A Robust and Unfailing Practice of Self-Care
There is one thing I wish I had had as a parent of a gifted toddler:
a robust and unfailing practice of self-care.
Second to that is a community around me and the grace to accept being cared-for.
Alas, my husband and I made a difficult decision to uproot our young family and move to an unknown place when my son was a toddler. Taking care of myself was pushed right off the stove and all the burners were filled with the logistics of packing, moving, unpacking, having a baby (#2), and holding down the fort while my husband stepped into a new role.
Six years have passed and, although late-in-coming, I finally have a routine of self-care that can sustain me in my roles of wife, mother, homeschooling parent, special needs parent, and friend. What follows is a description of all the things I do to take care of myself...and why.
Self-Care is Not an Occasional Massage
So much is said about filling your cup. "Take care of yourself," people say. But in early parenthood I really didn't understand what "take care of yourself" meant. Sometimes I would think, "I don't deserve it." (This because of my image of "mother" was one of self-sacrifice, and also because of my own unhealthy self-image issues that I have since been working on.) And sometimes I would hear them, say "yes!" and then feel completely lost as to how to fill my own cup...especially as my responsibilities seemed so daunting.
Self-care is much more than getting a massage every once and a while...and so much less. Self-care is about routines - both large and small - that sustain you. They are ways of living that make it possible for you to survive and to thrive through life's ups and downs. Here are mine, sort of organized from the smallest ways I care for myself to the big picture things:
The Small Things
These are the small things. They are not time-consuming. For me, two of my favorite "small things" rely on my asking my husband for help. One is a simple breathing exercise.
- My husband minds the children while I take an uninterrupted shower.
- My husband makes the coffee in the morning.
- Three-minute breathing and meditation. (I use yoga. If you don't have a practice in place yet, I recommend Headspace.)
- Reading fiction. A little every night.
Those small things my husband does for me help me start the day feeling cared-for. The three-minute breath and meditation can be sprinkled throughout the day as needed. And reading at bedtime helps my mind unwind and prepare for rest. Imagine some small things in your life that could count as self-care.
The Medium Things
There are two things that are important for me to be at my best and I consider them self-care because they are things I can do for myself that have a pretty big impact on my well-being.
- Clutter-free spaces - living with other people and their stuff is tricky business. I have discovered a few places where I need things to be clutter-free: my room, the kitchen and dining area, the car, and our sitting room where the piano lives.
- Work First - I am a "work first" person. If I play first then I often find myself going down rabbit holes and the basic work of life (making meals, doing laundry, etc.) gets tossed to the side and we find ourselves suffering because of it. (For more on this, consider reading "Faster than Normal.")
Keeping important spaces clean and tidy and committing to work first mentality are "medium" in the time and frequency it takes to do them for myself and "medium" in the level of impact they have on my well-being. What are your medium things?
The Large Things
I have called myself "compulsively creative." It means that I have to make things to feel like my whole self. It is probably why a friend insisted that I read Big Magic - a book in which Elizabeth Gilbert calls to her readers to make space in their lives to do something creative for themselves.
- Creative Work (Writing) - I like to write. I write blogs and compile Invitations to Learn. I also like to write family yearbooks as memory-keepers.
- Creative Work (Sewing) - Writing takes a type of mental energy that I cannot always harness. In the evenings I work on a sewing business.
- Creative Work (Making Stuff) - These are things I can do with my children by my side. I cook. I garden. I build random wooden things like benches, raised garden boxes, tables, shoe racks, etc. I help my children with their projects.
In addition to making things, I also have to learn. Part of my need to learn is curiosity-driven because it is fun. (Like reading picture book biographies and going on field trips with my kids.) The other part of my need to learn is necessity-driven. I want to become a better version of myself, especially as it relates to being in great relationships with my family and friends. So where and how do I learn?
I like to read picture book biographies with my children and go on field trips. I like to listen to podcasts and news radio. I like to attend online conferences about special needs, parenting, and mindfulness.
- Reading Nonfiction - specifically picture books biographies and parenting books.
- Podcasts and News Radio - Radiolab, Freakanomics, NPR
- Online Conferences -
These are large things because they require large chunks of energy and time. I also consider them to be largely important to my well-being. These are what I do to support my need to connect with myself and also to the community around me including but not limited to my husband, my children, and my local tribe of friends.
The Biggest Things
I consider Way of Life to be the single biggest thing I do to take care of myself. Not only is it ambiguous in terms of time and energy, it is the most important thing in my life.
- A Goal - to have a simple and slow life filled with great relationships and meaningful connection with family, friends, and community.
- Rhythms - Honoring my daily, weekly, and monthly rhythms has an enormous impact on my way of life. (For more on this, I highly recommend When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing by Daniel Pink.)
In order to recognize and respond to my rhythms and to do all the small, medium, and large things so that I have a way of life that is sustainable, I have developed routines...
My Routine of Self-Care
What exactly does this all shape up to be? Here are some quick snapshots of how it looks in my life:
I have great mental energy and patience in the morning. I need a break in early afternoon before heading into the third shift of parenting - "after school" activities, dinner, bedtime. Meals are our anchors in the day.
- 5AM-7AM My time for yoga and creative writing
- 7AM ANCHOR - Family meal
- Morning - Scaffold Kids' Creative Work and Learning
- 11AM ANCHOR - Lunch & Read Aloud
- Midday Outdoor Time
- 1PM-2:30PM Rest
- 2:30 ANCHOR - Snack & Read Aloud
- Afternoon Play, Karate/Dance
- 5PM ANCHOR - Dinner
- Evening Play, Bedtime
- 7PM-9PM - My time for evening exercise and evening work
There is a rhythm in our weeks, too. We like a balance of adventure and cozy time at home. I recharge on Sunday mornings and then during the weekdays we alternate between outings and staying at home.
- Sunday - Grounding: My Yoga Class, Groceries/Errands
- Monday - Adventure: Minecraft Monday Club, Library, Karate
- Tuesday - Home: JAM Project, Dance
- Wednesday - Adventure: Field Trip, Karate
- Thursday - Home: JAM Project
- Friday - Adventure: Friday Follies Theater Club
- Saturday - Grounding: Family Connection
Like all women, my energy varies with my "moon cycle." I notice creative spurts, anxious spurts, and lethargic times. By recognizing and accepting how much energy I can bring to our world, I am able to decide when to ride my routine (when I'm tired and anxious) and when I can be flexible and adventurous (when I'm buzzing).
Right now I'm laughing at myself because I have approached this idea of self-care from a couple ways to try and explain what is it in my life...but why is it important?
Because parenting only nominally gets easier as your children grow into independence. Your gifted toddler will not out-grow his or her giftedness. He might outgrow his toys. She'll need new books. But the je ne sais quoi that simultaneously accounts for their brilliance and their challenges will remain. You will have to be well-cared-for so you can care for them day in and day out, year after year.
Because Unless You Are Well-Cared-For...
(What follows are consequences of poor self-care that I lived with for too long.)
Unless you are well-cared-for, the mental fog will prevent you from recognizing your child's interests.
Unless you are well-cared-for, seeking and facilitating opportunities for your child to learn will feel overwhelming.
Unless you are well-cared-for, you might have a tantrum that exceeds your toddler's tantrum and parent without the grace you are capable of.
Unless you are well-cared-for, preparing healthy foods will seem fruitless.
Unless you are well-cared-for, you might rely too heavily on screen time.
Unless you are well-cared-for, you might fail to place and maintain healthy boundaries that your child needs.
Unless you are well-cared-for, you might not be ready to hear an unwanted diagnosis.
Unless you are well-cared-for, you might not have the wherewithal to help your child learn mindsight.
Unless you are well-cared-for, you might not interact with your child using good connection practices and nonviolent communication.
Unless you are well-cared-for, you may feel as uneasy alone as you do in public.
Unless you are well-cared-for, it will be hard to "turn the other cheek" when you and your child are judged by those who don't understand.
Unless you are well-cared-for, it will be nearly impossible to advocate for your child against those who are in positions of power.
Unless you are well-cared-for, you will be unable to enjoy the good days nor weather the bad days.
Win the Short Games to Win the Long Game
Intensity persists into elementary school and through the rest of life. Don't think about just surviving toddler years. Look at what you can do to sustain yourself so you can best serve your child's needs. I believe that the earlier you develop a robust and unfailing routine of self-care, the better off you'll all be.
Start with small things. Recognize them and celebrate them. Then consider medium and larger things that will help you be your best self, now and in the years to come.
This was originally written as part of the GHF Bloghop.
No one should toil over worksheets so I wrote the guide for learning math from everyday life...because when the world is your classroom you are free to learn math that matters.
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