“You’re job as a mom isn’t to give to your children out of what you sacrifice. That is finite. Your job is to pass out torches from what burns inside and makes you come alive.” Kat Lee
In my pre-motherhood days while watching the Oprah Winfrey show I remember hearing about self-care and shelving the concept as the latest “buzz” word for women. At some point I learned of the protocol for a mother and her child when preparing for an emergency on an airplane. The power of the maternal instinct is so strong that mothers need a clear reminder to put the oxygen mask on themselves first before putting the oxygen mask on their child. It makes sense that a mother would need to prioritize her own survival in order to be able to help her child survive. “Mothers get oxygen first” has become a campaign of sorts. Many articles have made reference to this common prescription for self-care as it relates to motherhood.
After giving birth to my first child the notion of self-care really hit home. First time mothers will often tell you that caring for a new baby is all encompassing. It seems counter intuitive to step away from mothering and care for yourself when your little baby needs you so much. It doesn’t help matters that you may physically and emotionally ache when you aren’t with your baby or that logistically it can be exhausting to organize and prepare to leave, therefore, making it seem much easier to care for your baby yourself. There are the lists of detailed instructions, the pumping of breast milk, and the coordination of it all! There comes a time when balance needs to be restored or a new mother will begin to function at a deficit. There is a big difference between caring for your baby with every ounce of your being and caring for your baby with your heart and soul. Mothering with every fiber of your being will eventually drain your energy, yet mothering from your heart and soul requires that your heart and soul always be full.
Being diagnosed with a chronic health issue after the birth of my daughters was the ultimate lesson in self-care, yet it still took me a long time to begin prioritizing myself. I was on the path to becoming numb to my own needs. Living with constant pain and discomfort was the backdrop of my early motherhood experience. I fell into the trap of mothering to the point of exhaustion at the end of the day. This pattern led to the downward spiral of unhappiness and an inability to cope with my illness. I realized that my daughters deserved the best version of me and they had not been experiencing me at my best, even though I felt I was giving them all of me. I needed to discover a way to reclaim my wellness, happiness, and energy.
Today I think of self-care as the ultimate act of self-love. Women are gifted at nurturing their family and friends but how often do we treat ourselves like we treat our close friends or our child? We are wise at knowing what the people we love and care for need but rarely stop to consciously ask ourselves what we need. I believe that all mothers should practice self-care and create their own personal ritual. I love the idea of creating a self-care “ritual” much more than a self-care routine since rituals have the connotation of beauty and serenity while routines seem typical and mundane.
So how do you begin creating a self-care ritual?
From my experience, a woman should take the time to consciously ask herself what she needs. In my case, before I could implement anything else I had to address my health issue. This meant reaching out for help and making my first appointment to see a physiotherapist. After several appointments, further referrals to other specialists, and my own research into my health issue, I was ready to address other areas in my life that required attention. Dr. Kathleen Hall, Director of the Stress Institute, has identified “four roots of self-care” which include serenity, exercise, love, and food. These four roots or categories may help you to begin to identify your interests and needs. Making time for yoga, a massage, exercise, your relationship, friends, or seeking support, as well as healthy food choices are essential practices for a self-care ritual. Think of choosing a combination of “roots” to create your perfect self-care recipe that will nourish your heart and soul and provide you with the energy to be the best version of yourself.
While you may have the best of intentions to implement and practice your self-care ritual there can be emotional and logistical barriers to your success. It is very helpful to be aware of these challenges since it is your awareness that will increase the likelihood of achieving consistent self-care in your life. Author Cheryl Richardson highlights a few of these hurdles including being specific about your needs. For example, if you feel that you don’t have enough time for yourself be really clear on what it would look like to have this time. It may be that two hours of uninterrupted time to read a book and have a bath would be the most rejuvenating for you. Setting boundaries is also very important. If you are struggling with creating time for yourself it is important to begin to say no to others graciously so you can create time for yourself. Cheryl Richardson refers to this practice as “letting go of the wheel” helping you to rejuvenate to give back to others eventually. Finally, take a proactive stance! Don’t let yourself get to the point where your health is compromised.
I often tell coaching clients to expect that implementing a self-care ritual is a process that takes time. It can take weeks to begin implementing the initial phase and months to create rituals that truly serve and benefit you and there will be wrinkles along the way…that comes with motherhood. Yet studies on brain functioning and neuroplasticity show that happiness is a learned skill and that patients coping with depression or illness can retrain their brains through conscious thought processes. In my experience with the combination of motherhood and coping with a chronic health issue the key has been self-love…truly treating myself how I would treat others in my life.
So cheers to “Project You!” There are so many more pieces to the self-care puzzle as you will discover your own needs and rhythms. Remember that your children need to see their Mom as a role model. Actions speak louder than words. Communicate self-love through how you treat yourself and you will give the gift of your true self to your kids.