[While this is addressed specifically to mothers, the ideas are all pretty universal.]
Self care is not selfish. It’s understandable that we get confused, when advertisements tell us things like “Take care of yourself (with our $30 skin care product)” and “You deserve the best (aka. our cruise to the Bahamas).”
On the other hand, we are continually inundated with stimulating activities for our children (only 90 minutes prep required!), the newest current-most-important-health-ingredient recipes which will require every pot in your kitchen, and incredibly important causes to which we really should devote our whole heart and soul. Who on earth has time for self care, when our children’s health and development, and possibly the state of the world, rests on our shoulders?
It’s tricky because some of those basic human needs and desires take a back burner when children enter the picture. Things like sleeping all night or sitting through a whole meal or being able to lock the bathroom door (without anyone screaming outside it). We do have to give up some of our pre-child expectations. In light of children, they do become selfish.
And yet we still have needs. Our bodies need sleep and food and exercise. Our minds need adult stimulation and an occasional quiet moment to air out. Our spirits need space to connect with God. Our soul needs emotional health.
Neglecting these needs is not selfless; it is foolish. We have limits, and if we keep pushing we will reach those limits. We will eventually crash and burn.
If we are paying attention, we will recognize the warning signs as we draw near the edge of our limits. Warning signs like being irritable all the time. Yelling at our kids. Ending every day feeling drained and exhausted. Feeling disconnected from God. They only become stronger when ignored - resentment toward our children or spouse, illness, feeling depressed or out of control, dreaming of escape (if only to a really quiet hotel room). We all have warning signs: what are yours?
There are times when we are pushed to our limits by circumstances outside our control, when we operate in what my mom calls “survival mode.” There are times when health is just not a reality - say if you are pregnant and throwing up for months. There are times when your needs will definitely move to the back burner, like when you are up every 2hrs with a newborn or when your children are sick. There are crises and deadlines and moves and jet-lag. But these times should not be all the time.
So how do we make self care happen? It might look very different for each person depending on our circumstances and our personality, but some good question to start with are “what are my most important needs?” and “what fills me?”
I need sleep. Even when I am not pregnant and tired all the time, I need more sleep than some (I like to think it’s because I use my brain so much...). If I don’t get enough sleep, I am cranky. It takes twice as long to complete tasks because I can’t think clearly. Right now especially, I need adequate nutrition and protein snacks to feed my body and baby. I need exercise, especially yoga to calm my mind and stretch aching joints.
Even if the “30 minute daily quiet time” (not a biblical mandate) doesn’t often happen, I need connection with God throughout the day. Maybe that means listening to music, writing out verses, reading the same chapter for a month and letting it sink in, appreciating beauty in nature, reciting prayers or verses with my prayer beads, journaling, reading a short devotional...many small, scattered moments of “practicing the presence of God.” I also need consistent time apart to focus and go deeper.
I am an introvert. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly), that did not change when I became a mother to an energetic extrovert. I need some quiet and space. I need tiny moments throughout the day, and I need chances to get out of the house or be in the house by myself.
If I continually ignore these needs, my well-being suffers. My family also suffers, because I cannot care for them well when I have nothing to offer.
Refusing to accept my limits and take care of myself is not selflessness; it is pride. It is working really hard to show I have it together in every area. It is trying to show that I have super-human strength. It is claiming that I am so very indispensable my world might fall apart if I take a break.
Don't ignore the warnings in your life. Allow yourself to have needs and limits. Figure out how to make self-care a reality in your life.
[Linking up with Velvet Ashes: Warning]