An Age-Old Problem
Self-care. It’s something that many people, particularly mothers, struggle with. And though it’s become a hot topic lately, it’s not necessarily a new one.
In Little Women, a book you have probably at least heard of, there is an entire chapter dedicated to this very topic. Meg, the oldest of the four sisters, has allowed herself to become “entirely absorbed in her children, to the utter exclusion of everything and everybody else” (Alcott, Louisa May). She grows lonely and unhappy but doesn’t see a way out of it until her own mother, “Marmee” as they call her, gives her some counsel to help her.
Marmee tells her to let others help her with the children a bit, so she can take care of other things (like the house-cleaning, to move her body and so raise her spirits) and to get out and have some fun. “Go out more, keep cheerful as well as busy, for you are the sunshine-maker of the family, and if you get dismal there is no fair weather” (Alcott).
Meg takes this advice to heart and learns to find balance in her life. And so, she “recover[s] her spirits and compose[s] her nerves by plenty of wholesome exercise, a little pleasure, and much confidential conversation with her sensible husband” (Alcott).
This was originally published in 1869. Everytime I read this chapter, I feel a kinship with Meg. When I became a mother, I felt such a dynamic shift in my identity that I, too, allowed myself to become entirely absorbed in my children.
I’m also surprised by this chapter. Not because this absorption of a mother by her children was happening back then (I think it has probably been happening as long as there have been mothers and babies), but that it was addressed as a problem back then when women’s opportunities, and perceived capabilities, were limited. Even with these limits, this way of being was making her (and her family) unhappy. For some reason, I had always seen this framed as a more recent problem that has come along with women thinking they can, and should, have it all. But whatever your views on women’s roles, too much of anything is no good, even dedication to the little people you love.
What is Self-Care?
What exactly is self-care? I tend to think of it as the things that help a person feel whole and happy, the things that recharge that person’s batteries. Self-care is more than the bare minimum to get you by. It is rather the things that help you thrive. What qualifies as self-care depends on you individually, but it needs to be things that help you feel present and alive, not things that you simply do to distract (or numb) yourself. You cannot feel rejuvenated by distraction and avoidance.
Moms, I’m With You on This One
I have my own obstacles to consistently practicing self-care. The importance of self-care is one of those lessons that I seem to have to learn over and over again. What I can tell you is this: everything in my life goes better and the people in my life are happier when I practice it. Practicing self-care helps me be the best version of myself.
Even knowing this, and experiencing it, I go through phases where I just don’t do it. And then I start to get cranky. I feel anxious and confined. I start getting on my kids’ nerves for hovering so much. (“I can do it myself, Mom!”) I pull away from my husband and others. And then I recognize what’s happening and make it a priority once more. Then, I can breathe deeply and feel happy again. I wonder why I ever stop doing it when I know from experience how much I need it in order be the kind of person I want to be, or even just function really.
So many of the moms I talk with are either not doing self-care at all, or struggle (as I sometimes do) to maintain it. As I’ve wondered why this is, I’ve realized something. If you’re one of those moms who just doesn’t do self-care or struggles to keep it up, pay attention because this could change things for you.
Beliefs Guide You, For Good or Bad
It all comes down to your beliefs. A belief is simply a statement that we hold as true. Because we hold them as truths, beliefs guide our choices and actions. Beliefs are powerful. They can also cause problems. We may think we believe one thing, but when we dig deep we may find that there is a different (possibly conflicting) belief that we have let closer to our heart. The reason we need to examine what we believe is because not everything we believe, or tell ourselves, is true.
False beliefs keep us stuck, because as much as we might try to act differently, sooner or later, we revert back to living in a way congruent with our beliefs. Even if those beliefs are making us unhappy. The only way to really shift our behavior and have it last, is to shift the beliefs that are guiding that behavior.
Here’s how I know that a belief I have is a lie: lies make me feel trapped and confined. In the words of Buddha: “Just as we can know the ocean because it always tastes of salt, we can recognize enlightenment because it always tastes of freedom.” Or, in other words “the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). True beliefs, when we let them settle in next to our hearts, will make us feel free. (I have another, deeper post on beliefs where we’ll really unpack this idea, but it will have to wait for another day.)
The beliefs I want to pay particular attention to today are the ones that you have in regards to what it means to be a “good mom”, particularly in regards to self-care.
Beliefs About Being a Good Mom
Sit down and ask yourself what you actually believe about what it means to be a good mom. You can get out a pen and paper and write down, “A good mom . . . “ and pour out in detail all of the things that you believe a good mom does and is. Examine what you believe about what you should do for your children, how much and when you should be there for them.
We all want to be good moms, but I think you may find upon close examination that some of the things you think make a good mom are unrealistic for you to humanly maintain. I get how it happens. A mother’s love is superhuman, and, as I’ve said before, a force of nature.
Unfortunately, YOU are not. Dangit. It’s a hard thing to reconcile ourselves to, isn’t it? Our love may not have limits, but we do. We give and give until we’re empty and tend to forget, as the saying goes, “You cannot pour from an empty cup.”
Beliefs About Self-Care
After you have examined your beliefs about being a “good mom” do this same thing with your beliefs about self-care. Ask yourself how you feel about self-care. What feelings come up for you? Do you think it’s actually important? Do you do it? Why or why not? What does self-care actually look like to you? What kinds of things or activities help you to feel replenished, whole, and able to thrive?
How Are These Serving You?
Once you have looked at those underlying beliefs, see how they may relate to each other. Ask yourself how they are serving you. If they seem to be serving you well, then good for you. Keep it up! If not, you need to challenge those false beliefs and replace them with true ones.
I myself have had to take a long, hard look at my beliefs about what it means to be a good mom and my beliefs about self-care, and it’s been incredibly helpful in informing me of why I tend to cycle through doing it and not doing it. I’ll address two false beliefs and how I’ve combated them, because I have found that they are pretty common with other moms.
False Belief #1
The first belief is that you believe that to be a good mom you should not need self-care. I’ve had to really own the fact that I have a lot of shame about self-care. I feel like I shouldn’t need it. When I’m at my worst, I tell myself if I was less selfish, anxious, and otherwise flawed, I wouldn’t need to ask for anything for myself and I could just serve my family like I should. During those times, I feel like either I have to hurt and be neglected, or my family does. It’s a lose-lose situation. Of course when it comes to that choice, I would rather be hurt than to hurt my family. This belief tells me that I matter less than them and that if I choose to take care of myself I am hurting them.
This belief is a lie.
It is okay to need to take some time to care for yourself. Though it may seem strange to believe, if your needs and wants are not counted as equally important in your family, you are not only hurting yourself, but you are hurting your children too.
Okay, yes, I totally understand that there are times when you must put your needs and wants aside, like when you have a sick child that needs attending to in the middle of the night. But can you see that always putting yourself dead last is a problem? How can you be the kind of mom you want to be when you are constantly running on empty?
You can also think of it this way: if children are taught they always come first, how will they learn to be considerate of and care for others? Or if they do learn to serve others, how will they learn to truly take care of themselves when they are grown and are tired, if you do not model that behavior for them?
What are you teaching them about boundaries and about respecting parents or other caretakers? What do you want to teach them? I do not want my daughter to think that once she becomes a mom, her needs become obsolete, that she no longer gets to dream and achieve and find solace. Nor do I want my son to think that is what should happen to his wife (or to him, because dads need to practice self-care too!).
I want to teach my children that it’s okay to have limits, to speak up and say when they need a break, to know and love themselves well enough to be able (and feel worthy) to make themselves happy. I want them to know what women are capable of, that service is important, but that so is saying no sometimes.
False Belief #2
The second false belief is that you simply do not have the time to do it.
There are so many other things on your plate. So many things demanding your attention that you might feel you are already neglecting a host of other responsibilities. And when you take a look at what’s expendable, guess what never seems to make the cut? Self-care. Again.
I get it. I do it too. I sometimes tell myself that everything else matters more than my self-care. Or that I don’t have the energy for it. Which is often true because I’ve given the best of myself to my children, the dregs to my husband (poor guy, I really do love him!), and I have nothing left for me. Any “free time” then becomes consumed with ways to mindlessly waste my time because I have nothing left to give.
This belief is hard to get rid of because it’s a more subtle attack on the fact that your needs are also important. You really ARE busy and feel overwhelmed, so what else can you do???
A few months ago, I was listening to a podcast (it was the first few minutes that really spoke to me) and the woman shared this brilliant idea that really gave me hope. She told about a conference she went to. A man at the conference shared a video* of salt being poured onto a vibrating plate. When the plate vibrated on a low frequency, the salt scattered, then organized itself into a simple pattern. Then the frequency was raised. The salt scattered, then organized itself into a slightly more complex pattern. Each time the frequency was raised the salt organized itself into more complex patterns.
The whole point of this man’s talk was to illustrate that “when we have a low frequency, or when our mood or emotional level is really low, we can only have order over very few things. As we raise that emotional level, we raise that frequency or vibration in our life, we gain greater capacity to have order in more things” (Snow, Brooke).
Now, this caught my interest, for obvious reasons. During my motherhood years my list of what I can actually handle in life has been very short. Most of the time, it has been an existence of just getting by. Sticking to the sleeping/eating schedules of my children, keeping the house clean and tidy, going to church. And I was barely keeping up with those things.
Is it possible to raise your vibration (or emotional level) enough that you feel capable of not just getting by? We are the only ones who can raise our own vibration. We do it through doing those things that help us each individually feel present, alive, and recharged.
Was it possible that my belief that doing self-care was taking away from my life and time was a false one?
I did a little experiment. I didn’t do my usual thing of being stingy with my self-care. No, instead I scheduled in lots of self-care. I did full yoga practices, explored Bartenieff Fundamentals (a type of movement that focuses also on sensing the body from the inside), meditated daily, played the piano lots, went on walks, journaled every night, got up early to read my scriptures before my kids woke up, ate more nourishing foods, the list goes on. I turned the notch way, way up on my self-care.
And the craziest thing happened. It worked!
I felt like I could handle my life. Not only did I feel like I could handle my life, but for the first time in years, I felt capable of taking on more. This is actually a principle of movement that I have taught others, but for some reason having it framed this way really made a difference for me.
I found another one of those liberating truths: by doing not just the bare minimum of what I needed to do to get by, but by doing what I needed to actually thrive, my life and family relationships got better. My responsibilities were easier to shoulder. My family was happier. I was doing more, but not in a frantic way. I felt content and strong.
When you look at it this way, do you really have time NOT to do self-care?
Have things been perfect for me since then? Definitely not. I’m keeping it real. I’m still working on plenty of relational and aspirational goals. In the days leading up to this writing, I had been in a self-care slump again. I feel that I have been working myself in an upward spiral, where it seems like I have to keep learning the same thing again, but really I’m on a higher plane and I’ve brought my past-knowing with me and the lesson takes less time to learn and keeps on sinking in deeper and deeper. I’ll get it. Those false beliefs are getting pushed farther away from my heart so the truth can get in there. And my body is quicker to inform me when all is not well. I’m doing the work.
Won’t you join me?
Self-care matters. Because YOU Matter.
In our families, each person plays an indispensable role. It is no one’s job but your own to see to it that you are happy. As a mom and as a woman, you have so much power for good. Moms, we need to shift our thinking to believe that our well-being matters as much as our loved ones’. We must make time for our well-being through self-care because when we feel powerful and whole and worthy, when we are thriving, our families will thrive too. The goodness we show ourselves will increase our abilities to do good for others. And that goodness will spread and bless lives.
Has any of this resonated with you? I have some more blog posts in the docket to teach you some of the self-care methods I practice to help me thrive, and some of the other movement practices I’ve incorporated into my families’ lives to help them thrive as well. So, keep an eye out. For those of you who really want an in-depth study (with lots of ideas on integrating self-care into your life) sign up for my online course, designed to help moms spark a change in their lives, coming up mid-April. Spots are limited and early-bird pricing is only available until April 11th, so don’t delay!
And remember, you are worth taking care of.
Alcott, Louise May. Little Women. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 2004. Print.
Snow, Brooke. “The Importance of Self-Care.” Audio blog post. Every Branch Podcast. Every Branch, October 26, 2016. Web.
*Here is that video if you were interested: