I was an activist before I was a mama.
In some ways, I think activism inspired me to become a parent (that, and their sexy father). Or at least I like to think of parenthood as an act of activism in and of itself.
The idea that I could grow small humans in my body and teach them everything I know about being a guardian of justice, a protector of the planet, and an advocate for empowerment, is a powerful one. It’s a responsibility I take seriously. And my hope is that by learning these things from a very young age, they’ll be even better activists than I am.
My husband and I do our best to share our values with our kids, as well as live the lifestyle that we think illustrates the world the way we would like it to be.
We’re not perfect. We do our best. And even though my daughter watches more TV than I’d like and we don’t go hiking every single weekend like I’d hoped we would and my son is left to his own devices often while I’m trying to eke out a living as a work-at-home-mom, my kids know they’re loved and we all laugh a lot.
Still, motherhood leaves a lot to be desired.
Mothering can be a thankless litany of tasks.
It’s not always our kids or partners who let us down.
It’s our employers, many of whom make it difficult for us to advance professionally and don’t offer much support to re-adjust to work smoothly postpartum.
It’s the government, which basically shits all over women’s rights but does extra special damage to moms, with no regulated parental leave postpartum and an utter lack of subsidized childcare. Not to mention the current attack on healthcare overall, in which many of the newly proposed healthcare repeals would make pregnancy, c-sections, and postpartum depression “pre-existing conditions.”
It’s popular culture, which presents an idea of motherhood that is both unrealistic and stigmatizing.
It’s other moms, who shame and judge from the sidelines, criticizing everything from our waistlines to what our kids are eating to the size bags under our eyes to how much screen time our kids get.
It’s society as a whole, which feeds into both the “martyr mom” complex and the “guilty mom” experience. Society also contributes to the mom “shoulds,” which are deeply damaging.
It’s internalized and institutionalized misogyny that frequently distinguishes between women’s work and men’s work, as well as mother’s tasks versus father’s tasks.
Moms are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
No matter what we do, it’s open for criticism, debate, and correction.
The way I see it, there is only one way to change this.
We as moms, have to change the way we treat ourselves.
We can’t wait for society and culture to catch up to our needs. We need to redesign what healthy, happy motherhood looks like.
We need to create our own standards for how we want to be treated.
As one of my own teachers frequently says, “We teach others how to treat us.”
I think about this often when my daughter has a tantrum or I’m passive aggressive with my husband or I say “yes” to something that should have been a “No.”
Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
That sentiment has always resonated with me.
I can’t force anyone to do my bidding but I can live in a way that is inspiring or thought provoking or that simply expresses my values in a thoughtful way.
I can’t enact legislation that is fair to women and children and families or that supports their health or the health of this planet. I can call my legislators, but even then, my impact is somewhat limited because they don’t always listen or have my best interests at heart.
If I want to be healthy, I have to do things that are good for my body.
I have to treat myself the way I deserve to be treated.
And I also want to model healthy adulthood for my kids. I want them to grow up knowing what this looks like. I’m not aiming for perfection. I’m aiming for authenticity.
In my opinion, motherhood is activism and self-care is inherently a part of healthy motherhood. This makes daily acts of self-care, activism.
If I am taking good care of myself, I won’t be too worn down to fight back when I see or experience injustice. If I am attending to my basic personal necessities, I won’t be too distracted or exhausted to speak my mind. If I am tuned into my own needs, I won’t be too disconnected to truly tune into the needs of my kids or my husband. If I am compassionate towards myself, even in moments when I’ve “messed up” or battled personal demons, I can also feel compassion and empathy for the suffering of others.
Here’s the takeaway, mamas: If you’re not taking good care of yourself, you’re not taking good care of anyone or anything else, either.
So how do we fix this?
Here’s a list to follow:
1. Assess your current self-care situation. Are your needs being met? Do you feel like you’re missing something? Have you forgotten what actions or activities make you feel good?
2. Make a list of actions and activities that make you feel really good. Don’t censor yourself. Include small simple “boring” practices to super fancy, grandiose practices and everything else in between.
3. Make a plan. Pick one small, simple “boring” practice you’ve been missing or want to do and actually do it. Start small. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you aim for the biggest one or biggest thing first, your chances of success are lower. If you start small, it’s a lot easier to keep it up. And the only way this works is if you take good care of yourself every single day. Not just on the days when it is easy or convenient, but also on the days it is hard and inconvenient.
4. Intentionally repeat this small, simple boring practice every single day for at least a week or until it becomes a part of your routine. Once it becomes a part of your routine, keep the intentionality – the “why” you are doing it. Because knowing your why and making these actions intentional and thoughtful is what distinguishes a self-care practice like rubbing your feet every night, from another daily practice of brushing your teeth twice a day.
5. Look at your list again and start adding more, slowly and intentionally. Make these acts sacred, intentional, and full of purpose. If something doesn’t work, try it again at a different time during your day. I offer a really useful tool for understanding which self-care practices fit better where and when in my Conscious Healthy Mama Essentials program. You learn how to plot out self-care throughout your day, week, month, and year.
6. If you skip some regular self-care along the way, don’t be so hard on yourself. Be compassionate. Be kind. Treat yourself like you would treat your daughter.
And then figure out how you can add this practice back into your life.
7. If something stops supporting you, ditch it. And try something else.
8. Become an advocate for self-care. Help fellow mamas advocate for themselves. Teach your kids how to do this when they’re ready. Tell your friends about it. Encourage your partner to take more time for him or herself. Ask your parents about self-care and if they are getting what they need.
Basically, once you’ve gotten into a good groove, spread the self-care love!
9. Create supportive communities with your fellow self-care activists. Too frequently, mamas tear one another down. This helps no one. We we stand together, we are stronger. Even when there are differences in the way we raise our kids or move through the world. Find common goals and have tough conversations. Remember, when you can be compassionate towards yourself, you can have compassion for someone else.
Listen, I know this sounds ambitious. I know some of you are shaking your heads saying, “self-care won’t solve all of our problems. This is naïve and pointless.”
You are halfway correct. Self-care won’t solve all of the world’s problems, but that doesn’t make it pointless.
If I can take good care of myself consistently, I make it harder for others to treat me badly because my own standards for care and treatment are so high.
If I can take good care of myself consistently, then I won’t be too depleted to realize that people are regularly using me as a doormat.
If I can take good care of myself consistently, I won’t be too worn down by life and motherhood to make powerful choices that impact my life, my kids, and the world positively.
Until you start prioritizing your needs, your desires, and your time, nothing will change. So step into those Mama Activist shoes and choose to advocate for yourself today.