As a Health Coach and author, I spend a lot of time touting the benefits of self-care to my clients and readers. I even credit it with a drastic turn around in my own physical health back in 2009. But for many moms, including me, “self-care” can become just another thing on the To Do list — one more obligation that we either have to squeeze in or feel guilty about neglecting. And doesn’t that defeat the purpose?
Before my daughter, Lilianna, was born 19 months ago, self-care was my first priority. I unapologetically set aside time in my work-at-home schedule to walk a few miles, practice yoga, and make green juice each day. I went to therapy weekly, acupuncture every other week, and got a massage once a month. I chose to invest my time (and money) in these things because I simply felt better – much better — when I was consciously caring for my mind and body.
Not surprisingly, becoming a mom turned my self-care practice upside down. (It’s probably more accurate to say that it shut it down completely.) The irony, of course, is that there has never been a time in my life when I needed it more. Ongoing postpartum complications, combined with a baby who neither nursed well nor slept well, resulted in a level of stress and exhaustion that I’d never imagined was possible. Yet I kept pushing myself to “do it all” … all except self-care, that is. (Sleep when the baby sleeps? Who has time for that?!) It took a rather scary health crisis when my daughter was 6-months-old to make me realize that something had to change.
In the past year, I’ve been prioritizing self-care more and more, finding time for daily walks, a sporadic yet consistent yoga practice, even an Epsom salt bath a few nights a week. Oddly, though, I haven’t been getting the same benefits. Sure, I feel better but I certainly don’t feel good. What’s more, I find myself dreading these previously enjoyable activities, often making excuses to skip them altogether. These days, they’re just another thing I have to do.
This became clear to me when I told my husband that the whole “self-care thing” was becoming rather overwhelming. He laughed. “It’s supposed to be effortless,” he said. “That’s what makes it therapeutic.”
I’m not sure I agree that it’s supposed to be effortless, but that was definitely food for thought. I began wondering if what I’ve been doing lately is really self-care at all… or if it’s simply going through the motions of something that looks like self-care so that I can check it off of my To Do list. And if it was the latter, which I suspected it was, what would real self-care – the therapeutic and rejuvenating kind — look like in my new life as an exhausted work-at-home mama? It actually took my 19-month-old to answer that question.
We often sing the “Elmo’s World” song together. (Moms of toddlers, you know the one!)
I start, “Lala la la, lala la la….”
She finishes, “Elmo’s World!”
Yesterday we were doing this call and refrain, when Lily chose to replace “Elmo’s World” with “Mama’s World.” And somewhere in my brain, it clicked. I started fantasizing about “Mama’s World.” What would that even look like?
After Lily went to bed, I got out a bunch of magazines and made a vision board of sorts, cutting out words and pictures that resonated with me, piecing together a world of my own creation.
Turns out this mama’s ideal world is full of love, rest, and connection. Yes, walking and massage, healthy food and yoga are there, too. But it’s peaceful and playful not demanding and exhausting. It’s self-indulgent but not selfish. It’s about being grateful, authentic, and present. There’s no guilt, no judgment, no “I’m not good enough.” I realized in doing this impromptu exercise that this is my guide to true self-care, and the simplicity of that was a welcome relief. The more often I make choices that bring me closer to my version of Mama’s World, the more aligned I’ll automatically be with the current needs of my body, mind, and spirit. Simple (though not necessarily easy).
Ultimately, that’s what brings us happiness, right? Not crossing items off of our To Do lists, not giving lip service to self-care, not keeping up with somebody else’s ideas about what our lives should look like… but living in a way that resonates with who we truly are and what we truly need. Happiness comes from bringing “Mama’s World” to life, one piece at a time, one choice at a time. And on that note… I’m curious what your version of Mama’s World looks like. How do you or could you go about finding glimpses of it in your everyday life? Not sure? Try creating a Mama’s World vision board of your own!
Crystal Saltrelli is an AADP-Certified Health Coach, work-at-home mama, and author of Living (Well!) with Gastroparesis. She blogs at www.CrystalSaltrelli.com.