Tag Archives: Self-Care

Strategies to stay healthy in mind, body and spirit

Bam! Life Happens!

Hi Mama! Tell me if you can relate to this:

I was plugging along really great! I was focused on my “School Year’s Resolutions” and making great progress. My to-do list at home was under control. Regular routines were in place. My house was (relatively) clean. We were making it to all our scheduled activities and even making it on time. Lunches were made, breakfasts eaten, laundry done. Then bam! Something happened that threw it all out of whack.
In my case, it was a car accident – rear ended in a three-car hit-and-run accident. Fortunately we (my son and I) are fine. Beyond whiplash we have no major injuries. I am very grateful. But now there are doctor’s visits, endless phone calls with insurance agents, a rental car to arrange, a new car to shop for, negotiations to make, a nagging headache and shoulder pain… And suddenly the house is a mess, there are papers piling up on the counter, I forget about a meeting at my son’s school, my dog eats one of our passports and my checkbook, my step-son informs me that he and all his room mates have scabies (don’t get me started on how grossed out I am – I’m not sure if he is allowed to come home for Christmas!), a Halloween costume must get made, and the weekend is obliterated with soccer games and a Cub Scout camp-out. How can it all get out of balance so quickly? And the more behind I get the more I just want to curl up in my sweats and watch mindless TV.
Please tell me you can relate to this. Surely I’m not the only one who gets dismally sidetracked.
So how do you get back on track? By doing one thing. Dispose of one piece of junk mail. Empty one overflowing garbage can. Wash one dish. Make your bed. Pay one bill. It doesn’t matter what you start with. Just do one thing.
There are those who will tell you that you need to take stock of what needs doing. Make a list and prioritize it. Then start with the most pressing task. It’s true. Prioritizing a list is helpful. Clearly, paying your water bill before the city shuts it off is more important than sorting through the junk mail piling up in the front entrance. But sometimes it’s overwhelming to look at the big picture. Sometimes you just need to start – anywhere – and build some momentum before you can see what is most important. This is a strategy I used when writing papers in grad school. Start in the middle. I could stare at a blank paper (or screen) forever trying to figure out how to start. So instead I would skip the beginning and start somewhere in the middle. I would pick something I knew I wanted to include in the essay and write it down. Then later, when I had a better idea of how it was shaping up, I could go back to the beginning.
So, I did a load of laundry and swept the floor. I could see it needed doing. The rest will come. I know it will. I’ll just keep plugging away one thing at a time.
I know this article isn’t the one I promised you about modeling values for your children – but it’s better than staring at a blank screen. You gotta start where you’re at!
PS. If you are looking for more strategies to get things done, accomplish a goal or develop a habit, consider joining the next G.o. B.i.g. class. Connect with others who can cheer you on and hold you accountable. Click here for more information.

15 Nov 2013

Prepare for the Journey

suitcaseHave you ever had a dream that seems to hit you over the head with a message? Last night I had one of those dreams… I was going on a trip with my family and, try as I might, I could not get ready to go. There was always something else I needed to do first. We were late and everyone was waiting on me. But I needed to clean the dried-up macaroni out of my son’s bed (don’t ask me – it was a dream!), and fold the laundry, and create a detailed Christmas shopping list. Someone needed me to find clean socks and someone else wanted me to help with a project. My husband wanted to make sure I printed out directions and knew where we were going. Every time I went to pack my own bags and get ready to go, something else needed to be done.

I woke up anxious. But it was a good reminder for me. “Take care of yourself. Be prepared for the journey.”

I’ve been busy – but let’s face it. We’re always busy. There is always something that needs to get done and there is always someone who needs something from you. It is so easy to make ourselves last on the list of priorities. Make sure you take the time you need to care of yourself.

So today I want you to make yourself a cup of tea, or sit in a sunny window for ten minutes, or buy yourself some fresh flowers, take a bath, breathe deeply for 3 minutes, finish a small task that has been nagging you forever (not start a big project that will swallow you up!), color a picture out of your child’s coloring book, read a poem, write a poem, doodle for 5 minutes….Anything that will nourish your soul and remind you that to live your best life, you must make yourself a priority. Be prepared for the journey!

First Published 2011

15 Nov 2013

Inner Gremlins – Which Voice Are You Listening To?

Tantrum GremlinOur minds are filled with chatter most of the time. There are thoughts running around in there all day long. Sometimes we are tuned in to the noise. Sometimes we’re not. But unless we are 100% focused on our current activity, chances are we are thinking about something. And those thoughts have a profound effect on our emotional well-being.

One of the first things I do with clients in my therapy practice is to “out the critic.” That is to say, I call attention to that negative voice inside your head that comments on everything you do. You know the one. It’s the one that says “I can’t believe you just said that. You are so stupid!” or “Don’t do that. You’ll make a fool of yourself.” Or “You will never get it right…” Usually there is no end to the miserable things it has to say.

But here’s the thing… Are you ready for this?… It’s profound…

You don’t have to believe it.

Did you hear that? You don’t have to believe it. It doesn’t speak the truth. In future posts I will write about where this voice comes from and what its function is. But for now, suffice it to say that you do not have to believe what it says about you.

The next time you hear that voice inside your head saying mean things about you, just notice it. Say to yourself “Hmm. There’s that mean voice inside my head again.” That’s it. Just notice it. Don’t judge it. Don’t try to make it go away. By all means, don’t beat yourself up about it (it would be totally unfair to give the critic one more thing to be critical about!). Just notice it and remind yourself that it doesn’t speak the truth. That alone can make a difference in how you feel.

First Published 2011

08 Nov 2013

Don’t Let Perfectionism Ruin the Holidays

MC900439764[1]How is your “to do” list looking? I’ve been crossing things off mine – not because they’re completed, but because I’ve decided some things just won’t get done this year. My excuse is that we will be leaving town in a week, so our holiday season at home is truncated. We have a Christmas tree, holiday music, and some greenery. But no exterior lights on our house this year. No holiday hand towels in the bathroom or tea towels in the kitchen. I have not sent Christmas cards yet, but I still hope to complete those. However if I don’t, it’s ok. I can let people know I appreciate them in other ways, all year long.

So, how are you doing? Do you need to cross some things off your list too? We all want Christmas to be special for our families. But sometimes we lose sight of what is important.

Perfectionism can ruin the holidays. Trying to have the perfect holiday dinner, the perfect Christmas tree, the perfect family picture, the perfect gift for everyone on your list….only leads to stress, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy. Stressed-out Mom does not make for happy holiday memories. So stop trying for perfect and settle instead for “good enough.”

A “good enough” Christmas is one where you do what you can and let go of the rest. A few decorations and some holiday music provide a wonderful backdrop for a family gathering. Make one batch of cookies with your kids, not twenty. Send a few Christmas cards, not a hundred. Your children will not remember how beautiful your perfectly roasted turkey was. They may not even remember the gifts they got this particular year. But they will remember the feeling of joy that comes from happy times with their family.

Here are just a few of the things I remember from my childhood holidays:
  • The smell of hot apple cider
  • The feel of buttered hands and hot caramel while making popcorn balls
  • Skating with my dad
  • Cold toes and nose after sledding
  • Being allowed to stay up way past my bedtime in order to go to the candle light Christmas Eve service
  • Putting red and green garnishes on my Moms Christmas wreath shortbread cookies
  • Singing Christmas carols around the piano
  • Making special gifts (the kind only a mother – or a best friend could love)

What are your best memories of the holidays? What memories are you creating with your kids this year? I hope your season is filled with good smells, happy sounds and plenty of love and light!


First Published 2009


07 Nov 2013

How Well Do You Tolerate Pain?

bandaidI have a high tolerance for pain. I’ve always been proud of my ability to plow through discomfort in order to get a job done. It makes me feel “tough” and “independent.” It’s also frequently required of a mother. We all know that the world doesn’t stop when we get sick or injured. We must still get our kids to school, prepare meals and do laundry.

However, my resolute “toughness” was recently called into question. My back gives me trouble now and then. At its worst I am unable to move without significant pain. Other times it is a nagging jab that restricts my movement but is tolerable. I was chatting with a friend a while ago and mentioned that my back had been bothering me for a few days. She suggested I see someone about it.
“Oh, no.” I replied. “It’s not that bad. I can still walk.”
There was silence on the other end of the phone. Then with a hint of sarcasm in her voice she said “Yes Carrie. You should definitely wait until you can’t walk before you do something about it.”
Hmmm. At what point does strength and self-reliance become just plain stubbornness? You see, pain exists for a reason. Pain is our body’s way of telling our brain to “make a change – and make it fast.” It lets us know that something is wrong. If we ignore it, bad things can happen.
Emotional pain works the same way. Chronic negative emotions, like anger, fear and sadness, are symptoms that something is amiss. We can think of them as a “check engine” light that lets us know it’s time for a “tune-up.” And, just like ignoring physical pain can lead to more serious physical problems, ignoring emotional pain can also lead to bigger concerns.
So, what about you? Do you need a tune-up to keep things running smoothly in your life? Don’t ignore the problems and “tough it out.” Make your well-being a priority now and avoid bigger issues down the road.


First Published 2010

07 Nov 2013

Savoring Spring

crocus resizeMy garden is showing signs of spring. In addition to the jungle of weeds that seems to have appeared over night, I have daffodils, tulips, and peach blossoms. I love it. But I’m sad to say that I almost missed my crocuses altogether. They’re so small that it’s easy to walk right on by and not notice them – especially when I’m rushing out the door or preoccupied with other thoughts.

Does this ever happen to you? You’re so busy thinking about what you need to do that you become unaware of your surroundings? I’m betting that it does happen to you. In fact, if you are like most people, you probably spend more time in a state of preoccupation than in a state of present awareness.

Not only are we preoccupied with our thoughts, most of us are unaware of what those thoughts are. We go about our day with minds that are worrying and fretting and thinking outside of our control. This is normal. It is part of the human condition. But religious teachers, psychology professionals, and wise old grandmothers all agree that we will be happier if we “stop to smell the flowers.” That is to say, making a conscious effort to be aware of the present moment is essential to our well-being.

Worry accomplishes nothing. But one conscious breath will give you a moment of timeless peace. So make sure to savor moments of spring. Take a breath. Look at a bug. Smell a flower. Listen to a giggle. And let everything else melt away for the second it takes to do this. Then you can return to business as usual. You will be happier for it.

First Published 2010

06 Nov 2013

A Good Enough Christmas

MC900439764[1]Well, it’s the second week of December and the holidays are officially upon us. I’ve been meaning to write a short piece on managing holiday stress, but I’ve been too busy shopping for presents, digging out the Christmas cards that I bought on sale last year (haven’t written any yet), removing the Thanksgiving masterpieces from the fridge to make way for the painted snowmen and cut-out snowflakes, putting the fall pumpkins in the compost, making 15 pairs of elf shoes for the kindergarten show, getting decorations out of storage…

Amazing isn’t it? The holidays have a momentum of their own. When kept in balance, we can bounce along on the excitement, anticipation and good cheer of the season, but too often our expectations and commitments run out of control like the snowball rolling down the mountain. The crash at the bottom is never a pretty sight and the best we can hope for is getting through Christmas dinner without any bloodshed.

So, what’s the secret to having a perfect Christmas (or any other major holiday)? The answer is to stop trying to have a perfect Christmas. Instead, aim for having a “good-enough” Christmas. Practice saying these phrases until they roll off your tongue: “It’s just fine the way it is.” “That’s good enough.” “Not this year.” “That’s enough for now.”

Perfectionism, as always, can hijack your holidays and turn Christmas cheer into a nightmare. We try to do too much. We try to do it perfectly. We want our homes and families to look like the ones on the greeting cards and magazine covers. The job of decorating (or baking, or writing the Christmas cards and family letters, or shopping for perfect presents…) seems overwhelming because of our huge expectations. Then, we procrastinate and leave things until the last minute. Then we turn into raving lunatics. Then, if they know what’s best for them, our families avoid us because “Mom’s in one of those moods.” Lots of fun and Christmas cheer, huh?

So, downsize the expectations. Don’t sit and think about the witty Christmas letter you’re going to write complete with a photo journal of the year. Instead, get up and spend 15 minutes addressing Christmas cards. Then say “that’s enough for now.” Spend 15 minutes putting up some Christmas decorations, then say “That looks great. It’s just fine the way it is.” Make paper snowflakes with your children for 15 minutes and then say “that was fun. Maybe we can do some more tomorrow.” Don’t let the tasks become big and overwhelming. Just do a little and then let it go. You are much more likely to enjoy the holiday preparations this way. Put on the Christmas music and have fun.

Next on the list is to take a minute to reflect on your family traditions. Do you enjoy them? Do you feel enslaved buy a particular ritual? A few years ago a friend of mine told me about a family tradition that has since gone by the wayside. In her home, Santa was the one who put the lights on the Christmas tree. This meant that after spending Christmas Eve with the in-laws, driving an hour and a half home, getting two excited, over-tired children off to bed, and filling stockings, then they had to put the lights on the Christmas tree. They never got more than a few hours of sleep before having to get up and be festive and cheery. Re-evaluate which traditions are meaningful, enjoyable and worthy of your time and energy. If they bring more stress than joy, let them go.

Thirdly, notice how much of your attention is focused on the final product of your activity and how much is focused on the activity itself. Are you worried about how the gingerbread house looks? Does each cookie have to be perfectly shaped? Each present a work of art? (Note the subtext here: are you a control freak?) When possible, try to shift your attention to the process. What your children will remember is a feeling of happiness. Joy in the home. Good smells. Good times. They will remember the fun of decorating the tree, not how perfectly balanced the color scheme is.

Now, I’m not telling you that you need to let the kids be in charge of everything. If there are some things that are important to you, be clear about it. If you want to have grown-up, color-coordinated decorations in the dining room, that’s fine. Just let your kids know that these decorations are for mommy to do and provide a place of honor elsewhere for the paper chains and handprint Santas.

Finally, I want to say a little word about the stress of extended family. There are many people for whom holiday cheer is mixed with varying amounts of dread regarding the family gatherings. Family events can stir up painful memories, highlight differences of opinion and provide a stage for bad behavior. In order to minimize the effect of this stress on your holiday experience, spend some time preparing. Decide ahead of time how long to stay at a family function. Give yourself permission to “step outside for some fresh air” if you need a break. Talk with your partner about your concerns and plan a graceful exit strategy.

One common mistake is to go into the situation hoping, wishing, begging for things to be different. This is a set-up for disappointment. It is unlikely that any huge transformations or enlightenment has happened since the last family gathering. The flip side of the same coin is to enter the event already angry about how it’s going to turn out. You look for and anticipate the problems before they occur. You are ready for a battle at the drop of a hat.

In both scenarios, you are contributing to the dynamic of conflict. The best thing to do (though not easy, I know) is to accept the situation for what it is. Your resentment and your “wishing things were different” only contribute to your stress. They don’t change the situation. Don’t expect anyone to behave any differently than they always have – if they do, consider it your Christmas bonus. Instead, just come prepared with some coping skills and a healthy dose of light-heartedness.

I read a brief article on Oprah’s website (all good clinical research begins with Oprah, doesn’t it?) about strategies for coping with difficult family gatherings. There were a couple of fun ways to avoid being sucked into the same old family arguments and destructive patterns of behavior. Maintaining a sense of humor and playfulness is hard to do around people who drive you crazy, but it will help you tremendously if you can do it.

Martha Beck suggests comparing stories with a good friend before and after the holidays. Make an agreement to see who can come back with the best tale of family dysfunction. Whoever returns with the best story gets a free lunch. Then, during the family gathering you can be viewing the shenanigans as good comedy material. Plan how you will tell the story. You could be a winner!

Alternatively, Beck suggests making yourself a bingo card of the words and phrases you expect (or dread) to hear your family say. When you get a “bingo” you must sneak off and call your friend. Whoever gets “bingo” first gets a free lunch.

Activities like this can help you shift your perspective. They are not meant to be mean-spirited and should never be shared with the family at large. It is a way for you to protect yourself from your own anger and resentment. If you can maintain a sense of humor, perhaps your family dinner can be salvaged.

Regardless of your particular challenges this holiday season, I wish you heaps of love and happiness, laughter, excitement, good smells, joyous sounds, moments of peace, and warm feelings. All the best to you and your loved ones!


First Published 2008

06 Nov 2013

What to do with your Inner Brat

grumpy faceI’m tired.  I’m tired and I’ve had one of those weeks.  You know the kind I’m talking about.  The kind where you’re out of patience before you even get out of bed.  The kind where your kid looks at you funny and you scream at him for his insolence.  I like to think I’m above this kind of behavior.  After all, I’m a therapist.  I work with other people on their family issues – I’m not supposed to create my own, right?  Aaah, children are humbling aren’t they?  And none of us are perfect (I’ll save the topic of perfectionism for another issue).

So, why am I yelling at my children?  Well, as I mentioned, I’m tired.  (Aren’t all moms tired all the time?) Why am I tired?  Not because I’m working long hours on a project that has an immediate deadline.  Not because I’m trying to recapture my youth by partying with old friends.  Not because I’m enjoying rare quality time with my spouse, and not because I’m a busy bee waxing my floors at all hours of the night.  No.  I’m tired because I’m too stubborn to go to bed.  I have no other explanation.  I’m not going to bed because I’m not going to bed.  I’m also not eating nutritiously and not drinking enough water – just because.  Why does this happen?  Once again, I’m a therapist.  I teach people to nurture themselves.  I teach stress-reduction and self-care.  Why on earth would I avoid looking after the basics like sleep, food and water?  Obviously, I know better. I’m aware that I am not the only one who can get stuck in a self-destructive rut.  And granted, this is pretty mild as far as self-destruction goes.  Self-destructive behavior can look much, much worse.  Alcohol and drug abuse, risky promiscuity, impulsive gambling and overspending can all have very serious, life-threatening, family-destroying consequences. But less extreme forms of sabotage have consequences too.

Two of my personal favorite methods of self-impediment are procrastination and self-neglect.  When I say “self-neglect” I am not referring to severe neglect.  I still dress and shower and eat.  I just mean that I’m not eating well.  I’m not pampering myself or tending to my own happiness.  Now, even though these behaviors seem relatively innocuous, they still increase stress and lead to other problems.  When my “inner brat” starts acting out like this, I’m more easily frustrated.  I lack patience.  I’m quick to anger.  I speak before I think (this is hard on marriages and on the self-esteem of children).  I lack self-control and self-regulation.  I’m more easily overwhelmed.  I cry at Hallmark Card commercials.  I yell at my kids.  I don’t play.  All of these things impact, not just my own well-being, but the well-being of those around me.

I’d like to talk about this phenomenon in respect to the immediate moment, and regarding a larger life pattern.  If you have a habit of “getting in your own way” or somehow damaging your own chance of success, then the saboteur is a bedmate of yours.  This is usually a technique we develop in order to avoid something.  We fear change, failure, rejection.  We don’t want to take responsibility for ourselves, so we avoid taking action.  In truth, the heart of this issue lies in a lack of self-worth.  Somewhere, deep inside, we do not believe we are worthy of happiness.

In her book Dojo Wisdom, writer and martial arts teacher Jennifer Lawler addresses the trouble many women have when it comes to protecting themselves.  She says that they are afraid of hurting their attacker.  They hold a belief (usually unconsciously) that they are not worth protecting.  Interestingly, most of them have no trouble describing the acts of violence they would commit if someone was hurting their children.  But they do not find themselves worthy of the same kind of fierce protection.

Rooting out these deeply held, self-limiting beliefs is often not easy.  It requires being brutally honest with yourself, and it usually involves facing whatever fears you have been steadfastly avoiding.  This is not an “overnight” process.  It took a lot of years to entrench these beliefs into your being.  It will take time and patience (and support) to let them go. So, now that you begin to see the bigger picture and how some patterns of behavior work against your own best interest, you can make the commitment to start working on it.  That brings us to the dilemma of the present moment.  How do you deal with the saboteur who is taking over right now? In my experience, once people become aware of that little gremlin that lives inside their head they want to annihilate it; eliminate it from their personality.  Unfortunately, that is rarely possible.  Personality traits, beliefs, and inner gremlins rarely disappear on command.  I liken this to the ineffectiveness of saying “cheer up” to someone who’s dog just died or “don’t be angry” to your spouse after backing over his new bike.  Instead, I think the energy is better used making friends with this aspect of your personality and learning how to manage it so it does not take over and wreak havoc on all your relationships.

The first step is to know when your inner brat is starting to throw a tantrum.   For me, yelling at my kids and picking fights with my spouse are indications that I’m under stress.  What do you do when you are stressed-out?  Overeat?  Burst into tears at the drop of a hat?  Develop insomnia?

Once you realize that your equilibrium is upset, you can start to examine why.  All kinds of things cause stress.  What you’re looking for are the things that are of your own doing.  Not eating nutritious food, not sleeping (out of sheer stubbornness), procrastinating on responsibilities are some examples of the ways I personally contribute to my own stress and make it hard to maintain inner peace. The next step is two-fold.  First, you must correct the behavior.  Sometimes this means having a firm but loving conversation with that internal tantruming brat:  “I can see that you are upset.  I am interested in what you have to say but this behavior must stop.  My job is to look out for your safety and well-being and right now you are making some bad choices” (Yes. I am suggesting that you have this conversation with yourself.  I find it best to do this inside your head so your family does not think you’ve completely flipped.  Alternatively, you can sequester yourself in the bathroom for a good heart-to-heart talk, or write in a journal).

Then, you must take positive action.  For me, that means make a nutritious meal, have a drink of water and put myself to bed at a decent hour – even if I don’t want to.  It might even be good to force myself to do a little pampering (oh the pain of it!) like a manicure or spending ten minutes reading a good book.

The other part of taking responsibility for your well-being is to take an honest look at what you may be trying to avoid with this behavior.  It’s time to “listen to what that “brat” is trying to tell you.  Is there a thought or a feeling that you are trying to “push away?”  Now is the time to be very honest with yourself.  This takes an act of courage.

Are you angry about something?  Feeling taken advantage of? Sad or grieving?  Do you feel lonely?  Empty?  Dissatisfied in your marriage?  Are you angry with disrespecting parents or friends?  Have your feelings been hurt by a friend?  Are you worried about your health?  Are you trying to convince yourself that something is ok that is truly not ok?

Whatever it is, nothing can change if you do not first acknowledge that there is a problem.  This is where many moms struggle.  You are programmed to look after everyone else.  You mould yourself to fit what others expect of you.  I challenge you to take the time to examine your own needs and to be honest about your own hurt.  Then you can make an informed decision about what to do.

Physical pain is designed, paradoxically, to keep us from hurting ourselves.  Otherwise, what would keep us from picking up a burning ember?  Your five senses are continually feeding you information about the world.  Feelings can serve a similar purpose.  They, too, are providing you with information.  But you must pay attention to them.

Many people have cultivated the ability to ignore their emotional responses to the world.  The trouble is, the feelings still exist, even if one is not attuned to them.  They spill out – sometimes at the most inopportune times.  And when they do spill out, they often get attached to the wrong event.

So, it turns out that saboteur inside you can serve a positive purpose.  The next time you find yourself reaching for your third piece of chocolate cake even though you’re stuffed, give that little gremlin a wink and say “Ok.  Stop pitching a fit.  I’ll listen to you.”  Then give yourself some quiet space to tend to your inner world.  Take note of what is bothering you.  Only then can you take control of your happiness.


First published 2008

06 Nov 2013

Are You Teaching Your Children How To Be Happy?

After the birth of my son (oops!  I mean our son), my partner kept telling me I’d changedstork and baby; that I was a whole new person and he didn’t know me anymore.  I vehemently disagreed:  “I’m the same person I’ve always been!  I’m more myself now than I’ve ever been!  I’m being  a mom!  This is what mothers do.  You just don’t know how to make the sacrifices of a parent!”  Never mind that he was a single parent to his six year old son before I met him.  Never mind that he knew me before I had a baby.  Never mind that we used to have intelligent conversations about adult things.  Clearly, he was wrong and he just didn’t understand me.  He just didn’t understand how important and special my (our) baby was.  He didn’t get how important it was to eat the right food, choose the right toys, provide the right experiences, censor out the inappropriate influences… He didn’t understand my need to be the perfect mom.

Now, in my defense, I was probably a little (or a lot) “postpartum-ish.”  I had hormones racing through my body.  I was sleep-deprived.  I was in the throes of that genetically programmed survival-of-the-species, must-protect-baby-at-all-costs thing (I learned a lot of clinical language in graduate school) that happens to new mothers.  Add that to my own I-can-do-everything-by-myself, I-don’t-need-anyone attitude and I’m sure I was a nightmare to live with.  It would have been fine if he didn’t insist on having opinions about things.  If he could have just understood my inherent “rightness” and his obvious “wrongness” we would have had a blissful time in our relationship.  Unfortunately, he could not get on board with that program.  So, we hit a lot of bumps along the way.  But, here we are.

Looking back, I can see that maybe, he was a teeny bit right (don’t tell him I said that).  I had changed.  Not in my attitudes toward motherhood.  I was exactly the kind of mother I thought I’d be.  I was not particularly surprised by the amount of work, the lack of sleep, the shift in all my priorities, the sacrifices I needed to make.  Many women are caught off guard by the demands placed on them by motherhood, but I felt (somewhat) prepared for this (though I believe that there is no way to fully understand the experience of motherhood without being a mother).  I still had my basic personality – with heightened emotional reactivity.  But what happened to all the parts of me that were active before motherhood?  Who was I before I was a mom?  Before every waking breath was about meeting the needs of my family?  Before my name became “Blake’s mom” or “Von’s step-mom?”

Quite simply, and perhaps selfishly, before I had a family my life was about me.  Before family, I was on a quest to deepen my knowledge of myself and others.  I sought experiences that stretched my comfort level, challenged my intellect, inspired my creativity and deepened my understanding of human nature.  I took classes, read books, watched people, traveled when I could.  I sang, danced, meditated, hiked, created art and spent time in nature.  I enjoyed philosophical debates.  I went to the theatre.  I lived a juicy life.

So what happened?  Where did all of that go?  Is it not important anymore?  I spent over 10 years in academia because I love learning.  Now my mental workout consists of keeping schedules straight, helping with homework, and trying to figure out how many ways I can camouflage broccoli.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I love being a mom.  I find it immensely rewarding and I truly believe it is the most important job on the planet.  My children never cease to amuse and amaze me.  And in many regards, my life is fuller than it has ever been.  But I still wonder if I’m not missing something.  I wonder if I have achieved the proper (and ever elusive) “balance.”
There are two things I know (well, I’d like to think I know more than that – but two things of relevance to this particular conversation):

  1. Children learn first and foremost by example.
  2. It is easier for me to be generous of time, energy and spirit when I feel happy.

These are the two biggest arguments I can think of to support the need for a mom to take care of herself – I mean, beyond the basics.  It is not enough to be fed and sheltered.  Mothers need to tend to their hearts.  They need to nurture their happiness with as much care and attention as they give the scraped knees and hurt feelings of their children.  Tending to my own well-being is supremely important to the well-being of my children.

Ok, so now what?  How do we take this from theory into action?  First of all, let me start by saying that I do not have this all figured out.  Plenty of days I can be found disheveled and disoriented dragging my kids through the grocery store and screaming at them to stop touching everything in sight and to give me a moment’s peace so I can figure out what to cook for dinner because we are all starving.  So, I have not yet achieved maternal enlightenment. But I do have a vision of something better.

I know it has to start with the basics and expand from there.  If I am hungry for nourishing food (note “nourishing” – that means protein, vitamins and all that other good stuff), thirsty (our bodies need water – diet coke does not count!) or tired (ok, I know this is a tough one, but we really need to try) I am not a fun mom.  Without taking care of those basic things, I am short-tempered, easily annoyed, have no energy and definitely do not want to go for a walk or play a game of Uno.  So, first we need to take care of our bodies.  But we can’t stop there.  We must also tend to our hearts.

It is true that mothers must sacrifice much of themselves for their families.  But we can’t give it all away.  It is imperative to find ways to replenish ourselves.  Now, a day at the spa or a weekend retreat might do wonders for our sense of well-being.  But it is not always practical and is next to impossible for most new mothers and mothers of young children.  I am talking about a need to integrate self-care into our daily routines.

A few years ago I was at one of those home parties with a sales rep selling skin care products.  As I was sniffing lip balms and trying creams I commented on the futility of me spending a bunch of money on anti-aging skin care because I would never take the time to use all the products.  The sales person looked at me said “if you can’t take six minutes for yourself every night, you have a much bigger problem than skin care.”  Now, I know she was trying to make a sale, but she spoke volumes of truth.  I may not be able to spend a weekend getting pampered, but surely I can find 10 minutes a day to do something nice for myself.

In You Are Your Child’s First Teacher (1989), Rahima Baldwin Dancy suggests a few important ways to increase our vital energy:  sleep (I know I already said that, but it is worth saying twice), creative activity, contact with nature, meditation and/or time alone.  My challenge to you (and me) is to take 10 minutes for yourself today (I will challenge you again tomorrow – but start with today).  First, make sure the kids are safe and occupied.  Get yourself a drink of water.  Find a (relatively) quiet place to be alone (lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to).  If you really want to splurge and feel special, light a candle and put on some tranquil music.  Close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths.  Exhale as slowly as you can.  Relax.  That’s it.  Just 10 minutes of quiet time.  If you find yourself making lists in your head of all the things you have to do, that’s ok.  Just gently remind yourself that you can tend to your list in 10 minutes.  Then bring your attention back to your breathing.

Now, I know this is not a magic pill.  This will not end world hunger, fix broken marriages or solve child-rearing dilemmas.  But do this, or something similar, every day and I’ll bet something changes inside you.  You will be one step closer to living the life you imagined for yourself back when you had time to think and daydream.  You will be one step closer to showing your children how to live a fulfilling life.  Isn’t that what you want for them?

I know what I want for my children.  I want them to be actively engaged with the world.  I do not want them to live passively while watching other people have experiences on television.  I want them to live enthusiastically with curiosity and gratitude; to feel deeply, to love fully, to search for truth and to savor every moment.  The best way to ensure that happens is to show them, by example, how to do it.

So, I ask you:  “what is important to you?  What do you want for your children?  What do you want them to value in this world?  What experiences do you want them to have?“  And most importantly, “Are you teaching them, through your example,  how to be happy?”☺

First Published 2007

31 Oct 2013