Self-care. Urgh. Those 2 words. I hate them. They drip with guilt, oozing with indulgence and selfishness. I hate it when people bandy about the term, telling us that we must practise ‘self-care’ with the underlying accusation that we aren’t enough. We aren’t doing enough. We’re doing it wrong. Whatever ‘it’ is.
On the one hand, if we dedicate ourselves to our children and our families, with no regard for our own wellbeing, we are lacking in self-care. We’re going to burn out. Become resentful. We aren’t going to parent ‘properly’. On the other hand, if we indulge in self-care, we are selfish and putting ourselves first. We aren’t thinking about the needs of our children or other people in our lives. We are self-indulgent. Ego driven. We shouldn’t have had kids at all if we weren’t willing to make changes and sacrifices.
Ridiculous right?! But these thoughts have gone through my mind on many occasions. I won’t be the best Mum I can be if I don’t look after myself too. BUT, if I’m choosing to be apart from my children to indulge in self-care what does that say about me? What message does that send my children? Aaaarggghhh! Can you see why I hate even the words “self-care” now?
Lately my feelings towards self-care have been changing. I’m not looking at it in black and white anymore. I’m thinking reasonably and logically. And I’ve had a lightbulb moment of epic proportions…
How do I care for my children? When do I feel like I’m doing a great job? And, on the reverse, when do I feel a bit crappy about the way things are going?
Times when I feel really good about my parenting:
- We’re out in the fresh air, playing
- My kids are laughing
- They’re enjoying a tasty (and healthy) meal and they eat it with gusto
- We have a really good conversation (I’m talking the merits of Moana vs Harry Potter here, no great philosophy necessary)
- We’re being silly together
- I’ve taken them out somewhere special
- Everyone is relaxed and content – we all have what we need
And the times when I feel crap about my parenting?
- Things are tense and I get shouty
- Their food for the day (or meal) is unbalanced/ unplanned/ uneaten
- They’re unhappy/crying and I’m feeling stressed
- They’ve been watching TV for far too long
- We’ve lost our connection and things are fraught
- We’ve been stuck indoors
I noticed 2 things…
1. The way I care for my children when I feel good about things is what my ‘self-care’ needs to look like:
nutritious, home cooked meals, fresh air & exercise, plenty of good conversation and feeling connected. And that’s not hard or selfish, is it? Imagine someone tutting at you “You’re just so self-absorbed, sitting there eating your dinner that you made yourself!” It just wouldn’t happen.
2. When I do those things for myself, I’m naturally calmer, less stressed, more open to playing & chatting, I feel like I have more time and energy to cook and prepare meals.
Self-care is meeting my needs
Then it hit me (although heaven knows people have probably been saying this to me for ages): self-care is simple, it’s easy and it really does impact positively on my parenting. Self-care is meeting my own needs. This doesn’t have to mean adding in separate activities, but rather making sure that my needs are being met throughout the day. It doesn’t need to feel selfish, or to cost money, or mean I have to sacrifice much time with my children.
Self-care should be ongoing throughout my days, not for special occasions only. Those luxury spa days, nights out with friends or weekends away with my husband; those are wonderful and important but they aren’t really what self-care is about for me. It’s about building in small, daily habits that fill you up physically & emotionally so that you really can be the best parent you can be. And what an example you’re setting for your children!
My self-care this year has been going well and I have really noticed a difference in my daily interactions. Situations that I would’ve usually felt very stressed & grumpy are now much easier to stay calm in (which impacts positively on my kids).
Bedtimes are my nemesis when my littlest WILL NOT GO TO SLEEP. It’s currently taking an hour before she falls asleep (and I’m not allowed to leave her room until then!) Instead of getting wound up and annoyed and all of those other unpleasant things, I’m finding it easier to stay calm. This has a wonderful knock on effect: my little one feels relaxed too. She goes to sleep quicker and, more importantly, goes to sleep happy.
My self-care commitments for 2018: what are you going to do to look after yourself?
- Getting up a bit earlier to meditate for 15 mins (not always possible, I’m sure toddlers have a 6th sense when it comes to Mum being awake!)
- Drinking a smoothie full of fruit and veg every morning
- Getting outside and walking to and from school as many days as possible
- Planning meals so that I’m eating nutritious food rather than living off of toast and peanut butter
- Saying YES to more invitations and actually socialising a bit
I really do feel the difference, my patience levels are noticeably lower when I haven’t followed my own guidance! Guilt has no place in my life anymore and I’m even going to throw in a spa day or two for maximum enjoyment. I hope you’ll consider planning in some self-care too!