This post has been written to include in the Self Love Blog Hop at Authentic Parenting.
Self Love and Rejuvenation through an Unlikely Choice of Busy-Ness
In response to a calling, I dedicated almost a decade of my life studying and apprenticing to be a midwife. At the onset of this adventure I attended study groups led by practicing midwives in my community. One of my teachers, an obstetric nurse turned home-birth midwife, remarked one evening that most mothers do not have or take even five minutes each day to just sit alone and be. I was just 21 and childless. I recall that this comment felt like a slap. I respected my mentor tremendously and so I believed her. Still, I was shocked. I was speechless. In the many years that transpired between that moment and the time when I became a mom, I would occasionally remember this statement and wonder what this might mean for me if I ever embarked on the path of motherhood. Would it be true for me, too, or would I be one of the few who somehow carve out daily time for meditation and good books? Then several years ago, I spent an evening sitting alone on the wooden bench of my front porch, writing and thinking, glass of wine in my hand. This relaxation came at the end of a ten hour day spent caring for energetic triplet toddlers I loved and nannied. As I again pondered the future possibilities of my life, I knew that I would never have slow, quiet moments like this if I was graced by motherhood. Well versed in what it meant to be the caregiver of children, I had my answer.
I was right. I have Adirondack chairs and a beautiful garden in my backyard. It is a rare moment that I sit in one of these chairs, coffee in hand. When I do have a moment on my own to sit and gaze into the garden, it is not long before I spontaneously jump up to take care of some little problem that has come to my attention: aphids on the roses, ants climbing the lemon tree, squash vines creeping in on the cucumbers. Of course, what my midwife-teacher was referring to all those years ago was self-care and the corresponding self-love. I used to find time to sleep in, to curl up and read, to lie on the couch and watch a video. I used to keep a journal and then throw it away when all the papers were filled. No longer taking restful time to myself, I have had to question where I fit into the picture my midwife-teacher painted.
Since becoming a mother, self-love has not been hard to achieve. I thrive on being a mother. As a mother I feel strong, capable, loving, and attentive. My son and I have a close, harmonious relationship and I believe I am doing a good job. Conversely, self-care has not come so easily. I knew I would be busier than I have ever been. I was ready to give up my pre-child life and dedicate myself to putting a little someone else first. Of course, I also imagined there would be nap time. However, this was not the way it turned out to be and I had no time to have a daily cup of tea on my own to recharge, and no time to pull out the sewing machine. As an infant, my son fit the description of a high needs baby (hard to believe now: he is calm and content!) and was actively in distress any time he was not in arms or receiving focused attention. Fortunately, as long as I kept moving, he was content to be worn. Walking and hiking gave me moments of respite I was so desperate for: time for thoughts to myself or to catch up on conversation with friends or my husband. However, this was not enough for me. My mom-friends during that period knew that no matter how thrilled I was with motherhood, I was also in distress.
At the same time that our son needed 24-7 attention, my husband, an active studio artist, was preparing for multiple shows and pulling 17-hour work days. I found myself struggling to do as much as was required of me. I was pouring all of my energy into my son, believing strongly that it would pay off for him and for me, too, in a future where he was secure enough to become independent. Burn out did ensue. But I am a mother. I had to keep going. I could not take a holiday from this job!
The tides turned, as they so often do, and my son began to nap at around 20 months of age. With some new breathing room, this is when I began to explore what my own image of taking care of myself looked like. At first, unaware that I was beginning to test the waters of self-love in action, I started down this road by digging, amending, and planting my garden. Gardening is one of my absolute favorite pastimes, but I was doing this for my family, I told myself. It was simply another way I could contribute. After all, after a habit of so many months of constant giving, I needed to be certain that this garden was for others. Every single aspect of this contribution to my family actually brought me satisfaction…and so I began to remember what it felt like to take care of me. I would not say that the floodgates opened-I do not have enough time for that-but sensations of fulfillment, a different sort than those that accompany motherhood, began to trickle in. Having knowledge once again of how this felt, it became easier to continue to find ways to add in activities that made me feel this deep happiness and to experience these feel-good moments at an increasing rate.
Nap time became sacred, as I had known it to be for so many of my friends. In several months time my evenings after my son’s bedtime began to take on more meaning, as well. I am someone who loves to do, to create, to grow. Perhaps I still do not get enough sleep. Possibly, I should be sitting in that chair in the yard with a good, distracting novel. Maybe it would be beneficial for me to practice meditation. However, when I search for what really makes me happy, it is making clothes, baking delicious food for my family, growing the healthiest garden possible, challenging myself to take on a new hobby that has intrigued me for years. I am also satisfied by the process of writing about and photographing my progress. It feels great to document what I have learned, and to share this with those who reward me by reading in return. Granted, on the surface, most of the activities I choose to engage in benefit my family as much as, or more than, myself. But at the root of every new project there is a seed of selfishness. My self-love and my self-care might not look like those healthy five minutes a day spent all alone staring at the wall. My personal form of self-love has me going all the time, it is exhausting, and from the outside it might even appear that I am driving myself too hard. As it turns out, my busy-ness rejuvenates me. It is more fulfilling than anything else I can imagine. And when I get a chance to lie down, all I can think about is how much I want to get back up and go!
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