Self-care: how to make it work for you

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Self-care. It seems to be THE topic of the moment. I hear and see so many mothers discussing or writing about it.  We all recognize the importance of self-care.  At an intellectual level, we all agree. And there are so many lists out there on the blogs, on social medias, in books. Lists of things we could/need/should do in order to take care of ourselves. And yet, how many of the mothers I have worked with in my coaching session and how many of the mothers I have discussed with say they are good at self-care? None.

Why?

Because in order to take care of ourselves we need to internalize this "concept".  We need to transform it from "nice to have" or "a dream that one day will come true" to "living it here and now". And this is a process that needs a conscious decision.

1/ First you need to give yourself permission

When mothers talk about self-care they often say "I badly need to find more me-time/ take care of myself, BUT..."

This "but" is followed by many reasons

  • I don't find the time
  • It's expensive
  • I can't leave my children with someone else
  • I need to be there (for my children, for my family...)
  • I feel that I shouldn't be so selfish
  • ...
  • ...

Our inner critic, that little voice that tells us things like "not now", "don't change",  is there giving plenty of reasons why we can't or shouldn't. Your inner critic wants the status quo.

This voice might be the voice of the society we live in, telling women that they need to be carrying and giving and always put other people's needs first. It might be the voice of the education we have received, of the people who were important to us (parents, mentors...). We might have internalized that voices or created our own saboteur, the inner critic that tell us that self-care can wait.

And sometimes it can. There are so many different seasons in motherhood. When my daughter was born, she struggled nursing and didn't manage to gain weight. I was afraid I might need to be hospitalized with her so I nursed her for nearly 20 hours a day. Every day. For almost 2 months. When she slept, it was only on our bodies. We were in the middle of an intercontinental move and plenty of papers needed to be done. Needless to say, self-care was my last worry. All I wanted was that we all survived. 

But when months and years go by and we don't manage to find the time to nurture ourselves, or we feel guilty about it when we do, then we need to ring the bell. 

It starts with an inner shift

Self-care begins with an intention. We need to set the intention and be mindful about it. It has to be a conscious decision. Then, we need to commit to it. 

When you work with a trained support person, a life coach, this is something you do together. You dig dipper into the barriers you feel inside and outside yourself. To give yourself permission to nurture yourself, journal your answers to these questions:

  • What do I want as a human being? As a mother? 
  • What values I want to embody for my children?
  • How can I walk the talk? How you I role-model them?
  • What fulfills me? 
  • What am I avoiding?
  • Where am I sabotaging my self-care?
  • What will free me up?
  • What is to savor?
  • What am I grateful for today?
  • What is to be worth nurturing?

The inner shift happens when you feel deep in yourself that you deserve to be cared for, that you are worth nurturing. This is when you give yourself permission to nurture yourself.

2/ The next step is to find out what nourishes you

So where to start? Like I said, you will find many lists on Internet and some of the ideas will resonate with you and others won't.  Interestingly, many mothers say that, when reading these lists, they feel even more pressure and more guilt. Pressure to do something that is expected from them

Something like

  • "Go to the hairdresser", "get a manicure" can be heard as "Look after your physical appearance"
  • "Attend a yoga retreat" equals  "Separate from your children" 

And there is also the pressure of "Oh Gosh, another thing on my to-do list."

My hint: if it makes you feel anxious or worried, than this is not "self-care" for you. Each person is unique, so you will need to find what nurtures YOU

Take a couple of minutes to reflect an journal these questions:

  • What does my heart need to feel nurtured?
  • What does my mind need to feel nurtured?
  • What does my body need to feel nurtured?
  • What does my soul need to feel nurtured?

Once you have found your answers, think about this. What if...

  • ... self-care was attending to your basic needs (eating, sleeping, taking a shower...) and that was good enough?
  • ... self-care didn't mean you need to be alone or away from your family? What if it could be time alone or away, if this is what you need, but it doesn't have to
  • ... self-care could be found in the little moments of your life? Simple moments like holding your asleep baby and really being there, feeling her little body on your chest, feeling her smell, hearing her breath. What if self-care was mindfully taking a picture of your family? Seeing your child into the sunset light and feeling joyful about it? What if self-care was a cup of tea that you manage to drink while it's still hot?
  • ... self-care was what you have already?

What if self-care was not about what you are doing but about the way you choose to look at it?

If this is true, then you can choose any little moment that brings you joy and see it as self-care. And then you can add other practices and ideas that your mind/ heart/body/soul need and that bring you joy.

3/ Commitment

The trouble with our big ideas and resolutions are that they often remain at the stage "ideas". They don't make it into our daily rhythm. Did you know that three quarters of the good resolutions taken at the beginning of a new year are abandoned by the end of February? Why? 

Commitment and accountability are the key.

  • Write down "I am committed to..." on a piece of paper and stick it somewhere where you can see it often. 
  • Then think about what small actions you can take daily and integrate it into your family rhythm. The daily practices usually form the foundation of big changes. 
  • Talk about your commitment to self-care and nurturing yourself to people that are important to you: your partner, your children, friends,... Someone you trust can keep you accountable for the self-care actions you decided to implement in your daily life. 
  • Write a daily gratitude journal to keep you focused on mindfully noticing self-care in the little moments and keep being aware by the inner shift you made.

Know that it takes about 28 days to change a habit or introduce a new one so allow yourself time to monitor the change when you introduce a (small) self-care habit or practice into your routine. Don't let self-care become another stick to beat yourself up with. Self-care is about what truly nurtures you.