This is a guest post from my wife Caitlin (www.corebirthing.com).
Self-care. I’ve been kind of obsessed with that concept lately. I throw the term around with abandon. I tell all of my students in my childbirth education classes that they have to practice self-care. I post about it on Facebook. I know how important it is! But, do I do it myself? Well, sometimes.
Why does it matter? For me, when I haven’t done anything for myself in a while, I start to get all fidgety and ornery and my fuse gets really short. And I know that since I’ve become a mother, it’s harder than ever to make time for me.
I came into motherhood fully recognizing and welcoming the sacrifices I was making. I didn’t have work that I had any desire to return to. I wanted to be with my kids as much as possible. I read books about parenting and discovered Attachment Parenting and dove into it with relish. And I lost myself.
Losing yourself might be considered a normal part of motherhood. Your old self is gone and a new self develops—one hard-wired to take care of a new, delightful, confusing, needy person. Sometimes though, it goes too far.
For me, losing myself also meant losing touch with my needs, neglecting myself physically, socially, and emotionally. I had not figured out how to fill up my own tank. Even Dr. Sears, who coined the term Attachment Parenting, says we have to put ourselves first—just like the oxygen mask on airplanes.
Not that I thought that my parenting style was to blame. The Attachment Parenting philosophy and support groups were, and continue to be, a huge source of support. But, I realized, mostly after having a second kid, that I wasn’t putting the oxygen mask on me first. And I wasn’t serving anyone by sacrificing my every need.
And I suffered and my family suffered for it. And the suffering was deep. I became a monster. I yelled, and screamed and lost it time and again. I was in a place of such despair, guilt and rage. I was an attached parent! How could I be the monster? But I was and it was ugly and it hurt. I will always regret it.
But I also know I can start now. So that’s why the self-care obsession happened. I finally got that by putting everyone else first not only was I hurting myself, but I was modeling behavior I would hate for my kids to pick up. I was hurting my family. Such a crazy contradiction—that my taking care of my family was actually hurting them. That was a big pill to swallow.
There’s no question that parenting is about sacrifice, it’s just a matter of degree.
For me self-care is a daily practice of not letting my needs get trampled on. I stand up for myself. I recognize when it’s been too long since I’ve done anything for myself. I say no. I get up early sometimes to meditate. I write in my journal. I joined a group coaching program. I do yoga. I do things for me, just me.
So it’s about practice. Just like yoga practice and medical practice and therapy. It’s not like you can say, “I’ve graduated, all the poses are mastered, all my neuroses are fixed, I’m a better person”. We might have this illusion that some end point will be reached where we finally feel complete, that we prioritize ourselves and we never go back. In reality, you have to work on it daily. Each moment is an opportunity to practice. Just taking a breath and thinking about what would serve you in the moment. Connect to the part of you that knows what you need.
Sure, I still yell. I lose it sometimes. It’s not how I want to be but I’m also working on self-acceptance as part of self-care. I wouldn’t allow anyone to talk to my family the way I sometimes talk to myself! And in those moments when I lose my cool, that’s when I know—it’s time to recharge, to reconnect, to come back to myself.
Self-care is about loving yourself enough to get what you need. I’m still learning and practicing and growing. I would love to hear how you practice self-care.