some vision boarding together. Bring along some magazines, scissors, glue, paper and funky pens and get goal setting while bub is sleeping. If bub wakes, offer to hold/play with them while your friend finishes her board. Keep the focus simple and use this exercise as an opportunity to listen to your friend about her values and whats important to her right now as this may have shifted since becoming a parent.
Do a creative task; paint, colour; garden
Gift your friend a creative care-kit with a few short tasks that your friend can do alone or with you.
Practice a mindfulness exercise each day, do a meditation or focus on your breathing
Share your favourite meditation podcast. Do a meditation with your friend. Encourage your friend to set a goal to spend a few minutes doing something intentional for herself each day. It could be applying makeup, sipping a cup of tea, or sitting in the sun listening to her favourite song each afternoon. Check in on her and ask how she is going and help her overcome any obstacles that may be standing in her way.
Clear your schedule for a day of rest
Respect boundaries and don’t push too hard for a visit, especially in the first 6 weeks when new parents are establishing new routines. Ask your friend if she is scheduling any rest days and help her follow through on that commitment.
Cut something out from your schedule
Offer to run an errand or do a household chore like picking up the grocery shopping, popping by the post office or folding some laundry to take some of the pressure off.
Tick off one tiny household chore thats been bothering you
Ask your friend which household chore is most bothering her and then go do it for her!
Keep your house tidy by doing a little bit of cleaning every day.
Offer, (and insist) on helping out around the house. Pack away some dishes, fold some laundry, declutter the food storage cupboard, or do some other light household tasks so your friend can spend her time resting or playing with bub… Alternatively, ask her if she would rather you hold baby so she can do these things if she needs a break.
Hire someone else to do one of your unfinished projects
Help your friend by organising local services she needs or better yet – help her out by finishing a project. It could be as practical as helping fix some household tasks, setting up a new gadget, or bringing along a box of thank you cards, helping your friend to make a list of all the people who sent gifts, and start stamping and addressing the cards for her.
Plan a 1-1 date with your partner
Offer to babysit while your friend goes on a coffee/dinner date with her partner
Ask your partner to look after your little ones for an hour or so once a week.
Offer to look after baby and/or siblings to free up a few hours for your friend to have for herself.
Watch a movie
Head out to a Mums and Bubs session with your friend or offer to come and visit in your friend’s home to ‘hang out’ like old times, watch a movie, chat, and bring her favourite beverage. Meeting in her home may make working around baby’s needs easier, just be sensitive to not overstay your welcome!
Get a massage/manicure/pedicure or other pampering sessions
Offer to do a pamper session at home with your friend. Bring the nail polish, foot massager/soaker, and give each other a shoulder, foot or hand massage.
Visit the hair dresser
Offer to mind the baby while your friend has her appointment, or help her organise a mobile hairdresser to visit her in her own home.
Put your health care first – don’t miss your annual checkups with your dr, dentist, optometrist etc
Offer to mind the baby while your friend has her doctor’s appointment without distraction.
Get out into nature.
Set a time once a week for a walk in nature. Wander through the botanical gardens, walk to your local shops, take a trip to the national park or set up a picnic at a local lake/beach or even in your/her back yard and help your friend connect with nature. She brings herself and her baby, you bring the food! 🙂
Join a gym or exercise with your baby at the park
Offer to look after baby and/or siblings to free up a few hours for your friend to have time to exercise. Better yet, exercise with her. Join an in person/online mums and bubs class, hunt down your local MEGA (Mum’s Exercise Group Australia) or just encourage your friend to take a walk with you a couple of times a week.
Take a trip away by yourself or with your girlfriends
Plan a girls day a few months down the track to give your friend something to look forward to. It could be a pamper session or creative class that takes an hour or two, a night long dinner out, or a trip away depending on your budget and her willingness to leave/bring baby along.
Say “No” to something you really don’t want to do
Becoming a Mum often means having to exercise boundaries you may never have had to in the past. If your friend is feeling uneasy about something in her life, encourage her to talk it out with you and really genuinely listen to her. Ask her questions that help her to understand what is important to her (not you) and why she is feeling uneasy. Gently remind your friend that saying “No” to the things that do not serve her or her family’s needs is OK.
Write a list of things you’ve accomplished and look at it when you’re feeling discouraged.
Help your friend to realise that accomplishment in parenting is different to that of working or pre-parenting life! Parenting is all about the ‘being’ rather than the ‘doing’. Feeding herself and her family; Being present and in the moment as she plays with her child and attends to their needs; Looking after herself; and Asking for Help are all things to be considered accomplishments. If your friend really wants to write a list and check things off, encourage her to stick to doing just one thing a day that is beyond the eat, sleep, play routine until she feels ready for more.
Ask for help
Normalise getting help and recognise the basic signs of postpartum anxiety and depression. Although it’s common for women to have the Baby Blues in the first few days, if symptoms persist weeks after baby’s arrival, it may be a sign of something more serious. If you begin to notice your friend’s behaviour change significantly or she seems to be struggling to want to take care of herself or her baby, encourage her or her family to seek additional help from the midwife/OB team, her GP or a hotline like Beyond Blue or PANDA.
I invite you to share any of your own ideas in the comments below, and to help change the conversation from self-care to community care by taking action to support your loved ones in a more considered way.
¹ Gray. P., (2016). https://fatherhood.global/fathers-work-socialise-world/
¹¹ LeBlanc. W. (1999). Naked Motherhood. Shattering Illusions and Sharing Truths. Random House Australia.
¹¹¹ Perinatal Anxiety and Depression in Australia. (No date). Anxiety & Depression in Pregnancy & Early Parenthood Factsheet https://www.panda.org.au/images/resources/Resources-Factsheets/Anxiety-And-Depression-In-Early-Parenthood-And-Pregnancy.pdf
¹¹¹¹ Beyond Blue. (2010). What Australians know about perinatal depression and anxiety beyondblue Perinatal Monitor 2009.