“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.” Audre Lorde
I first came across the term “self-care” as a twenty-something psych grad as I paged through women’s magazines and self-help books. In those pre-children days of supreme selfishness, it seemed irrelevant and very far away from my reality. The words conjured up images of rich women having endless pedicures and languishing on their therapists’ couches, or perhaps recovering addicts being reminded to eat three square meals a day and take some fresh air.
Well, motherhood has a way of humbling you, doesn’t it? A few years in, I realized that I too, was in need of some radical self-care. Children are like tiny plants, greedily sucking in water and nutrients from the soil they are planted in, seeking light and air and room for their own survival. If you do not cordon off a space for your own needs, I can promise you right now that you will soon find yourself short-tempered, depressed or just thoroughly fed up with your own life.
Please don’t think it’s easy; I have driven away from my own children crying and screaming “No, MOMMY, come back, nooooo” as their bewildered father tried to take them both in his arms. Was I perhaps off on a long business trip? Abandoning them to be looked after by strangers? People, I was off to my regular once a week yoga class that I have been going to for years and years. Sometimes their cries have been so very desperate that I have stopped the car and re-considered. Each time, though, my lovely husband (through gritted teeth) has said “Go!”. When I come home, of course, they’re all happily playing Lego together and have forgotten all about it. This is the reality of young children.
If you are in the trenches of family life right now, here are five (small) acts of self-care to start you off:
Take your vitamins
This seems so obvious, that I am almost embarrassed to write it down. But…in the madness of the early morning, I have often forgotten this simple task and I really do feel the difference in my energy levels, and in my health in general. It is really useful to anchor the taking of your vitamins to something else you do every morning. Anchoring is a very basic self-hypnosis technique that we teach in HypnoBirthing classes where you pair a thought, emotion or behavior with an object or action. So, every morning I pair the drinking of my morning smoothie with taking my vitamins. I count them all out in a little bowl, and put it right next to the glass so that I really don’t forget to take every one.
Sit down and eat
Good digestion is essential to good health, and good digestion requires a focus on your food and slow and careful chewing to release the enzymes that will help to break it down. Ha! That’s all very well in theory but as mothers how often do we grab a bite of our child’s sandwich for lunch or eat a snack bar in the car on our way somewhere? Even dinner times are often not particularly peaceful as we admonish our kids to sit on their bottoms and eat and no, now is not a good time to make farting noises.
This takes real effort, and in really busy seasons, I often find myself slipping. I tend to just not eat when I am hectic, which is terrible and something I have to be very mindful of. So, whenever you can, plan your meals, and then sit down somewhere quiet and enjoy them. If your children are very young and/or wild, it is also not a bad idea to feed them early in the evening and sit down with your husband a bit later for a more civilized affair. This is not a long term solution, as there is tremendous value in a shared family meal, but it is something we have done from time to time and really benefitted from.
Well, I am a childbirth educator and doula, so you knew this had to come in somewhere! When we are tense and stressed, we breathe so very shallowly and it just makes things worse. There is a wonderful breath we teach in HypnoBirthing, and that is also taught in yoga. It is called “calm breathing” or in yoga, balancing breath. You simply breath in for the count of 4, and out for the count of 8. Slow, deep breaths, in and out through the nose.
I have been known to lock myself in the toilet when my kids are driving me crazy and just do this technique for 3-5 minutes. I also try and do it every night before I go to bed, and it works like a charm to calm me down and get me in the right frame of mind for sleep.
Legs up against the wall
I would love to say that I do an hour of yoga every day, and perhaps one of these days I will. But for now, I incorporate just a few yoga techniques into my daily life and this is one of them. Legs up against the wall is as easy as it sounds. Practised for 10-15 minutes each day, it has a tremendously calming effect on the nervous system, quiets the mind, reduces leg tension and has all the benefits of an inversion. It is so easy that you can do it anywhere, and your kids can join in too as they get older (kids are natural yogis and it’s so much fun to introduce them to the poses!).
Do one thing that brings you joy
One of the things I learnt when I trained in solution-focused coaching was to “just do one thing” to change the situation. Almost every problem seems insurmountable when we look at it as one big, ugly, hairy mass. But when I coach, I work with my client to do just one thing to tackle the issue. Raising kids is never going to be calm, peaceful and zen-like 100% of the time. That is just unrealistic. People will get tired, tempers will fray and you will have moments when you feel like it’s all too much. But by doing one thing each day that brings you joy, you know that you have taken a step towards nurturing yourself and your own needs.
I like to book-end my days with nice things. I look forward to my first cup of coffee each morning as I wake up, drunk in relative peace, and then again, to the library book that I always read a few chapters of at night. Simple, simple things that I have always done since before my babies were born and have just continued. Whatever else happens in the day, I know I have those two things to look forward to.
What are your acts of self-care? Do you need to be a bit more mindful about looking after your own needs?