Practice Radical Self Care
I wrote this post almost exactly a year ago, when my partner was traveling for 10 days and I was solo parenting. I don't know why I never published it, but when I was thinking about this topic again this month I found it in my drafts folder. As it is still so very topical (though my child is a year older and my partner is not traveling this spring), I decided to dust it off and share it with you. Enjoy!
If you do a Google search on “self care for moms” you get a long list of articles that include suggestions like “Take a shower,” “Get a pedicure,” “Drink a green smoothie.” While they are all well-meant and possibly helpful in the short term, I don’t think they get at the essential ways we mothers need to care for ourselves.
What we need is radical self care, which comes from knowing ourselves deeply. It comes from being able hear our souls calling for what we deeply need and being willing to provide it for ourselves.
That isn’t easy and what we hear may not be what we really want to do in the moment. It might be scheduling a dreaded appointment. It might be going to bed early, maybe as early as the baby. Maybe every night for a month. It might be letting go of a relationship with a friend or even a family member that is toxic and draining. It may be asking for help in small or very large ways. It might be letting go of our expectation of accomplishing things, specific or general.
This week I’ve had some lessons in practicing radical self care.
My man is gone on a spring-break trip with his almost-grown son, exploring a mountain in Venezuela. My Bean is being two, in all of the beautiful and devastating ways that two manifests. In the few days that he has been gone so far we have weathered together a midnight vomit-fest, double skinned knees, Easter and the sugar-high-then-crash that came with it, and saying goodbye to English cousins she had grown to adore during their brief stay.
Her language is exploding, and with it the ability to tell me what she does and does not what, more and more specifically. Yet still she melts down and cannot articulate what is the matter. Last night she sobbed all through dinner, pressing herself close to me while I tried to shovel just enough food in my mouth to sustain me. She sobbed all through our bedtime routine and then sobbed herself to sleep.
The only thing I could determine was that she missed her father, her brother, and our cousins. I got her settled in her crib only to have her wake half an hour later, sobbing and hiccuping. I undressed, brought her to my bed, held her and whispered how much I loved her while she cried and cried and eventually fell asleep turned perpendicular to my body. The top of her head pressed into me all night, the same way she used to sleep when she was a newborn. This morning she woke with both of her eyes were oozing and a trip to urgent care confirmed that she has bacterial infections in both eyes.
Last week, before LHM and The Teenager left, I made a list of things I was going to do while he was gone. I was going to get all caught up on my Project Life album, make two baby blankets and an outfit for Bean, get the front garden weeded, and re-start my art journaling practice. That was just what I put on the list. I was also planning to send some pitches to editors, finish reading a book and start another, make some awesome spring crafts and stage an easter egg hunt. I wanted to revise an essay I’ve been working on, write several blog posts, clean out my studio and build a brooder for the baby chicks I want to get next week. I thought I’d have so much time!
But the reality is that by the time I get Bean in bed each night, whether that is 9 pm or 7 pm, I’m exhausted. I want to do all those things, but I know they are unrealistic. I’ve scaled back my expectations so far that anything I accomplish outside of basic parenting and housekeeping is an accomplishment to be celebrated. My radical self-care this week is this:
Letting go of my own expectations and also my own judgements about how much is “enough” to accomplish each day.
Leaning in to my need for rest.
Doing what I can to recharge within the limited time and energy I have.
Drinking enough water, getting exercise, and eating regular meals.
What do you do when you realize you need reserves you don’t have? Do you force yourself to push through, or do you turn your attention to refueling?
Try making your own radical self-care list and make it personal to you. It might be specific to an event or crisis you need to get through, or it might be something you keep handy to remind yourself what you need when you are feeling drained and listless. Your radical self care might be:
letting go of things you really want when you know the timing is wrong
setting firm boundaries where you need them - around your children or immediate family, around your feelings, around what you are willing to discuss with others or not
developing routines that support simplicity in your day
listening to your heart when you feel it yearning
releasing what other people think you should or should not be doing
getting preventative health care
making sure you have a tribe and knowing when to call on them
noticing the one beautiful thing in the middle of a terrible experience
knowing your weak spots and protecting and working with them
knowing what lights you up, and investing time in it regularly