Guided meditation, hour-long morning rituals, daily detox baths … they’re just not happening. For most mothers, simple acts of self-care can be Herculean challenges. Showering, alone, can feel like a luxury! And if we do set aside time for self-care, it comes at the great expense of other responsibilities. It can be hard to discern what’s worth the trade off. So how can moms participate in the self-care movement, and what’s the best approach?
As a health coach and a mother of eight children, I’ve slowly come to understand that deep self-care, those acts that truly transform and renew us, often require a sacrifice on our part. A sacrifice? It would seem like sacrifice is the opposite of self-care. In truth, however, sacrifice is not a resignation; it is a choice for something greater.
In the daily grind of motherhood, as we put out fires and respond to the immediate needs of our family members, we can forget the intrinsic truth of transformative self-care: it doesn’t come easy. Often, we look for a quick fix to our deeper needs. We find ourselves expecting peace from pedicures, and fulfillment from a new pair of shoes. We snatch moments for ourselves; yet deep sustaining joy and inner stillness remain distant from us. Upon returning home from “retail therapy,” we are just as irritable and overwhelmed as when we left. We snack late at night and / or stay up on Facebook once the kids go to sleep, trying to reclaim a piece of ourselves. This impulse towards temporary satisfaction actually costs us more than it delivers; and it distracts us from asking the deeper questions: What am I really craving? What am I trying to reclaim?
Self-care for mothers will almost always require a thoughtful choice. However, to the extent that a mother invests in her care, the reward is much greater because it isn’t ours alone. Our entire family environment changes when we are fulfilled. Moms are the heart of the home, even nowadays.
These are the symptoms of a lack of self-care that spill over and into our homes:
- We become stressed and frazzled easily
- We feel unappreciated (whether we are or not)
- Our home-life is emotionally charged
- We detect a subtle detachment and disengagement between family members
- We thrive on busy-ness, as stillness becomes increasingly uncomfortable
- We complain … a lot
Alternatively, consider simple “doable” forms of self-care that nurture and nourish us on a deeper level. Try putting these into practice in “mom-time” and experience the difference in your personal well-being and family life. The rewards of self-care are presence, joy and peace. If we don’t have these, what good is everything else?
- Wake up fifteen minutes earlier than your children
This might be perceived a loss. After all, sleep is precious for a mom, and most of us are seriously deprived. But waking earlier than our kids allows us to breathe, rise leisurely, pray or meditate and ponder the day without interruptions. We can greet our kids more gracefully when we don’t feel like something was taken from us. This act of self-care brings us fulfilling mornings, which overflows into happier goodbyes, and a feeling of satisfaction that those 15 extra minutes of sleep probably won’t deliver.
- Suspend doing and start being
If we could only remove the word, “busy” from our vernacular … after all, when did “busy” become an acceptable answer to, “How are you?” Often, my kids ask me what we are doing for the day. And I reply, “We are being.” They usually role their eyes, but they also understand the difference between being and doing. If we stop buzzing, our kids will grow to love peace and stillness. They will seek it out as they grow older, as my college kids do. This form of self-care requires a choice to stop moving, driving, emailing and chattering. However, it rewards us with presence, focus, a longer-term vision for our families and a peaceful demeanor.
When I had infants and toddlers in the house, it felt futile to read, because I couldn’t remember anything the next day. I had not slept for seventeen years reading anything beyond The Very Hungry Caterpillar was challenging. I often hear moms saying the same thing about reading, it’s useless if we can’t retain it. I started challenging this notion of “outcome” after my eighth child was born. I loved to read. Period. I was happier if I read, even if I couldn’t remember the material later on. The enjoyment came from the act itself, not the outcome. Reading good literature sparks our imagination and curiosity in the moment. Our creativity is ignited, and we are more alive when we read. That’s reasonable enough to keep doing it. Enjoyment that isn’t tied to an outcome is powerful self-care.
- Feed yourself well
In the rush of the day, we can forget to eat well. Our eating patterns are subject to stress, exhaustion, and the daily grind. As an act of self-tenderness, enjoy healthy, whole foods. Gift yourself with nourishment. It may feel like an interruption to stop, sit down, breathe and chew; but our bodies need our kind attention. Eating well is a way to honor our bodies for all they have done for us, they have made us mothers. This act of self-care brings us energy, vitality and youthfulness.
- Break a sweat
It is amazing how everything changes when we exercise. It truly is “me-time,” in the best sense of the words. Exercise elevates our mood, stabilizes our eating patterns, strengthens us from the inside out, and helps us feel more in control of our day. Insist on this gift of self-care; prioritize it, count on it, and make it happen everyday. Use whatever is available to you: your stairs, your yard, nearby trails, even your kids. Run around with them, do jumping jacks, use a jump rope … whatever it takes to sweat. If you can join a gym, set regular hours to go. If you can hire a trainer or take classes, all the better. Treat exercise as a non-negotiable. This act of self-care affirms the value of our physical beings, and makes us feel strong throughout the day.
- Go to sleep an hour early
Easier said than done. There’s cleaning, lunches, laundry and homework; and when the house is finally quiet, we get a second wind. But it can often be spent mindlessly surfing online, FBing, or vegging in front of the TV. These are acts of distraction, momentary escapes; and they cannot promise our greater satisfaction. Instead, try to unplug, make a cup of tea, listen to music, take a walk, have a quiet conversation. End your day an hour early and you’ll have a better grip on the next day. Exhaustion skews our perception. As moms, we really need clarity and vitality to filter and meet with joy the pressing needs around us.
These are only a few kinds of self-care that real-life moms can embrace, starting today. I’d love to hear your own simple expressions of self-care in “mom-time.” Together, let’s bring peace and presence into our motherhood.