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  • Writer's pictureRosie Nicholas

When self care doesn't go to plan

Updated: Nov 17, 2023

I'm acutely aware of the irony around supporting mums to manage their energy and overwhelm through self care when there are times that my own self care slips. But it's important to me to lean in and talk about it, instead of trying to gloss over the reality, in the way social media often tricks us into thinking everyone else has the perfect life and family.

After a lot of therapy during early motherhood, the biggest takeaway I carry with me now, especially when things don't go to plan, is to show myself self-compassion (which if you ask me, is a form of self care in itself). Because no matter how strong the intention - even when you've set aside the time for yourself or are halfway out the door to meet a friend - sometimes life just gets in the way and challenges our ability to regularly prioritise ourselves.

Dr. Kristen Neff, a pioneering advocate for self-compassion, who first defined and measured it over twenty years ago, states it is "simply the process of turning compassion inward". She believes it's one of the most powerful sources of coping and resilience we have in our toolkit. And I have to agree.

Again, it's not something I'm always good at, but I am now more self-aware. I try to show self-compassion as often as I can, seeing it as a guiding light or principle; to try and be kinder to myself and reframe my thoughts. For example:

Instead of: "That yoga session didn't happen today and hasn't for a while eh?".

Try: "You're working so hard on that project at work and your daughter's been sick."

Instead of: "Not another biscuit! You haven't eaten well in a while, have you?".

Try: "You clearly need energy fast at the moment. You'll eat a bit more balanced again when things calm down a little bit."

Instead of: "You keep putting off exercise".

Try: "I'm exhausted and resting is more important for my wellbeing right now."

A good benchmark for me is to think, what would I tell a friend, or my child, if they didn't achieve what they'd hoped to? Hint: you'd probably be much kinder. Or if you heard them dishing out negative self-talk? Again, you'd likely call them out. So if the two versions don't align to what you'd tell yourself, there's an opportunity to show yourself more kindness and reframe your thinking.

This leads me to thinking about the overused and slightly prickly example of a "face mask" being self care. Now obviously that's not going to cut it after weeks of juggling the nursery or school run, trips to the playground, nappies, snotty noses and meal prep on top of holding down a job or business, relationship and running the house. However, I do think that if you've reached the point where you're so hard pushed for alone time, and you're in a position where you've neglected your own care for that of your loved ones, that pausing to pamper yourself for five extra minutes in the bathroom before bed is no bad thing, and is a small act of self-compassion.

Sometimes I get into the routine of barely washing my face (let alone my hair!) because I'm so tired. Then a pot of fancy face cream buried under the Water Wipes catches my eye. Or I remember I'm supposed to floss once a day. And I think, "God, I've really not been prioritising myself recently. I know I'm knackered and the last thing I want is one more step before bed, but maybe I should just floss/slap on that cream/face mask, and give myself a few minutes of pampering before I forget about myself entirely."

In those moments, it's not the activity at all. It's the acknowledgement that I'm worth slowing down for, even just for five minutes, to do something for me. It could anything; sitting down to drink a cup of tea before it gets cold, using a facemask, or anything else that represents investing in a moment to yourself, after a dry spell of self-prioritisation. It's the reminder that I'm deserving, too. And for me, that is the ultimate act of self-compassion.

P.S. If you're struggling to make yourself a priority as a mum, my free guide '3 things I wish I'd known as a new mum' can help. Download it from my homepage.

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