If you’re not quite sure what I mean by this term ‘self-care’ I’ve been throwing around, I’ve put together a little list of what it means to me. Since becoming a mother, I really feel the importance of caring for myself in a new way. Before I had children, I was already practicing taking care of myself by listening to my body in new ways, getting regular massages, creating healthy meals I could savor, having a bubble bath with a glass of wine on a Saturday night instead of going out. I consider all of these ways to honor my body and slow down if that’s what I feel my body calling me to do. Even when I became pregnant with my first child, I still did a pretty good job of it all – prenatal massages, yoga, regular exercise, walks on the beach, meditation days, you name it. But it’s crazy – the minute that baby is born, you don’t know what hit you! All of a sudden it became 95% about the baby and 5% me – OVERNIGHT. When they say nothing prepares you for having your own child, boy, is it the truth! I was shocked I couldn’t find the time to get a shower – it’s five minutes, what the heck!? Cook dinner? Forget it.
Over time I learned a new normal and figured things out, of course. But in that process I didn’t spend enough time on me. I spent every waking moment of the day making sure my baby’s needs were met. This meant sometimes forgoing my own basic needs. Yes, I realize this is parenthood, but for me, I had started to neglect myself in many ways. I finally realized what was awry and started to make some changes. I joined a gym. I signed up for a mom’s group at church that included childcare so I could have adult conversation and a meal I could actually savor. I started getting a sitter in the day sometimes so I could get out alone and my husband and I began going out on more dates. Over time, I could definitely see my old self shining through again.
Here is a list of the self-care practices I use regularly:
1. Deep breathing. Take a breath. Exhale slowly. Do it again. I especially find this useful when I’m having a trying moment with my toddler. I simply breathe. Okay, I pray sometimes too. But these deep breaths keep me from saying something I’ll potentially regret! Age 3 is testing me like no other! If you take a breath, it buys you some time to think before you speak and centers you a bit.
2. Do something childlike. This may sound sorta weird, but I find coloring or making collages with my daughter incredibly therapeutic. I recently took her on a “girl date” where we spent all morning together and my favorite part of the day was swinging side by side at a park and imagining the play structures were castles. It takes me back to a childlike freedom and helps me avoid thinking of any to-do lists or adult things for a short time.
3. Yoga. I wish I could say I practiced this lately, but I haven’t. Not for several months. But when I do, I feel so connected to myself and my body in a way I can’t describe. Breathing into my body while moving and flowing – there is nothing like it! I’m sure for some of you running has that same release for you. I’ve never been a runner, but I certainly understand the mind/body connection that must come from it.
4. Limit media access. I’ve said before that I am not a huge fan of social media. For some reason it just makes me feel worse sometimes. If I’m feeling I need to really take care of myself, I find that it’s good to limit media in general but especially social media. Personal connections are more meaningful and feed my soul in a way that, thankfully, Facebook and Instagram can’t.
5. A hot bath. I’m such a fan of the bubble bath. I could sit in one for the whole night, I think. Take a magazine and/or a glass of wine and just sit back and relax. There is nothing like it. Pure heaven.
6. Put on makeup, do your hair, and dress in something other than workout gear. My stay at home mom attire of yoga pants and a tee were cozy, yes, but I didn’t feel like my best self. I’ve started putting together fun outfits with accessories and I notice a change in my demeanor when I know I look my best. This is not to say I don’t sport my old mom uniform from time to time still, but I really do try and put together a fun outfit most days.
7. Book a sitter (or trade with another mother) and get a pedi, go on a walk, get a massage, go shopping. Even if it is running errands alone, you’ll feel refreshed from not having to meet anyone else’s needs but yours for a little while!
8. Ask for help if you need it. Seriously. Being a mom is no easy task. Laundry piles up, your to-do list makes you want to cry, and the whining and nagging nearly send you into hysterics. If you have family nearby, ask them for help. That’s what family is for. If not family, then ask a friend. I have asked friends for help so many times when in a pinch or having a hard time. No one minds! We have all been there.
9. Meditation and/or Prayer. When I was living in Los Angeles, I was blessed to be a part of a great group of girls led by close friend and author, Kristin Ritzau. Every week, Kristin led us through some sort of meditation or contemplative prayer in her living room. I also attended many of Kristin’s retreats, where I was able to connect to myself and God in new ways each time. My favorite thing has always been walking a labyrinth – I always feel God speak to me in a profound way in this prayer walk. For other meditation tools and ways to connect with yourself and God, check out Kristin’s spiritual direction page. I often practice one of more of these tools to center myself if I’m feeling overwhelmed with life.
10. Realize that you’re not perfect and you’re allowed to have bad days. It’s important for your children to see this too. I have a friend who said she had a hard time in life when she realized everything wasn’t perfect all the time, like her parents had let on. The disappointments of life felt overwhelming to her. It’s ok and even healthy to model that mom does not always say the right things or handle each situation perfectly. This modeling gives your children permission to fall apart in a safe place if need be. As a parent, this has been a hard concept for me to grasp. I’m a recovering perfectionist and I have to accept it’s okay to show my kids my true self, even if it isn’t always pretty. I went through an intense 12-step recovery for perfectionists, also led by Kristin. Her book, A Beautiful Mess, is a must-read for perfectionists who are exhausted from trying to keep it all together.
I’m so thankful for this journey of self-care I’ve been on. Without it, I can’t imagine where I would be. My kids thankfully get to see my best, imperfect self on a daily basis, and I know the three of us are better off for it.