I never fully appreciated my mental health, or how important it was, until I became a mother. Prior to procreating I honestly thought that being a "good" woman meant sacrificing every single part of me for, well, everyone else, and that definitely included sacrificing my mental wellbeing. Past lovers, friends, family members, you name it; I put everyone's needs ahead of my own and it was unhealthy. Thankfully, becoming a mom made me realize that I have to take care of myself first, and that there are ways to stay mentally healthy when you're a mom. I've realized that no only does my mental health matter simply because I'm a human being and every single person's mental health does and should matter, but my mental health matters because, without tending to it and making sure I'm at my healthiest, I won't be able to tend to my son at the capacity he deserves.
I will forever remember the moment I just knew I had to take care of myself. I was suffering from postpartum depression, going on three days of absolutely no sleep and refusing to let anyone take care of my son. I was constantly crying and having mild panic attacks and I was afraid to take my eyes off my son for even a second. My mother was asking to help and my partner was asking for help but I was convinced, as a new mother, that I needed to "do it all." Finally my partner simply took the baby from me, handed our newborn to my mother, and walked me to bed. "We are here. We got this. I'm a parent, too. You're not doing anyone any good just driving yourself into the ground." Those words cut to the point and through any preconcieved notions of motherhood I had and, well, made me realize that I needed to take care of myself before I could take care of anyone else.
I slept for 12 hours that day, waking up only to feed my son (and for many of those feedings, I can't really tell you I was fully "awake"). The next day I woke up and felt like an actual human being, and there were no more tears or moments of panic or me feeling like I was failing. That was also the beginning of a big change, and from then on I have been determined to take care of myself and my mental health. I found a few ways to do that, as a mom, and they have been nothing short of life-changing. So, with that in mind, here are a few ways moms can take care of their mental health, because becoming a mother doesn't mean someone has become more important than you. It means you've become the most important, to someone else.
Acknowledge That Your Mental Health Matters...
Obviously, it would be difficult to care for something if you thought it wasn't worthy of your care. All too often, when society discusses motherhood, moms are painted as these needless caretakers that give give give and never, ever, take. That's so unhealthy and so dangerous and not, at all, how motherhood should be painted. Your mental health matters, especially when you're a mother. You can't care for others if you aren't caring for yourself, and when you're at your healthiest and happiness is when your kids are given the absolute best version of you. So yes, mom, your mental health matters.
...And Know That Sacrificing Everything Isn't A Requirement Of Motherhood
I will always reference the fantastic Jada Pinkett-Smith and her eloquent takedown of mom culture, and the messaging our society sends mothers. In fact, I'll just use her words because, really and truly, there's no better way to say it:
Take Time For Yourself...
While I find so many moments with my son to be calm and wonderful and beautiful and re-energizing, they aren't always like that. I know that, in order to take care of myself and my mental health, I need to spend time alone. I need to be away from my partner and away from my son and away from the chaos of life. I need to sit and be silent and reevaluate where I am, how I feel, what I am enjoying from my life and what I wouldn't mind changing in my life.
Constantly checking in with myself has proved to be one of the best things I've done, as a mother and as a human being, and I know that's why I haven't suffered a mental break at the hands of exhaustion, stress, judgment or a toddler tantrum.
...And Without The Baby
I can't truly enjoy just myself, if I have my toddler in tow. I have realized, early on in my motherhood journey, that spending time alone is crucial. Once a week I take time away from my kid (if I can) so that I can go read a book or get a pedicure or do something that doesn't require me being constantly vigilant and away of a tiny human hell-bent on giving me a heart-attack because he thinks jumping off the couch is a fun idea.
Go On Dates With Your Partner...
If you have a romantic partner, don't forget that your relationship matters. The endorphins and good-time feelings you get from a date or sex or physical connection with another person, is like a shot of some magic drug that instantly makes stress and exhaustion melt away.
Science aside, there's a sense of self-value that you can gain from a relationship, and constantly facilitating a relationship will remind you that your love life, your happiness, your sex life; they're all important. Just because you have a life-changing relationship with a human you created, doesn't mean that your other relationships no longer matter or bring you fulfillment.
...And With Yourself
My partner and I started the best mini-date idea that, to this day, we continue to use. Once a week, we take ourselves out on a date, only without one another. I will stay back with the kid so he can take himself to dinner and a movie, go read a book at a park or go for a drive, and then, the next week, we switch. I will take myself to a movie or get a nice dinner or tour a museum. We get to facilitate our independence and grow in our individuality, which only benefits ourselves as partners and as parents. I swear by this date-night ritual and consider it a true aid to my mental health.
Don't Be Afraid To Be Honest About Motherhood...
One of the best ways to maintain your mental health is to be honest. Honest in what you're feeling and why you're feeling it. Honest in your situation and how, while it is wonderful, can also be the worst. I know that when I am "real" about motherhood and admit that, sometimes, I don't want to be a mom or don't particularly like my kid when he's throwing a tantrum or feel so overwhelmed and that I'm failing; I feel like I'm not alone. Those thoughts are shared by a majority of mothers, and when you open up about your own struggles, you will find a solidarity with others. That's crucial.
...And How Difficult It Really Is
Motherhood is hard. Yes, it is wonderful and joyous and fantastic and all of those other things, but it is also really hard. While there are countless books on motherhood and raising children, none of them stack up so there truly isn't a "manual." There's nothing like it in the world, which means there's now ay to completely prepare for it. It's OK to admit that motherhood kicks your ass sometimes. It's OK to say that you're overwhelmed.
Ask For Help When You Need It...
No one is (or should be) expecting you to do anything alone. You shouldn't be expected to parent alone. You shouldn't be expected to go through any hardships alone. You definitely shouldn't be expected to go through something serious concerning your mental health, alone. If you start to feel like you just can't do it anymore and that you're about to break (because, trust me, I've been there), ask for help. Don't push yourself to the limit with some false sense of martyrdom. You don't do anyone any favors by exhausting yourself to the point that you can't function.
...And Don't Be Ashamed To Seek Out A Professional If/When You Need To
If you are noticing warnings signs for postpartum depression or any other signs of depression, anxiety, or a mental health issue that requires attention from a professional, don't hesitate to contact one. There are mental health professionals for a reason. There are people who dedicate their lives to helping others because, well, we all need help. There is no shame in seeking treatment for any of the aforementioned (or something that hasn't been mentioned), regardless of the stigma our society has arbitrarily attached to mental health and mental illness.
Look online. Call a friend. Contact your primary care physician. Ask your kid's pediatrician. Don't suffer in silence.