In 2011, I was a stay-at-home mom and I had just had my second baby. Like many people at this stage of life, we were trucking along with life, not sleeping or eating well, and our home felt constantly out of control. I was not taking care of myself or my marriage, and mothering two boys under the age of three was hard. But I liked to say, “We are fine. How are you?”
Our then three-year-old was having behavior problems that we couldn’t understand or manage. In our sleep-deprived desperation, we went to see a child psychologist, just sure that there was something to “fix.” She said that it sounded like he was going through separation anxiety, and gave some great suggestions on how to help him. I thought, Great! That was easy! Ten minutes and we have our solution! And then, she said words that changed my life:
“Now let’s talk about Momma.”
I felt a panic rising and imagined an interrogation light suddenly shining on me, like in a police drama TV show. A well-worn script began to play in my head: Yes, of course. I am to blame for all the family’s problems and this is another thing I’m not doing well enough.The kids would be fine if Momma could get her act together…
You see, I had been working so hard to take care of everyone else that I had run myself ragged. We had more stress in our lives than we realized, and we didn’t know what to do about it. In short, I was falling apart at the seams and pretending that I had my act together. And the most embarrassing part for this recovering perfectionist was that a stranger could see through my thin veil in just a few minutes’ time.
I expected to be interrogated for my parenting choices, so I was surprised when her next question was:
“What are you doing to take care of yourself?”
I was stumped. The word “nothing” was stuck in my throat as the tears fell freely.
She asked me what kinds of things filled up my cup. I listed off a few activities (yoga, time with friends, date nights – you probably have a similar list) that I hadn’t made time for in a very long time.
In the end, her instructions for me felt revolutionary. She told me that I must begin to care for myself, immediately. With my husband next to me, she acknowledged that the issues we faced with our son, thankfully, were fairly straightforward. And that he’d get through it more quickly if his primary caregiver was practicing good self-care.
This conversation triggered something in me that led me to where I am today. I now know without a doubt that, when I take care of myself, I take really good care of those around me. And get this: when I started taking care of myself, I started dreaming about what I wanted to do with my life in a big way. It is like I found some wiggle room to listen to my intuition. It is part of what inspired me to become a coach. Most importantly, it had a profound and positive impact on how I connect with everyone around me.
One of my heroes and models for the work I do is writer and researcher Brené Brown. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, she writes, “in a society that says ‘put yourself last’ the idea that you must take care of yourself is almost revolutionary.” Her work challenges the conventional wisdom that each of us should spend our lives as martyrs to be worthy of others’ love. When we immerse ourselves in others’ needs, we are vulnerable to burnout, losing ourselves and losing the spark that is our gift to the world.
Self-care is intentional action you take to care for your physical, mental and emotional health. Good self-care is a challenge for many people and it can be especially challenging for survivors, caregivers, and for those who have never seen self-care modeled. And, self-care is unique for everyone.
Your self-care needs are unique and will evolve over your lifetime. What you need in order to thrive will likely be very different from what the other women in your life need. You might think of self-care as a massage, and for some that would be a great intentional act of self-care. But self-care is far more than that. It really involves looking at your physical, mental and emotional needs, and getting them met for yourself every day. Self-care can include your needs for personal space, sleep, physical activity, time with others, spiritual time, or a passion that makes you happy.
Now, let’s be clear: I am not waltzing through life with everything falling neatly into place. Nope. But, I do show up to life more aligned with my purpose to help others, because I actively care for my needs.
I get that life is messy and taking care of ourselves too easily falls off the list of things to care for. I hear you. I’m doing this alongside you. Let me know how you are doing. Doing this with you is part of what inspires me to keep going too. I love helping people get clear on what they want in their life, and getting down to the business of getting it!
Make your self-care a priority and your life will improve. Make self-care a sacred non-negotiable habit, and you will impact everyone around you.
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
– Howard Thurman