Five self-care ideas

Winter roses

“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.” Audre Lorde

I first came across the term “self-care” as a twenty-something psych grad as I paged through women’s magazines and self-help books. In those pre-children days of supreme selfishness, it seemed irrelevant and very far away from my reality. The words conjured up images of rich women having endless pedicures and languishing on their therapists’ couches, or perhaps recovering addicts being reminded to eat three square meals a day and take some fresh air.

Well, motherhood has a way of humbling you, doesn’t it? A few years in, I realized that I too, was in need of some radical self-care. Children are like tiny plants, greedily sucking in water and nutrients from the soil they are planted in, seeking light and air and room for their own survival. If you do not cordon off a space for your own needs, I can promise you right now that you will soon find yourself short-tempered, depressed or just thoroughly fed up with your own life.

Please don’t think it’s easy; I have driven away from my own children crying and screaming “No, MOMMY, come back, nooooo” as their bewildered father tried to take them both in his arms. Was I perhaps off on a long business trip? Abandoning them to be looked after by strangers? People, I was off to my regular once a week yoga class that I have been going to for years and years. Sometimes their cries have been so very desperate that I have stopped the car and re-considered. Each time, though, my lovely husband (through gritted teeth) has said “Go!”. When I come home, of course, they’re all happily playing Lego together and have forgotten all about it. This is the reality of young children.

If you are in the trenches of family life right now, here are five (small) acts of self-care to start you off:

Take your vitamins

This seems so obvious, that I am almost embarrassed to write it down. But…in the madness of the early morning, I have often forgotten this simple task and I really do feel the difference in my energy levels, and in my health in general. It is really useful to anchor the taking of your vitamins to something else you do every morning. Anchoring is a very basic self-hypnosis technique that we teach in HypnoBirthing classes where you pair a thought, emotion or behavior with an object or action. So, every morning I pair the drinking of my morning smoothie with taking my vitamins. I count them all out in a little bowl, and put it right next to the glass so that I really don’t forget to take every one.

Sit down and eat

Good digestion is essential to good health, and good digestion requires a focus on your food and slow and careful chewing to release the enzymes that will help to break it down. Ha! That’s all very well in theory but as mothers how often do we grab a bite of our child’s sandwich for lunch or eat a snack bar in the car on our way somewhere? Even dinner times are often not particularly peaceful as we admonish our kids to sit on their bottoms and eat and no, now is not a good time to make farting noises.

This takes real effort, and in really busy seasons, I often find myself slipping. I tend to just not eat when I am hectic, which is terrible and something I have to be very mindful of. So, whenever you can, plan your meals, and then sit down somewhere quiet and enjoy them. If your children are very young and/or wild, it is also not a bad idea to feed them early in the evening and sit down with your husband a bit later for a more civilized affair. This is not a long term solution, as there is tremendous value in a shared family meal, but it is something we have done from time to time and really benefitted from.

Breathe

Well, I am a childbirth educator and doula, so you knew this had to come in somewhere! When we are tense and stressed, we breathe so very shallowly and it just makes things worse. There is a wonderful breath we teach in HypnoBirthing, and that is also taught in yoga. It is called “calm breathing” or in yoga, balancing breath. You simply breath in for the count of 4, and out for the count of 8. Slow, deep breaths, in and out through the nose.

I have been known to lock myself in the toilet when my kids are driving me crazy and just do this technique for 3-5 minutes. I also try and do it every night before I go to bed, and it works like a charm to calm me down and get me in the right frame of mind for sleep.

Legs up against the wall

I would love to say that I do an hour of yoga every day, and perhaps one of these days I will. But for now, I incorporate just a few yoga techniques into my daily life and this is one of them. Legs up against the wall is as easy as it sounds. Practised for 10-15 minutes each day, it has a tremendously calming effect on the nervous system, quiets the mind, reduces leg tension and has all the benefits of an inversion. It is so easy that you can do it anywhere, and your kids can join in too as they get older (kids are natural yogis and it’s so much fun to introduce them to the poses!).

Do one thing that brings you joy

One of the things I learnt when I trained in solution-focused coaching was to “just do one thing” to change the situation. Almost every problem seems insurmountable when we look at it as one big, ugly, hairy mass. But when I coach, I work with my client to do just one thing to tackle the issue. Raising kids is never going to be calm, peaceful and zen-like 100% of the time. That is just unrealistic. People will get tired, tempers will fray and you will have moments when you feel like it’s all too much. But by doing one thing each day that brings you joy, you know that you have taken a step towards nurturing yourself and your own needs.

I like to book-end my days with nice things. I look forward to my first cup of coffee each morning as I wake up, drunk in relative peace, and then again, to the library book that I always read a few chapters of at night. Simple, simple things that I have always done since before my babies were born and have just continued. Whatever else happens in the day, I know I have those two things to look forward to.

What are your acts of self-care? Do you need to be a bit more mindful about looking after your own needs?

Your child in hospital

Casualty

There is nothing quite like that first emergency dash to the hospital with your child. I remember crying and praying in equal measure as I weaved my way through rush hour traffic, my 18 month old daughter in her car seat in the back. She was having a severe allergic reaction to something she had eaten and her breathing was becoming increasingly labored. I had never known terror quite like that before but unfortunately I have experienced it since with a few more trips to the emergency room with both my daughter and my son. In a true emergency, there is nothing to do but get yourself and your child to medical help as quickly as possible, but once you are in safe hands, there are more than a few things that you can do to make the whole experience easier for you and your child.

Stay with your child as much as possible. You may be asked to leave the room when your child is having blood drawn (“Much easier for you not to see this, Mummy!”) or having other examinations but I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to stay with your child whenever you possibly can. As scary as hospital is for us, it is even more terrifying for your little one. Even if they scream while they are having a needle inserted into their veins, at least they can see you and feel your hand squeezing theirs. For babies, you can also breastfeed them during or straight after many procedures, which is enormously comforting to both you and them. In the event that you cannot be with your child and they are conscious (for example if they need to have a MRI), you can use your voice to constantly reassure them that you are nearby and that all is well.

Make sure your child has their comfort objects. If you know that you are going to be in hospital for more than a few hours, get someone to collect their favourite toy, dummy or other comfort object from home. In a world of strangers, medicinal smells and the sounds of other children crying, these small talismans of normal life can be so reassuring to your child.

Advocate for your child. I am always amazed how confident, successful and highly educated people go absolutely mute and passive in the face of medical authority. Doctors and nurses are highly trained but they are not as interested or invested in the health of your children as YOU are. Ask questions, understand the diagnosis, read the package insert of any medication that you are prescribed. If something feels wrong for your child, question it. Say no. Your child is powerless in this situation and you need to be their voice.

I remember the week when my one year old son was hospitalized for pneumonia. It was very scary especially as he was battling high temperatures. One night, the nurse came around at about midnight to check his temperature. I had just spent over an hour rocking and singing him to sleep and he was sound asleep in my arms. I could feel that his little body next to mine had cooled and that he was so much better than he had been. She wanted to take him away from me, take his temperature (which I knew would wake him up) and note everything down in her observations. This was her job and she was determined to do it. I said no. Quietly and politely I declined her services and asked to please come back in a few hours. She did. It’s as simple as that.

Look after yourself. Your first priority in hospital is your child but your second is you. You simply cannot look after your little girl or boy for a lengthy period of time under high stress if you have not slept or nourished your body. Sleep if your child is sleeping and make sure you drink and eat at regular intervals. If you need a break from the confines of the hospital (I know I certainly did!) ask your husband, mom or a good friend to take over for a few hours or overnight. You need to replenish your own body and soul so that you can take care of your little one.

Have you had a child in hospital? What did you do to make it a little easier for both of you?