Nurturing the Soul of Your Family
10 Ways to Reconnect and Find Peace in Everyday Life
By Renée Peterson Trudeau
New World Library Copyright © 2013 Renée Peterson Trudeau
All rights reserved.
THE TRANSFORMATIVE POWER of SELF-CARE
One day when my son was in preschool, I was filled with gratitude for my life circumstances, and in a moment of supreme clarity I wrote:
The life I desire is marked by deep connections to my child and partner. It's a life filled with joy and meaning. It's a life in which I feel supported and nurtured by an incredible community of men and women — young and old. I experience regular, meaningful, heartfelt connections with people I care about. I am continually open to growth — as a woman, a mother, a partner, and a spiritual being. I enjoy supporting and serving others in a way that feeds me rather than drains me. I feel that I always have enough time in my life for those things that are most important to me. My life flows, I trust my intuition, and I expect good to come to me. I feel peaceful. I am loving, and I feel loved. This is the life I desire.
I was finally able to articulate this only after I became a mother, began my self-care journey, and truly started to connect to my needs and desires. My earliest recollection of ignoring my basic needs occurred when I was around ten, during one of my family's harried morning scenes.
Breakfast at our house was like a scene from the Lucille Ball Show. My mom was always scrambling to make lunches, my dad was running around looking for misplaced tennis shoes, my youngest siblings were racing through the house playing superheroes, and one sibling or another was usually experimenting in the kitchen — cooking peanut butter oatmeal, rice-flour pineapple muffins, or some other creative concoction. In our family, we were heartily encouraged to master life skills, which led to lots of cooking experiments and culinary mayhem in the kitchen!
One morning, my nine-year-old brother Kert, now a macrobiotic chef, was making pecan waffles for breakfast. As I reached over the waffle maker to help myself to breakfast, I bumped the edge of the hot grill and burned my elbow. I didn't mention the accident to my parents — probably because they were too distracted getting my siblings out the door to school — but hours later, I was sitting in church at the Catholic school I attended trying to ignore the pain from a small, brown, bubbly looking burn on my elbow. Rather than go to a teacher for help or a bandage, I endured the discomfort, thinking, It's not really important enough to bother anyone. I'll be fine.
When I was growing up, self-care was not something that was promoted or honored in my family, even though my parents were medical professionals! I had to learn this on my own.
SELF-CARE: BEYOND MASSAGES and PEDICURES
When you think about self-care, do you have visions of massages or pedicures and facials? Physical self-care is a big part of the overall picture. But total self-care also includes eliminating self-criticism, not overscheduling, releasing the need to be perfect, saying no, refusing to do things out of guilt, and giving yourself much-needed rest and downtime to refuel. Learning to attune and respond to your needs and desires — practicing self-care — impacts every aspect of your life. Nurturing yourself is not selfish — it's essential to your survival and well-being.
My friend Erin, a self-employed mom and busy parent of two, recently shared how frustrated she was feeling. Exhausted from staying up until 2 a.m. to do laundry, she had skipped breakfast and lunch, was surviving on nothing but coffee, and had been beating herself up all day about not getting a homemade meal over to her neighbor, who had recently lost her father. As she and I visited, it dawned on us that we would never imagine denying our children sleep or nourishment, being judgmental of them, or allowing them to ignore their emotional needs. Yet, as parents, we often do this to ourselves on a daily basis.
The same love, gentle care, and compassion we offer so generously to our little ones should be extended to ourselves as well. Regardless of what we tell our children, we teach them about self-worth and how to honor oneself through our actions, not our words. Child-development experts tell us that modeling self-love and self-acceptance is the most effective way to influence our children's self-esteem and how they view themselves.
What qualifies as self-care? I define self-care as the art of attuning and responding to your deepest needs and desires. This will look vastly different for each of us. More than anything, it's about cultivating a new mindset in which we slow down, tune inward, and respond to what we need most in the moment. Self-care could be asking for help, doing less, taking a nap, or having lunch with a friend. As parents of infants know, even taking a shower or going to the bathroom when you need to is a form of self-care!
Listed below are examples of self-care for each aspect of your life: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual. They are suggestions for how you can nurture yourself and make self-renewal part of your everyday life. They are not a definitive list of activities you must complete. Indeed, as your children age and you enter new life stages, self-care activities change and may vary greatly.
If you were to focus on just one area, which one calls to you most right now?
Nourish your body by staying hydrated and eating healthy and energizing foods that make you feel great.
Get enough sleep, take naps, and build in time for rest.
Exercise to replenish your energy and manage stress.
Take time to enjoy and appreciate your body: take a hot aromatherapy bath or give yourself a foot massage.
Have a heart-to-heart conversation with a close friend or mentor.
Have kind and loving thoughts about yourself: try not criticizing yourself for one week.
Seek out support from a therapist, coach, social worker, or counselor.
Write down your feelings and thoughts in a journal.
Go on a fun date alone or with your partner, or organize a monthly girls' night out.
Take time to be by yourself to think or write.
Take a walk in a park or out in nature.
Meditate, pray, or just reflect on what you're grateful for.
Do something creative: paint, draw, dance, or sing.
Volunteer for a cause you're passionate about.
Read a good book or see an intellectually stimulating movie.
Develop a favorite hobby or skill or receive training in a professional area.
Participate in a class, group, or workshop on a topic that interests you.
Challenge yourself to learn something new — get out of your comfort zone.
BARRIERS to SELF-CARE
As a rule, our society does not honor or promote self-care, particularly for mothers — who are fed such "ideals" as "Good mothers always put their families first," "Motherhood is pure bliss," "You just have to let your body go when you become a mom," and "Good mothers are completely selfless."
These beliefs run deep — even if we don't accept them on a conscious level — and they can have a profound impact on how we view our roles as women and mothers. Realize this and be aware that the concept of self-care may feel foreign and difficult to embrace at first, to say the least!
Last year I spoke to a group of career coaches about self-care. When I encouraged them to take some time for themselves each week, they agreed they really needed to, but then they each offered a list of reasons why they couldn't: "I just don't have the time, the money, the family support, the space on my calendar," and so on. Others simply agreed and then looked down at their feet or across the room, as if I'd suggested they climb Mount Everest.
In our Personal Renewal Groups for moms, women are asked to voice what they perceive as the barriers to self-care. Some say they are afraid others will see them as selfish or otherwise bad moms if they put their needs first. Some feel they shouldn't really need self-care. Others say they don't have the time or money for self-care activities, while some dismiss their value. Some feel, regardless of the benefits, self-care will just become one more thing to add to their to-do list and worry about. Last, but most important, most hold an underlying belief that they are not worthy of self-care. They feel they don't deserve to make their needs a priority.
To successfully implement a self-care practice, you have to dig deep, engage your heart, and ask yourself, "What is my personal motivation for self-care? Why does this matter to me, and how will it positively impact my relationship to myself and with my family?" The answers will be different for each of us. But if you truly want to experience a shift in your behavior and perspective, the motivation has to come from the inside out. For many women, prioritizing self-care is radical, since it runs counter to a culture that doesn't reward or value women (or parents) for putting their needs first. Most people understand that self-care makes good sense. We understand its importance on an intellectual level. But taking action is different. For real change to take place, you've got to dig deep and answer, "What is my highest vision for myself, and am I willing to do what's necessary to get there? Am I willing — when necessary — to put myself first?"
Recently, two of my girlfriends took extended breaks from their families while their husbands were traveling with their young kids. When I ran into them during their time alone, they were absolutely glowing. They had a sense of levity, vitality, and joy that I hadn't witnessed in a long time. It wasn't that they were leading miserable lives or didn't love being around their kids, but the break helped them recharge, reconnect to their essence, and enjoy the incredible gifts that come from listening — and responding — to our needs.
When was the last time you took a break from your family and from being a parent — whether it was for thirty minutes or three days?
Take a moment to think about some of the reasons that self-care is important for you. How would you benefit by making time for it? Be specific, and use the list below as inspiration, particularly when you feel pressured to forgo self-care or too exhausted to follow through. Over the years of leading retreats and women's circles, I've seen and experienced a number of benefits:
We feel more generous and can avoid building resentments toward others who demand our energy and time.
We validate and honor our own worth, which in turn enhances true confidence and self-esteem.
We feel alive and whole, so we are able to function at our best and do all the things we want to do.
We renew and restore our energy and create energy reserves so we're able to weather unforeseen challenges more easily.
We feel more loving and gentle toward ourselves, which helps us to be more present and calm and to respond wisely, intuitively, and effectively in any circumstance.
We own our personal power and begin to realize our potential; the more self-accepting we become, the more self-assured we are.
We feel more loving and playful, which makes us better friends, partners, and parents and more fun to be around!
We experience heightened well-being and vitality.
The journey to making self-care a priority and understanding how life altering it can be is an evolutionary process. It takes time. Society often equates self-care with selfishness, and undoing this judgment within oneself usually happens gradually.
Each of us must make a huge paradigm shift to make self-care an everyday practice. I grew up with a mother who suffered from depression and struggled constantly with low self-worth and self-esteem, and this has motivated me to make self-care an important part of my life so I can model this behavior for my son. I want him to see the value of practicing self-care and how it can positively impact how he feels about himself and others.
Late one afternoon, when he was seven years old, my son called out to me from his bedroom, "Come play with me, Mom." I paused for a minute as I walked out of my home office and stopped at his doorway; various responses crossed my mind before I landed in my truth: "Not right now, sweetie. I had a really hard day and need to take a few minutes for myself before we begin making dinner." He looked up at me, sighed, and went back to reading his book. As I headed to my room to rest, I remembered Audre Lorde and thought, Self-care isn't an act of selfishness, it's self-preservation, and it's as vital as oxygen is to my well-being. I allowed myself to exhale and release any residue of guilt.
For a brief moment, I imagined my son as a college student, an adult, a lover, a husband, a father. He would need to practice self-care when he grew into all those roles, not only for himself, but for all the people in his life.
HOW SELF-CARE AFFECTS OUR PARENTING
One of the biggest benefits of a self-care practice is that it supports us in being more present with our partner and children. When we're present with those around us, we're able to experience openness, connection, joy, playfulness, spontaneity, compassion, empathy, gratitude, wisdom, and enhanced communication.
In Slowing Down to the Speed of Life, authors Richard Carlson and Joseph Bailey share that several serious consequences follow when your tank is empty, you're out of sync with your needs, and you're engaging in busy-minded, speeded-up parenting. To quote their book:
"You become habitually reactive instead of responsive
You take negative behavior personally rather than seeing the innocence
Little events become front-page news
You miss the good times
You lose sight of your compassion
You expect too much from your children"
We live in a 24/7 culture that is manically focused on multitasking and productivity. Most of us were never taught that being is just as important as doing. Slowing down and cultivating an appreciation for "being" is a new orientation. But ultimately, don't we all want to teach our kids that we value who they are over what they do?
Becoming attuned to your needs and what feeds you and creating space to nurture yourself don't happen overnight. Once you taste the benefits of self-care, however, you begin to appreciate the payoffs. Eventually, your mindset changes: you schedule time for self-nurturing just as you schedule doctor or dentist appointments. You discover that self-care is integral to your emotional survival and that you are wiser and more effective in all areas of your life when you take time to fill your cup first.
Jennifer, a self-employed writer and mom to twins, shared with me: "The other night at dinner my husband commented on how much more relaxed and joyful I seemed since I had started exercising and taking 'journaling dates.' And since I started taking time for me, I also feel more generous and playful with my kids. Connecting with my needs has had a big impact on my parenting."
The changes Jennifer made in her life inspired her husband to focus on his self-care, and now he takes guitar classes every Wednesday night. Jennifer uses that evening to connect with other moms whose partners also claim Wednesday night for their solo dates. The women have dubbed these regular dinners out with the kids the "Wednesday Night Dinner Club"; everyone now looks forward to and relishes these weekly community gatherings.
When we practice self-care, sometimes our parenting starts to look different than we may have been trained to expect. As we begin to make self-care a priority, it's important to cultivate self-acceptance and, when needed, to practice "good is good enough" parenting. For myself, as a recovering perfectionist and control freak, I slowly came to realize that working on releasing self-critical thoughts and easing my unreasonably high expectations of myself — particularly regarding parenting and motherhood — were the kindest form of self-care possible.
When my friend Lisa shared with her mother-in-law, Rose, what she was working on in her self-renewal circle — taking time for self-renewal and reconnecting with her desires and needs — Rose's eyes welled up with tears. She told Lisa, "I wish I had taken time for myself when I was raising my boys. Honestly, I just felt so overwhelmed by all the crazy expectations I placed on myself during that time, it was hard for me to focus on much else. Because of all that, a lot of the time I was depressed, unhappy, and disconnected from myself and my family." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Nurturing the Soul of Your Family by Renée Peterson Trudeau. Copyright © 2013 Renée Peterson Trudeau. Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
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