Self care has quite the buzz around it these days, but for an understandable reason. In a world where increasingly we are told that we can do and be everything we want, and that we should do it all right now- many people are burned out and anxious and self care is being turned to more and more.
As mothers, much of our time revolves around caring for those around us, giving selflessly of our time, love, energy and resources whilst often putting off our own desires. When we could once go out whatever time we chose and putting on our own shoes was the only thing between us and the front door- now there lies an obstacle course of shoes, bags, socks, coats, permission slips, baby wipes and goodness knows what else before we can get anywhere beyond our living room. Life is fuller, and more complicated- especially when they are small and rely on us for almost everything. We have to think about the needs of at least two people at any one time, and more if our family grows more.
Self care is hard to do- and perhaps part of that is because it reminds us of selfishness, of putting ourselves first. Of self and not others- but there is so much more behind it all than just putting ourselves first when we could be prioritising others. Our minds are often so crowded with the mental load of caring for people, home, schedules and those pieces of paper that float around our houses that it’s hard to even remember the idea of self care.
IT’S FOR THE BENEFIT OF OTHERS
First off- self care is something we can do to look after ourselves but it doesn’t mean walking through life thinking only of ourselves. It actually is selfless in many ways because if we are not in a good place, we aren’t in a good place to look after or love anyone else. If you are at home with one child- you actually have two people to look after- them and yourself. You do not exist solely for their benefit- you are still a multifaceted person with as much personality, emotion and needs as they have. Pushing yourself to the bottom of the list might work for a while, but in the long run not taking care of ourselves properly together as we also take care of others means that we are setting ourselves up for exhaustion, burnout, illness and anxiety. If you struggle with the concept of self care or just frequently find that you have been pushed to the bottom of your list, you might be struggling with the idea that self-care is selfish, or that you are less important than those around you. But in so many ways your wellbeing affects those around you, and so taking care of yourself is about benefitting them and not purely about yourself.
OUR ATTITUDE MATTERS
If we are caring for ourselves so that we can be more loving and giving to our children- that isn’t selfish but rather wise and something that the effects of will overflow into other areas of our lives. However – if we are mentally grumbling all the time and feel like we deserve time to ourselves because life is so hard and no one cares about you- that’s self pity. If you find yourself often feeling hard done by and frustrated by the realities of motherhood, you really need to take some time and space to work through what you are feeling, the thoughts behind that and what the truth of the situation is. I can often be frustrated about motherhood when my children are pushing boundaries a lot- and then when I stop and think through it I realise that I’m placing my identity and success in their behaviour- which is never going to work. I have to take some mental space to work out what is behind what I am feeling and those lies that I’m allowing myself to believe, before I can start to work on the truth of motherhood- that I am the best mother for them, that I am privileged to be with them, that I like them! I have to remember that there is no formula to follow for motherhood and that as long as I am communicating love and grace to them, within the values and boundaries of our home, that their behaviour is not a reflection of who I am, but rather a demonstration of them being children who I need to continue to love and teach.
If you feel overwhelmed and under appreciated in motherhood at the moment- you are not alone. We always have these times of feeling like we are failing, lonely or just at the end of ourselves. It is okay to be frustrated, and we need to be able to share with others, come to terms with how we are feeling and work back to the truth and not get overwhelmed by our circumstances. Find a good time and some quiet to work through some of the things you are struggling with, perhaps with a journal, and write down how you’re feeling and why. Remember things that make you feel like yourself, that you enjoy, and try to take small steps towards those things. It’s good to take some time to look after yourself in order that you can enjoy time with those around you better.
PUTTING OTHERS FIRST
In an ideal world we would all live in a way that naturally puts others first. You would love in ways that put me before your own desires, and I would do the same to you- and so we would both be caring for one another and being blessed by both giving and receiving. Alas, as humans we tend towards worrying about protecting ourselves- and our children are not born knowing how to put others first. We have to teach them how to put themselves in each other’s shoes – and especially in the little years we can’t expect them to be able to empathise with us as mothers or to have any ability to recognise the needs we have, much less ensure that they are met. This means that whilst hopefully your other half, family and friends are able to be giving and loving to you- if you are at home or alone with your children much of the time you can’t expect them to understand how to respect your needs as well as theirs, and so it’s particularly import in these childhood years to be aware of how to care for ourselves and not to lean on others to know what we need especially when they are too young to be able to do that properly. Communicate with your children about it, and communicate with the adults around you so that they understand and over time can demonstrate that selflessness in the ways you have been showing them you need.
SELF CARE POURS OUT TO OTHERS
In order for our whole families to be able to live joyful, abundant lives and to grow together we need to be healthy, our whole selves. Failing to take care of ourselves as mothers is doing a disservice to our whole families, not just to us as individuals. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the things that need doing, trying to get through our commitments, appointments and responsibilities. There are days when we don’t feel like we can find any time for a rest, a break or to stop and think properly about these things. But skipping meals, allowing ourselves to get by on minimum sleep and not taking care of our minds and souls doesn’t make us martyrs or actually help us at all- over time it is counterproductive and can lead to some serious physical or mental problems- be that in the form of stress, fatigue, damaged relationships or depression.
If out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks- it matters how we are feeling and taking care of ourselves- our whole selves. If we are feeling burdened by all of our responsibilities and running ourselves ragged responding to others, we are going to act and react differently than if we are feeling rested and filled up. If we are feeling tired and haven’t eaten properly we will talk to those around us differently than if we are feeling grateful and have spent a bit of time doing something we enjoy.
Self care involves taking care of yourself, but in all aspects. Not just physically through eating, sleeping and exercise, but through taking care of yourself as a whole - mind, body and soul. I know that it’s a work in progress, and that you’re not going to have perfect days all the time, so I try to think of it over the course of a week- whether there has been time spent doing things which are life giving, whether over the course of that time I have managed to invest in myself, even if it wasn’t all possible every day. Perhaps you can stop to think for a moment which areas of these you are looking after yourself well in, how that’s benefitting those around you, and also those areas which perhaps need more attention. Implementing small habits will have a much bigger impact than trying to revamp your whole life, so try to find just five or ten minutes to have some mental space each day, and to work out how you can be taking better care of yourself. Be kind to yourself, be kind to others, and allow yourself some breathing room, both for yourself and for the sake of others around you.
This post first appeared on The Mama Book blog.