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Taking Care of Mom: A Step Toward Warding Off Perinatal Mood Disorders

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Postpartum Depression » Featured Article

By Amy Levine Clayton, PsyD, LCSW

Amy Levine Clayton, PsyD, LCSW

Can Going to the Hair Salon Help You Get Back to Your Roots?

Why is it we seek out the experience of going to a hair salon? Is it the thrill of taking a moment in this fast paced world to pay attention to ourselves before we merge back onto the expressway of "need to's" and "should haves"? As soon as you step out of that nail salon, that beauty parlor, or day spa, you are slapped with that list of never-ending responsibilities, and if you are a new mother trying to cope with parenthood, that list can be your ticket to a host of perinatal mood disorders.

When was the last time you remember someone other than your hair stylist washing your hair for you, carefully grooming you and attending to your appearance? My daughters both have a personal shopper, their own chauffeur, a chef, a housekeeper, (you see where I am headed with this, right?) an agent who has scheduled multiple appearances for them, and the list goes on ad infinitum. It is no exaggeration to say that child-care is a full time job, and it is arguably the best job around, if you are tending to yourself. I once heard an airline flight attendant instruct parents to place their oxygen masks over their own face before their children's, in the event of an emergency landing. This made perfect sense, if a parent is not caring for oneself, who will be there to care for their offspring?

The truth is, all too often, these primary caregivers end up neglecting themselves. The philosophy to live by is "Happy Mother, Happy Baby." Instead, I see more and more "Spare the Mother, Spoil the Child." The truth is there can be a balance achieved. Treating yourself well will result in a happier, more relaxed you, which will in turn result in a happier, relaxed child…and isn't that the goal? In the process of getting to know your infant's likes and dislikes and navigating the unknown terrain of parenting, many moms feel that they lose their identity. They have traded jeans for loose fitting clothes, they shop at Children's stores and gossip about the best diapers where they used to dish about fashion, some trade in the cars of their youth for mini-vans, and they look around one day and ask, "Who am I?" Erikson's psychosocial stages would declare this the time of "Generativity vs. Stagnation." The time we are compelled to care for our families, become productive members of society, to give back to our communities. But how can we if we feel we have nothing to give back.

I see many new moms in my practice who tell me they don't have time to take showers, let alone the time to go to the salon for a treat. Some explain that they simply feel too guilty to do anything for themselves. While I don't believe that a trip to the salon is the answer for all new moms who are feeling out of sorts, I am a big proponent of any activity that can help them center themselves and nourish their soul. The prescription for that might be anything including: returning to their prenatal yoga class, a weekly dinner with friends, having someone watch their baby while they catch up on lost sleep, and even the chance to read a book. Of course for more serious cases where there is more than a nagging lack of sleep that plagues them, but rather a series of depressive thoughts about their state of being and a sense of hopelessness, therapy may be indicated.

Yes, gone are the days when someone would lovingly parade you around in a stroller, or the fond memories of languidly staring out the car window at the scenery rushing by, as you are chauffeured from location to location. (Perhaps that is why so many men want to ride in golf carts, but that is a story for another time.) It is no surprise that regression to a kinder, happier place like our childhood is a welcomed idea in this scary day and age with war and a tumultuous economy facing us.

So what can you do about it? Talk to the people you love and share your stress, anxiety, or depressive thoughts. It takes a village to raise a child, so call on some of the village elders. Speak with your pediatrician, go to your local church or synagogue and visit with the leader of the organization, find out if there are mommy & me classes offered in your area, pick up a publication such as L.A. Parent Magazine to peruse for local activities, shops for supplies, support and so much more, and finally ask other moms what they do to effectively cope with these feelings. Above all else, be kind to yourself, your children will thank you.

About the Author...

Dr. Amy Levine Clayton is a licensed psychotherapist in Encino, California, and member of Postpartum Support International. She conducts a New Mom’s group at The Pump Connection in Woodland Hills and a large part of her private practice is comprised of new moms who suffer from postpartum depression, baby blues, or are coping with the adjustment of bringing a new baby into the family.

Last Update: 10/23/2008

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