It's Not Selfish To Practice Self Care
We're always last, aren't we? We eat last, we shower last, we go to bed last.
Parents are last, not first. It can be completely draining.
For stay-at-home parents, from sun up to sun down and occasionally the hours in between, we put all of the other humans first.
For working parents, you spend your time thinking about those little people, their safety and well being, their happiness, the health.
What do we do though, when the cup we are pouring out of, is empty?
What do we do when we find it hard to laugh and giggle with out little comedians? How do we tend to their happiness when we seem to be lacking a little of our own?
The truth is, in order to care for others, we also have to care for ourselves.
Scale it down a notch or two, I know you thought, "I can't afford manicures and highlights every few weeks!"
No, Momma. Neither can I.
But I can afford to talk a walk in the silence and isolation. I can afford to sit in the park and read a book. I can take the time to bathe in bubbles until it runs cold and then fill it back up. I can afford a phone call to a friend.
So can you.
Maternal (and paternal) mental health is a big deal to me. Post-partum depression, the baby blues, clinical depression, situational depression, PTSD. These are all things that impact our ability to parent, and parent well. If we aren't 100% it's going to take a toll.
There are 6 major areas to "Self-Care".
1st: Physical self care.
Stop! I did not say "Go to the gym and workout for 2 hours until your muscles turn to jello." No, ma'am. Take a walk. Yoga. Dance party. Ride your bike. Run away (but come back). Elevate your heart rate for 30 minutes. 30 solid minutes of heart pumping activity. This causes your brain to pour out endorphins, serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine... "feel good" hormones. These cancel out the hormones that cause us to feel pain and sadness. Mindful practice of physical self care will be most beneficial in the long run. Take that 30 minutes after all the kids go to sleep and release it, scream into a pillow. Lay in the floor and stretch, use a foam roller to release tense areas. Another vital part of physical self care is diet and nutrition. Stay hydrated, Momma. You're no good to anyone if you are ill. A good way to make sure you're getting enough water- half of your body weight (in ounces). Example- if you weigh 160 pounds you should drink 80 ounces of water ( 160/2= 80). Be sure you are getting plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, and if you don't, take a multivitamin to fill in the gaps for your vitamins and minerals. And in the end, if you are experiencing depression, talk to someone. You are not alone and you do not have to go through it alone either.
2nd: Emotional Self Care
Emotional self-care is recognizing the emotions that you feel from hour to hour, day to day. When we can name the thing we feel, we are better able to respond to it and our need. Recognizing the emotion that situations cause is also an important tool. Each time we experience an emotion, we should grow in our response. Whether it is a faster response, a slower response, a stronger response, or a more mild response. This also includes healthy management of these emotions. What we should do with things like anger, hurt, fear, sadness, and anxiety. Learning how we feel through each one of these gives us the ability to teach our children how to respond as well. If in anger, we lash out and yell, become violent or explosive, that's the response we are teaching our kids. If in sadness we lock ourselves away, we withdraw or even last out, again those are lessons we pass on. There are healthy ways to deal with emotions that can seem overwhelming. Journaling, practicing physical self-care, meditation, using creative self-expression such as art, or even cooking, are great ways to use an emotion as a force for positive.
3rd: Spiritual Self Care
This does not mean to stop what you are doing and attend a church service. For many of us, that's exactly what we do but that doesn't mean you must. Spiritual self-care is more about taking care of the soul of who you are. Before "life" got in your way,
The things that made your brain tick are what we focus on in spiritual self-care. Challenge your mind, read a book. Take a course online. Explore a new hobby. Clear the clutter from inside your brain and just breathe in peace.
For Christians, spiritual self-care does involved our relationship with Christ. You have to pull up a chair to the table and feed yourself. It is true, not all churches have a ministry for special needs children, but that doesn't mean don't go. Our church certainly didn't when we got there. But they've grown with Hank and they've done the exact thing they preach to do- LOVE HIM. The 1 hour twice a week break, where I can spend time in worship and prayer and praise and fellowship, knowing he is safe and having fun and being loved by human and spirit.... THAT is respite care. Dig your heels into a Bible study that will show you His love and grace and mercy. Practice your faith each day. When I am asked, and it's often, how I do everything I do, my answer is "A whole lot of Jesus and some coffee." By His grace I got here and by His grace I'll get through. So will you, mama.
4th: Intellectual Self-Care
What makes you, you? Do you read, draw, color, paint, dance, or cook? Are you left or right brained? Are you a builder or a tinker-er, or a gardener? Do you enjoy romance or mystery? Documentaries or Disney? This is the part of self-care I think we do the best at, simply because it is who we
are. I read, I paint (not well), I love Disney. I'm a student, I tinker, I think. We do these things with little thought and it keeps the soul of who we are going. If you read, join a book club- there are some really amazing ones out there (oh man, my nerd was showing!). Facebook has a group called the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (it's a book, it's amazing) and they are book-lovers who live out the pages they read. Check out Goodreads, they have great comment sections on books. Your local nursing homes often need volunteers to read or lead some sort of class. Take your little one if you're allowed (seniors love special needs kids!) and do a painting class.
As we move through the 6 parts of self-care, notice how they build on one another? Taking care of 1 will give you the strength and knowledge to take on number 2, then 3 and 4. Then 5 and 6.
Maybe you don't know what makes you go anymore because you've gotten so wrapped up in the life of parenting. Try a new hobby! What is something that has always seemed like a challenge? What about learning a new language? DouLingo is a free learning website and has some really amazing choices (Klingon is one of them, guys). Whatever you do, know you don't have to be perfect. I am not winning any Michelin stars or having a painting put in the Louvre, but the kids will eat it and it's not the worst painting I've seen! I do the things for me, for my health and heart. That's what matters. Do it for you.
5th: Social Self-Care
Humans, by nature, are social beings. For introverts and extroverts, the socialization may look different, but we both enjoy other human company. Extroverts may love crowds and gatherings and new faces and places. Introverts may prefer their local coffee shop with 2 or 3 friends. Either way we look at this, people love people. Connection is important to us, it makes us feel valued and included in something bigger than us.
You don't have to throw a party crazy enough to rival the Frat houses, but maybe invite your neighbor for dinner. Host a play date. Take a picnic to the park with a friend or 2. Find and make a meaningful connection with someone(s) and nurture that.
Remember though, we all need human contact in a physical presence. While social media support groups are amazing, they've saved many of us from some dark hours, nothing will be as strong as the proximity of a warm hug. There are many local non-profits around the country who offer in-person support. Mom groups are all the rage these days (did I just sound like a 60 year old man?) and there are national organizations for parent support as well. Even check with your children's hospital!
Lastly, #6, Sensory Self-Care
Personally, I think this should go hand-in-hand with Spiritual. But I don't make the rules, I only loosely follow them. Sensory self care is taking care of our sensory needs: hear, touch, smell, see. I also think this one is the easiest, but again, I'm not the professional here, just a mom practicing them all. Light a candle that makes you go "mmm". Tell Alexa or Google or Siri, or whoever lives in your house to play that one song that makes you sway. Or makes you say "TURN IT UP!"
You know your favorite blanket, yea, the one with loose seams and maybe a tear stain? Wrap up!
Along with intellectual well-being, I like to think we practice sensory well-being without conscious thought. It's a need that we feel and one that we can easily meet. New body wash, new candles, a favorite perfume, hot pie or fresh donuts, warm towels and worn out t-shirts. These things we reach for are parts of a need that we have to feel connected to something. So we meet that need in healthy ways.
Don't be afraid to take in all of the sensory at once or maybe just 1 at a time. Listen to what you need and give that to yourself.
You are doing hard work, Mama. Raising those tiny humans is tough. Being the good guy and the bad guy, the judge and jury, the referee and the coach. You are cook, cleaner, nurse, chauffeur, and therapist. You are wife and daughter, sister and friend. You are Woman! God gave you a spirit of courage and strength, you can do all these things.
I'm here today to tell you, you're doing a great job on those little people. Even when it feels like there is a mutiny rising, you're still the captain! Take a minute to care for yourself and charge forth!
Light and Love,