Why self-care isn’t optional for working mums

As a busy working mum, I know what it’s like. You wear all the hats. You spend your days running around, splitting your time between all the jobs and responsibilities going on in your life. There’s work, the children, the house, the pets… the list goes on and on. It’s no wonder finding time for yourself feels like Mission Impossible most days! But the point is – self-care isn’t optional for working mums.

graphic of a mum dressed in work clothes, carrying a crying toddler in one arm, pancake flipper in her other hand, balancing a mobile phone between her ear and shoulder, and generally looking stressed out with not thought of self-care

If you don’t provide your body with good, nutritious food, regular movement, and restful sleep, you’ll end up running yourself into the ground.

I struggle with this myself sometimes. I know how good it feels to know we’re in control of our to-do list, are getting stuff done and multitasking our way through the days. But it’s a false economy. Because eventually, these are the behaviours that lead to burnout.

So let’s take a look at this issue realistically but through a slightly different lens.

I know you don’t have time.

I know you’re stressed enough as it is, and you really feel like you can’t squeeze anything else in.

But maybe it’s a matter of switching our mindset around. If we can look at things in a different way, maybe we can start to use our time better. And finally, we can start to see how we can fit in some of the things that fall under the wider umbrella of self-care.

Looking after yourself isn’t selfish

The first idea I’d like to explore is that self-care (and in particular taking time to exercise) is selfish. It’s something that, as a busy working mum, you just can’t afford to do. I hear this a lot from the mums I work with.

But hang on a minute. Where does this idea even come from? Society? Modelling from our parents – our own mothers, maybe? Because that’s actually a great point – the fact that as mothers, we influence our children. Whether we like it or not, a lot of our mindset and behaviours are learnt from our parents and internalised at a young age.

And what does it say about us if we act like we don’t deserve to take any time to look after ourselves? Doesn’t that say, deep down, that we feel like we’re not worth it? That we’re not worthy of that care and attention that we so willingly give our children and the other parts of our life? Is this what we want to teach our children? That working mums have absolutely no time to spare for movement or exercise?

I can answer this one for you.

Because I know the answer is no. We don’t want to teach our children that they can’t or shouldn’t look after themselves. In fact, we want the opposite! We want them to know that self-care is non-negotiable. And that movement (I call it movement on purpose, rather than exercise) is a big part of that.

Findings from the Sport England research (2019)

Research released by Sport England in 2019 shows that “mothers have a greater influence on their children’s activity levels compared to fathers”.

Interesting, right?

But there’s more.

“When asked to name their top priorities outside of work, mothers were most likely to prioritise tasks revolving around family such as spending time with them (56%), housework (53%), or cooking (28%). The research highlighted that mothers were keen to set a good example for their children. However, the realities of juggling work and family meant that physical activity was near the bottom of their list, with only one in five (17%) mothers prioritising their own exercise.”

And yet,

“Sport England research shows that young people aged 11-15 with an active mother are more likely to be active, compared with young people with an inactive mother. By being active themselves, parents, particularly mothers, can have a positive influence on their children’s activity levels. By simply normalising exercise as part of everyday life, this helps children develop positive feelings and attitudes towards physical activity, even if they are not taking part themselves.”

I’ll just leave that there.

Making time to move makes you a better mum

Going hand-in-hand with the idea that it’s selfish to take time out of our days to look after ourselves is the guilt that us mum can’t ever seem to shake – no matter what we do or don’t do.

We feel so bad for taking time away from the children when we’re at work that we then think we should spend every waking hour with them. And taking more time away to go for a jog, a run, or a short workout can pile up on that guilt even more!

But again, I’d like to invite you to look at things in a slightly different light. I think the expectation that you need to spend all your spare time with your children is misguided. 

Because wouldn’t it be better if the time we do get to spend with our children was truly quality time we enjoy? You know, I’ve been there myself. I know what it feels like to be physically there with the children but your mind is really elsewhere. Don’t we want to be in the right mental state to be fully responsive to their needs? And how can we do that when we don’t have anything left to give?

The truth is that if you make time for self-care you’ll have more mental space (despite all the things you have to do) to not only dedicate more of yourself to your children but also to enjoy that time together more.

graphic of a family of three going for a bike ride on a three-seater bike

Don’t wait until it’s too late

I always like to remind people of the good ol’ oxygen mask analogy. In case of an emergency, on a plane, you’re asked to put on your oxygen mask first. Because obviously, you’re in no position to help anyone if you’re passed out, are you? Now, I know that procedure is designed for an emergency situation, but why should we not adopt the principle for everyday life?

Why wait for a health scare before we decide to pick up new habits and do something good for ourselves? If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that if we don’t have our health, we have nothing! So in the long term, if you want to be there for your children both physically and mentally, you need to start looking after yourself.

Dedicating time to each of what I call the ‘3 pillars of wellbeing’ will help you stay fit and healthy (and sane!). If you want to find out more about this, head over to the blog post, How to lower stress while hybrid working.

Movement is a crucial part of your self-care

I know that lack of time is an issue. But we all have 24 hours in the day. And the difference between the people who seem to have time to exercise and the people who think they don’t is that those who choose to move make and prioritise that time.

It’s all about switching your mindset and deciding to make self-care a priority in your everyday life. No one can make you do it. You need to want to do it. But when you do, I guarantee you that you can find that time.

The key is to identify windows of opportunities in advance. Sit down with a cup of tea on a Sunday afternoon and work out when, in the week ahead, you’ll be able to slot in some time for movement.

And the more you incorporate movement into your day, the less you’ll feel you’re taking that time away from other commitments, responsibilities, and the important people in your life. If you’re choosing to take a walking meeting with a colleague during the day, are you really taking time away from anything else? Not really.

For more inspiration on how to fit movement into your everyday life, check out the blog post, How to fit movement into your everyday life as a working mum.

When it comes to movement, all you need is 30 minutes a day – and it doesn’t even need to be all at once! You can break that time down into shorter time slots, depending on what you have available. But by all means, if you do have half an hour, and you’re looking for ideas and inspiration for a workout you could be doing from the comfort of your home, check out my YouTube channel Workout With B.

Switch your mindset around – YOU CAN!

I also know other things typically stop us from making self-care a priority. Sometimes we think we’re too tired to exercise. Or that we just don’t feel like it. When I find myself thinking like this (which is quite often by the way, if I’m honest…), I notice the feeling and ask myself a few questions:

  • Is it physical tiredness?
  • Or is it emotional tiredness?
  • Have I moved at all today? Or have I been sitting at my desk for too long without taking any breaks?
  • Does my body actually just want to move?

You see, on any given day, we have plenty of stored energy in our muscles. And if we don’t use it, our bodies will let us know they’re not happy through aches and pains and stiffness, for example. But that’s exactly where you could benefit from moving. Maybe it’s time to shut down the laptop and go for a walk. That will make you feel so much better. And you know it. Because have you ever heard of anyone going out for a walk and coming back saying they feel terrible for it? Probably not!

Of course, if you’re ill, coming down with something, or injured, listen to your body and act accordingly. But if you’re well enough, and if you can see you’re effectively making excuses, then get your kit on and move your body in whichever way you see fit.

And I know sometimes the weather isn’t ideal or very conducive to getting us in the mood to go outside. But again, it’s all in your mindset! So why not invest in the right exercise or outdoor gear? Having the right fitness kit can help you feel good and ready to go out and tackle your workout or run (or whatever it might be) in a completely different mood.

So next time your mind gives you reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t move your body, I invite you to notice these feelings and challenge them.

Would you like some help?

If you’d like some help in working through what stops you from making self-care a priority in your life, take a look at my coaching programme, Fit From Within, or email me at hello@biancasainty.com. I will help you create a movement plan that’s achievable for you and your fitness levels. And that also fits effortlessly into your busy life!

And if you’d like to connect with me for more ideas and inspiration, you can find me on YouTube and Instagram.

Bianca x