Motherhood and Self Care - Tips For Caring For Yourself While Caring For Those You Love
Most of us have said it to ourselves at one point or another: "I have to take better care of myself." Unfortunately our commitment usually comes on the heels of illness, fatigue, or worse, some life altering event. We understand the importance of self care and yet we repeatedly put ourselves on the back burner. Interestingly enough, even people who are not motivated to take better care of themselves, find greater motivation once they begin. The key to getting started is just getting started. Once you begin, it's like your whole system follows. Our organism is geared toward maintaining balance.
Taking care of ourselves involves a lot more than taking our vitamins and hitting the gym. Our bodies are just one aspect of our total wellbeing. A balanced self care routine, involves the mind, body and soul. Often our emotional and mental wellbeing can have a significant impact on our physical wellbeing. Some of us take great care of our bodies, but pay little attention to our feelings, our stress level, or the negative self talk we engage in daily; all just as dangerous as the toxins found in our food and environment. Some of us, (raising my hand sheepishly) take great care of our mental and emotional wellbeing, reading books, listening to inspiring audios, attending seminars, meditating, being with and expressing our emotions in healthy ways but pay little attention to our bodies' signals and pleas for help.
As a life and spiritual coach and woman on her own journey, I am constantly looking for ways to create more balance in my own life and the lives of my clients. The following are what I consider essential parts of a balanced self care routine.
Know your needs and wants
What do I need and want in my life? What are my basic human needs and how am I doing at fulfilling them? Abraham Maslow's theory based on his observations of exemplary people, suggests that there is a hierarchy of needs: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self actualization. Knowing what you need, gives you direction and a sense of where you may need to set some goals and create experiences in your life to fulfill those needs and desires. If I am feeling fearful, how can I create more safety in my life? Journaling is an excellent tool for identifying your needs and wants. If you reread your journal entries, you will be able to see the common themes that continually come up. You can then brainstorm some ways you might be able to meet your need for love, safety, etc.
Be aware of your energy
We are beings of energy and as we experience challenges in our lives, we can become blocked or drained. It's important to identify what is life giving and what is not. What drains us vs. what infuses us with excitement and passion. Being aware of your energy throughout the day, can help you stay grounded, and proactive so that you don't suddenly find yourself exhausted and overwhelmed at the end of the day or week. There are many small ways you can manage your energy throughout the day through deep breathing and grounding techniques. There are also some amazing ways to keep your energies aligned, such as aura and chakra balancing, reiki, and sound healing, to name a few. The goal is to keep our energy/life force flowing freely.
Be with your emotions
Although it's seems easier to stuff them, numb them, eat them, brush them off, medicate them, we pay the price of avoidance eventually. Emotions are meant to be experienced, and let go. They are part of the human experience, but we have become very clever at building dams and erecting walls, to avoid them. A good question to ask several times a day is "how am I feeling"? Being with whatever is coming up simply means letting yourself experience the anger, sadness, frustration, breathing into it, and letting it pass through you and out. For those blocked emotions from past hurts and traumas, we may need a little extra help from therapy or coaching. I have found Gestalt therapy and Core Energetics to have a real impact in releasing blocked emotions.
Taking care of your physical body
Taking care of our bodies, involves paying attention to signals as well as living a healthy lifestyle. Your symptoms are often signals of emotional issues you may not be dealing with. A great resource for mind body connections, is Louise Hay's You Can Heal Your Life. She lists illnesses and their possible emotional component.
A healthy diet and regular exercise are basic ways of taking care of your body. There is so much out there on superfoods, foods as cures, juicing, ways to exercise depending on your particular body issues and simple changes we can make to reduce the toxic load in our bodies. Know your body and its own particular needs and make a plan based on what you need and want for your body. Having a physical and a full set of lab work done on a yearly basis can give you essential information about your physical health, information you can then use to create your own unique plan for greater physical health.
Change Your Self Talk
The things we say to ourselves can be painful, toxic and a danger to our wellbeing. We all engage in negative self talk. We say: I can't, I'm not good enough, I'll never find someone. You name it we say it and we say it over and over, reaffirming what we don't want, thereby calling it forth into our lives. If we have the power to call forth what we don't want, we must also have the power to call forth what we do want. Affirmations and mantras are two great ways to change the way we talk to ourselves. There are also some thought stopping techniques, like mentally saying, STOP or DELETE, when we find ourselves engaging in negative self talk. Shifting our focus, distracting ourselves through doing, is also an effective way of getting out of our own heads. Meditating is a way of emptying out the mind. Gratitude works wonders since you can't hold a negative thought a thought of gratitude in your mind at the same time. Take time to feed your mind inspiring and positive images and words.
Express yourself! Find ways to create. It doesn't matter if you are an artist, writer, accountant, restaurant owner, dry cleaner, there are always ways to express yourself creatively. We are meant to envision, imagine, produce, create. Find your way to express who you are and leave your unique imprint on your world. Nurturing your creative side keeps you active, excited and feeling alive and purposeful.
Learning how to meet our own needs, means sometimes we will have to set up boundaries, such as saying no to the people in our lives. For some of us this can be extremely difficult. Asking for time to think about the request, gives you space to evaluate whether the request is something reasonable, within your value system, but more importantly whether it is something you even want to do. Checking with yourself and whether it will interfere with your needs is self care.
Developing healthy intimacy with ourselves is vital to setting healthy boundaries and having healthy relationships with others. We often try to create intimacy with another person, without having a healthy understanding of ourselves. We cannot be truly intimate with another if we are not intimate with ourselves. As within, so without.
It doesn't matter what you believe in; a spiritual practice, whether it is spending time in nature, in prayer or meditation, yoga, or attending mass or the synagogue, can be a very special part of your self care process. Even atheists have what may be considered a spiritual practice in which they focus on nature and love rather than a deity. Find what resonates with you. Developing a spiritual practice allows you to get quiet, to experience the magnificence of your life, to answer questions you cannot answer with only your mind, to be in the now, to hold your life as a sacred.
Self care is about nurturing, feeding and caring for ourselves so that we can fully engage with life, love, be loved, and live happy and successful lives. First we do it for ourselves and then for those we love, for when we practice self care, we teach others how to treat us and how to truly live.
It is very easy as a mother/parent to neglect one's own self-care. The competing demands of tending to our children, while also juggling the many other roles and responsibilities in our lives and careers, can leave very little time left over for self-care activities (or inactivities as the case might be). Self-care and self-nurturing are foundational to our well-being and effectiveness as mothers (and as human beings). We not only have our children to love and care for, and our partners where they exist, but also ourselves.
In many ways, we ultimately love and care for others, to the extent we love and care for ourselves. Many of you reading this article are very good at being "other focused", caring for the needs of children, partners, aging parents, friends, neighbours, and perhaps also clients, patients and students if your work in the world involves helping or supporting others. Again, the extent to which you can fully show up on your own behalf, will be reflected in the distance you are able to support others to take in terms of their health and well-being- including your children. A wise woman once said to me, "we only take people as far as we have gone ourselves." As mothers, we want to take children the great distance towards their health, well-being and happiness, hence a journey we are called to make ourselves.
Being a mother, is the most complex, amazing, exhausting, and meaningful work that I have ever done in my life so far. All the tending, loving, giggling, cleaning up, getting snacks, changing diapers, running baths, reading stories, teaching, sleepless nights, adjusting, evolving, coordinating, learning and growing is truly mind boggling. I used to think the toughest job I ever had was as a child welfare social worker, than I worked in the emergency department of a hospital and thought that was up there in the "this is challenging work" category. Onward to key note speeches and facilitating training programs in front of hundreds of people, where my heart would pound loudly in my ears as I was introduced, seconds away from having to say something brilliant (or at least not foolish) to the people sitting at round tables with their name tags on. Then I became a mother and fell to my knees in the humility of this all consuming, miracle of motherhood. Now THIS is hard work! Motherhood, in my experience, is hard, easy, natural, challenging, joyful, soulful and often invisible work.
Self-care has a whole new meaning now since how well I take care of myself will determine, in some way, how well I care for my children. That being said, I also notice the more we care for others, the harder it is to maintain self-care - there can be so many competing imperatives on our time. With deep respect and compassion for this reality, here are a few tips for prioritiizing your own self-care as a mother/parent (if you are not a parent - I hope you find value in these tips as you honour your self-care in the midst of what is true in your life).
Do what you love - if you only can create 30 minutes a day to take care of yourself - choose activities that you really love to do (what really fills you up, inspires you, nurtures you, supports you - choose these things!) - it will make it easier to get to them. Yes, running 5 kms would be good, but maybe you would rather have a bubble bath - so have the bath!
Think integration versus balance - balance may seem like a distant far fetched notion while you pack kids into the car, run back in the house to grab your car keys and the lunch bag you forgot on the counter, so let's reframe balance into integration. Integration means that the really important parts of your life get some of your attention - so you exercise, eat healthy, and make time for self reflection. But perhaps you can't do all of these things every single day - but overall you tend to them in the course of a week, a month - this is integration.
Give yourself permission to put yourself first - there is always more to do - another load of laundry, more dishes - there is always something that can take you away from yourself! You must give yourself permission, absolute endorsement, to care for yourself. This WILL mean walking away from other things to claim this time for yourself - this guilt free, essential time for yourself devoted to tending to your wellness and replenishment.
Ask for what you need and want - we need support from our family, friends and colleagues to put self-care up front in our lives. One way to get this support is to not leave it to chance or default, ask for it, be clear and specific in what you need from others to help you achieve your self-care goals. Be sure to also ask how you can support them to take care too - this creates a win-win environment for creating and sustaining healthy lifestyles in our families and in our workplaces.
Create self-care routines and habits - if you have to always give a lot of thought and preparation to your self-care activities, you are much less likely to actually follow through with getting down to it. It is a lot easier to have routines for your self-care - for example, you know you go for a walk at lunch time (period - you protect the time, you don't have to figure out when you are going to exercise, and while others are working through lunch, responding to more email, etc. you are moving your body and having a break!)
Say YES to rest - most Moms I know are tired - and for good reason. Getting some sleep and some rest is key to having the energy and frame of mind to tend to other self-care activities. If you are feeling depleted, run down, exhausted - it is OK to make rest your number one priority! Your energy will go up, you will feel better by getting some rest. Depending on how old your children are, what stage of sleep deprivation you might be in as a parent, rest may need to be the ONLY think you are trying to do in effort to take care of yourself. It's OK to have just one thing on your self-care "to do" list!
Recognize what you are role modeling - as parents, as mothers, we want to teach our children to live healthy lives. We want them to value themselves, to have a high level of self-esteem and self-confidence while also being respectful and loving to others. We teach them the gift of honouring themselves and caring for themselves in part through how we love and care for them and in part through how we love and care for OURSELVES. If we want them to eat healthy, we must eat healthy. If we want them to learn how to manage stress, we must show them how we manage our stress. If we want them to have a core value for health and wellness, we must live this value in our own lives.
Reframe the "self-care is selfish" mantra - so many of us, especially as women, have been taught and/or believe that to care for ourselves is selfish. This is a sabotage word - none of us want to be seen as selfish, therefore sometimes we do not practice self-care if we are regarding it, or those in our lives are regarding it, as a selfish act. Right now, change your language - self-care is not selfish, it is WISDOM. Your health, your life, your happiness - all rest in the quality of your self-care in mind, body, heart and spirit. You know this to be true - so allow yourself to claim it proudly in your life.
Thank you to all the momma's reading this article, to the dad's/partners who love the momma's, to friends, family and communities - we are all in this together.
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