magic words for self-care

The Magic Words I Use to Make Self-Care Possible

January 22, 2020

This is us. All 3 of my kids, ranging from almost 7 years old to almost 5 months old with an almost 4 year old in between.

I snapped this photo a few days ago when all of my kids happened to wake up early and were sharing my morning writing/meditation space.

Despite the overcrowding of my personal space, which honestly happens so often that I hardly notice anymore, I managed to do my entire writing practice and a 6 minute meditation.

While that might not seem like a lot, it’s practically a triumph for me 7 years into motherhood.

As a mom of 3, I have personal everyday experience with how difficult it is to carve out time for myself. It’s been a struggle ever since my first child was born nearly 7 years ago.

She demanded my time and attention and even food from my body.

I was happy to give it to her.

Except I also sort of wasn’t.

I felt more and more of myself slipping away into hours of nursing, holding and rocking, changing diapers, changing clothes (hers and mine), and as she got older, keeping her from bodily harm.

The meditation practice I’d finally started, vanished.

The yoga practice I’d cultivated for years, was relegated into weird times that felt awful for my body (usually late at night or mid-afternoon, if she napped).

I stopped reading books completely for the first year of motherhood.

Whatever self-care I once knew no longer existed, at least not in the same way.

About a 18 months into motherhood, things changed.

For one, my daughter was older and communicating, as well as understanding more. She still needed me, but not quite as much.

However, the bigger change was my mindset.

I realized that I could set boundaries as a mom and ask for things. And not only of myself or my husband, but of my child.

Now before you get worried that I was asking her to do entirely unreasonable things, like take out the garbage or clean the countertops, I promise I wasn’t. She was, of course, still new to walking and not always steady on her feet.

Instead, I started teaching her about the value of my time.

I would simply say, “hey Milly, mommy is doing yoga right now. This is important time for me. This helps me take care of myself just like I take care of you. I’ll help you as soon as I do this pose on the other side.”

These are the magic words I taught to myself first, then to my daughter, and then to my son. Someday I’ll teach them to my youngest, too.

The build up was slow.

Milly didn’t understand at first what it meant for me to take care of myself, so I had to show her.

In those early days, I’d help her after promising to do the same pose on the second side. Once she got used to this, I could stretch it out more.

Now I can do an entire yoga practice or HIIT class in the morning and she knows that it’s my time to take care of me.

I still sometimes stop to help her, if she needs it. And I also still use these words for her brother who is younger and still learning. I’ll say, “mommy needs to do these poses on the other side”. Or “I need to finish this sequence and when I’m done I will come and wipe your butt.”

I use it for meditation and writing, too.

My kids also know they are always welcome to join me, so long as they give me my space or ask if they are going to climb on me. If I’m in meditation or writing, they need to stay quiet with me for as long as I am quiet.

While this isn’t 100% perfect all the time, it helps me take back my time while also teaching my kids the value of self-care and boundaries.

The effect is cumulative.

I might have started small with my first child, but I was able to start sooner with my 2nd and have already started implementing these magic words with my third.

It helped that I had already set the precedent with my oldest so that when her brother came along, I already knew how it would work. I knew it might take awhile before I could do more than 2 poses at a time or more than a 2 minute meditation.

I also knew that he, like his sister, could learn.

Plus, he could watch how his sister handled those times of care, whether on my mat or off.

And while my 21 week old baby doesn’t understand yet, I also include her in what I do.

She is in my lap or next to me on the couch during meditation ad when I write. I put her little baby gym on the floor next to me when I do yoga.

As a parent, I’ve also learned to tell the difference between a fussy baby and a truly upset baby. When she’s a little fussy, I let her be until I hit a good stopping point. If she is clearly upset, I pick her up and take care of her.

Using these words takes practice.

It’s not easy to say not to your kid. Especially when they’re little and need more attention or help.

Guilt can rear its ugly head and make you feel like a bad mom for saying no or asking your kids to wait.

The truth is, patience is a skill.

It’s learned through practice.

And lots of trial and error.

And honestly, sometimes tears.

The practice pays off when you’re able to give yourself more than a single pose or 2 minutes of meditation.

It’s when you can say to your kids, “I’m going to go take care of myself for a little while,” and they don’t even bat an eye when you do a 30 minute yoga practice.

I promise it’s possible. All you need are a few magic words.


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