When my son was born, my mom came in town to care for our new family as we adjusted. I remember dropping her off at Love Field a week later and crying, begging her to stay. It wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t crying because I thought I couldn’t care for my new baby. I was overwhelmed with the question in the back of my head: “now who is going to take care of ME?” After years living in an adult world without kids where all my relationships were symbiotic, I was transitioning into a new role: host to my very-own-DNA-parasite.
Accustomed to “getting out what you put in” in relationships, my husband and I were shocked to find that while tag-teaming on this baby we were inadvertently neglecting our own needs. I heard early on that it is healthy and good for mama to carve out some time to care for herself — to nurture her physical, mental, emotional, and social needs. I learned how our culture breeds women who expect to ‘do it all’, and I am no exception. But from a practical standpoint, what does it mean to put on my oxygen mask first? Every kind of mother needs to recharge her batteries in this hard season that is parenting. So why can it sometimes feel like such a challenge to get filled back up?
I have noticed since that weepy day at Love Field saying goodbye to my mother almost 8 years ago that I face several types of challenges when it comes to self-care.
The first challenge is the deepest, and the most uncharted. Somehow growing up I caught the idea that many of us catch — that success in my role as a mom is to do it all and make it look easy. While I would urge a friend to carve herself some time for rest, I can experience at times a sense of shame that I need to rest at all. It sounds ludicrous to even type that out, because I know that our bodies were designed with an inherent need to sleep each night. Rest is imperative to our health and well-being. But in my perfectionist mind, crushing it in my role as a mother means staying on top of our weekday schedule, cooking great meals, succeeding at my chores at home, disciplining and restoring my kids gently, and then being ready to go for fun family togetherness time on the weekends. So I can get discouraged when on Saturday morning I just want some time away. I hate how sometimes I will stuff those feelings of discouragement, when they should instead cause me to hear an internal alarm that I need rest and should make sure I get it. I’m working to overcome that seed of shame so that I can care for myself as gently as I want to care for my children. I know that I can serve and love my entire family so much more fully when I am doing it with a full tank, and I know that I am not doing my children any favors to pass down that idea that mom should be able to do it all.
The second challenge to mama self-care is busy-ness. I fill my calendar with great things, and am proud of my boundary-setting ability to say no to good things so that we can all enjoy the things that are better. So some birthday parties, certain sports in certain seasons, and school extra-curriculars can each get the ax at times. But with three kids, family in town, and a great set of friends, even the great things we say yes to can fill up our calendar in a heartbeat. Staying busy can be a coping mechanism which keeps me from realizing I need rest. Staying busy can keep me trucking along, a slave to our iCal, monotonously not realizing what I need is to call and bow out of a commitment I thought was a good choice. Staying too busy can prevent me from recognizing that I need some time for self-care.
The final barrier to self-care that I have identified comes with an anecdote. Yesterday I was at a party for a good friend, celebrating his recent wedding to his darling new bride. On the way to the party I had the urge to grab a Dr. Pepper. I hadn’t had coffee that morning, and had been woken early with a headache. Resisting the Dr. Pepper, I showed up at the party, but by 1 pm, I was dragging. Dragging so much I felt like I might curl up on his couch and sleep amongst a torrent of twenty-somethings. Instead I grabbed my youngest, who still naps, and left my husband at the party with my big kids. I came home and laid down for an hour while baby napped and then ran back to the party to get hubs. A revelation came after my short nap: what I thought I needed was a pick me up (sugar and caffeine) but what I really needed was rest. This is so simple! How had I missed it before: sometimes I can’t achieve the self-care I need because I am confused about what the need actually is. So yesterday I identified the issue-confusion as another major hurdle to self-care. I have to recognize the correct need so I can meet it.
Every mama needs to pause consistently for a recharge. We need to acknowledge this tiring season, and admit we need to rest. We need to shed the shame over having needs ourselves. We need to be still often enough that we can tell when our minds and bodies are crying out for some time, and we need to be able to recognize the actual solution, and not just a band-aid to help us function without having our actual need (in my case, sleep!) be met.
Any intentional action that you take to care for yourself, be it mentally, physically, or emotionally is self-care. It is vital to your motherhood and it is vital to all the symbiotic relationships you are invested in, because you can’t pour anything out when you’re empty. It is such a challenge in this season of sacrifice that is parenting to prevent yourself from giving past the point of health, but it’s a battle worth fighting. If you need rest, mama, take it. It may be the best way you care for your children this week.