“Self-care is not about self-indulgence. It’s about self-preservation.”
– Audrey Lorde
Growing up as the oldest of seven children (five boys and two girls), I remember breakfast at our house being extremely hectic. My harried mom was scrambling to make lunches, my dad was running around looking for tennis shoes, and invariably one of the seven of us was in the kitchen cooking peanut butter oatmeal, rice-flour-pineapple muffins, or some other strange concoction (in our family, we were heartily encouraged to become masterful at “life skills” — this philosophy encouraged lots of cooking experiments but invariably led to mayhem in the kitchen).
One morning, my nine-year-old brother, Kert (now a macrobiotic chef), decided to whip up some pecan waffles. As I reached over to the waffle maker to help myself to breakfast, I bumped the edge of the hot grill and burned my elbow. I must have been ten years old at the time.
I didn’t mention the accident to my parents — probably because they seemed too distracted getting my six siblings out the door to school — but hours later, I was sitting in my classroom at school, trying to ignore the pain from a small, brown, bubbly-looking burn on my elbow.
Rather than go and get a teacher for help or a bandage, I simply endured the discomfort, thinking silently, it’s not really important enough to bother anyone. I’ll be fine.
This is my earliest recollection of realizing that self-care was not something that my family promoted (even though my parents were medical professionals). It was definitely something I had to learn.
Maybe when you think about self-care, you have visions of pedicures and facials? Physical self-care is a big part of the overall picture. But eliminating critical thinking, not over-scheduling, releasing the need to be perfect, hiring a babysitter for dates with your partner or yourself, saying no, refusing to do things out of guilt, and giving yourself much-needed rest and downtime to refuel are also integral to total self-care.
Self-care is about nurturing yourself on all levels — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually — so you can live, love, and parent optimally.
Recently my friend Megan, mom to Mateo, three, and Alea, one, shared how frustrated she was feeling. Exhausted from staying up until two a.m. the night before to do laundry, she had skipped breakfast and lunch, was surviving on nothing but coffee, and had been beating herself up all day about not getting a homemade meal over to her neighbor, who had recently lost her father. As she and I visited, we realized we would never imagine denying our children sleep or nourishment, being judgmental of them or allowing them to ignore their emotional needs.
Yet, as mothers, we do this to ourselves on a daily basis.
The same love, gentle care, and compassion we offer so generously to our little ones should be extended to ourselves as well. We teach our children about self-worth and honoring one’s value through our actions, not our words. Modeling self-love and self-acceptance is the most effective way to have a powerful impact on a child’s self-esteem and how they view themselves.
What are some simple ways you can begin nurturing yourself and start making self-renewal part of your everyday life? Depending on the age of your children, this will vary greatly. Try focusing on one area of self-care at a time; which one is calling to you right now?
- Nourish your body by eating healthy and energizing foods that make you feel great.
- Get enough sleep, take naps, and drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
- Exercise to replenish your energy and manage stress.
- Take time to enjoy and nurture your body: take a hot aromatherapy bath or give yourself a foot massage.
- Have a heart-to-heart with a close friend or mentor.
- Have kind and loving thoughts about yourself–try not criticizing yourself for one week.
- Seek out support from a therapist, coach, social worker, or counselor.
- Write down your feelings and thoughts in a journal.
- Go on a fun date alone or with your partner or organize a monthly girls’ night out.
Spiritual Care examples
- Take time to be by yourself to think or write.
- Take a walk in a park or out in nature.
- Meditate, pray or just reflect on what you’re grateful for.
- Do something creative: paint/draw/write/dance/sing.
- Volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about.
Mental Care examples
- Read a good book or see an intellectually stimulating movie.
- Learn a new hobby or skill.
- Sign up for a class, group, or workshop on a topic that is interesting to you.
- Challenge yourself to learn something new — get out of your comfort zone.
Almost any mother will share with you how pervasive ideals like good mothers always put their families first, motherhood is pure bliss, you just have to let your body go when you become a mom or good mothers are completely selfless abound in our society.
These beliefs run deep — even if they’re not on a conscious level and you don’t buy into them — and can have a profound impact on how we view our roles as mothers and women. Realize this and be aware that the concept of self-care may feel foreign and difficult to embrace at first, to say the least! (Many moms with infants know that even taking a shower or going the bathroom when you need to, are forms of self-care when you’re in that early survival mode).
Having grown up with a mother who suffered from depression and struggled constantly with self-worth and self-esteem issues, I am motivated to make self-care an important part of my life so I can model this behavior for my son. I want him to see the value of practicing self-care and how it can positively impact how he feels about himself and others.
After you taste the benefits of focusing on your self-care, hopefully, you’ll begin to schedule time for self-nurturing just like you schedule doctor or dentist appointments. You’ll discover that it is integral to your emotional survival and that you are wiser and more effective in all areas of your life when you take time to put your oxygen mask on before helping others.
“The other night at dinner, my husband commented on how much more relaxed and joyful I seemed since I had started exercising and taking “journaling dates,” shares Ella, a self-employed mom writer and mom to twins. “And, since I started taking time for me, I also felt more generous and playful with my kids.”
The changes she made in her life inspired her husband to focus on his self-care, and now he takes guitar classes every Wednesday night. Ella uses the free evening to connect with other moms/kids whose partners also claim Wednesday night for their solo dates. The women have dubbed these regular dinners out as the “Wednesday Night Widows Club,” and all involved look forward to and relish these weekly community gatherings.
The journey to making your self-care a priority (and understanding how life-altering it can be) doesn’t happen overnight. Many women who initially equate self-care with selfishness may require a shift in thinking to make this an everyday practice. Be gentle, compassionate, and understanding with yourself and know that you are doing the best you can wherever you are on your journey. And surround yourself with friends and supporters who also believe in the importance of self-care.
What do you need to live, love and parent optimally?
- What are some reasons that self-care is important, and how do we benefit by making time for self-renewal?
- By filling our cups first, we tend to feel more generous and can avoid building resentments toward others who demand our energy and time.
- Making our self-care a priority is one of the best ways to validate and honor our own worth, which naturally enhances true confidence and self-esteem.
- Taking care of ourselves on all levels (physically/mentally/emotionally/spiritually) helps us feel alive and whole, able to function at our best, and do all the things we want to do.
- By taking time to care for ourselves, we renew and restore our energy supply and create energy reserves, so we’re able to weather unforeseen challenges more easily.
- Practicing self-care and being loving and gentle toward ourselves helps us to be more present and calm, so we can respond wisely, intuitively, and effectively to a variety of circumstances.
- Owning our personal power (realizing our potential) is our birthright. Self-care, self-love, and self-acceptance are wonderful avenues for reaching this goal.
- Nurturing ourselves makes us naturally feel more loving and playful, which makes us better friends, partners, and parents and more fun to be around!
- When you feel good on the inside, you look good on the outside. Nurturing your essence — inside and out — promotes overall well-being and a sense of vitality.
Guided Journaling Exercise: Making Your Self-Care a Priority
Set aside 20 minutes for some quiet reflection. Get comfortable, put on your coziest clothes, or make some hot or iced herbal tea for yourself. Have your journal nearby in case you want to elaborate on the exercise below. If the concept of self-care is new to you, take it slowly and ease into this.
What do you need (physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally) to be the best person, mom, and partner you can be? Remember, each person’s response will be vastly different.
What steps can you begin to take this month to make your self-care a priority?
Which area of self-care (physical/ emotional/ mental/ spiritual) do you most need to focus on right now?
What would motivate you to make your self-renewal a priority?
Look at the Why Self-Care list above and list your top three reasons for practicing self-care.
Morning Self-Care Checkup
For the next thirty days, every morning before you step out of bed, take two minutes to gently scan your body and check how you’re feeling. Ask yourself, What do I need to feel nurtured and to function at my best TODAY?
Remember the four areas of self-care: emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual. Make it a priority to address whatever comes up for you, even if it means saying “no” to something or altering your schedule for the day. Maybe you need a massage or to go for a walk. Perhaps you need to eliminate caffeine or sugar, get more sleep, start taking weekly solo dates, or find a therapist or a coach for support on relationship or career issues. Maybe you need to go to dinner with a girlfriend you haven’t seen in a while and reconnect. Just taking a minute to do a self-care checkup sends a message to yourself that you’re committed to your well-being. Your life will begin to radically change once you start to feel loved, nurtured, and truly in tune with your own needs. And your child(ren) and family will benefit immeasurably!
This excerpt is from The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal: How to Reclaim, Rejuvenate and Re-Balance Your Life , by coach/author/speaker Renee Peterson Trudeau. Since 2000, she has focused her energy and talents on supporting women in starting/joining Personal Renewal Groups (PRG), self-renewal circles for women. Trudeau is president of Austin-based Career Strategists, a coaching firm that helps people integrate “who they are” with “what they do.” You can order Trudeau’s book and learn more on how to start/join a PRG at www.reneetrudeau.com.