What is a good mother? Woman? Partner? Friend? Human? And where did you get those definitions from?
Someone reached out to me recently to share how she was struggling to commit to a consistent yoga practice. She mentioned how, after listening to this episode of The Imperfects with Lael Stone, she recognised the impact that her own mother’s behaviour has had on her. Specifically, she never saw her own mum engage in self-care practices. Consequently, her picture of a ‘good’ mum was one who was always there for her family, who prioritised their needs ahead of her own, who was always cleaning house, and never resting.
Is it any wonder that doing the self-care thing for herself now feels hard?
No! It fully butts heads with her beliefs about what she needs to be and do in order to fulfill that role of ‘good mum’. Oof.
I could just as easily say the same thing for myself. I entered motherhood with a clear idea of what I needed to do to be perfect. It was simple, really: do everything perfectly and do everything myself. You know what that was a recipe for? Me falling flat on my face and hating who I had become.
So let’s break this down a little, shall we?
We have stories - many of them written into our subconscious when we were young - and these stories drive our thinking, which in turn drives our behavior.
One story might read: to be a good mother/person/friend I have to put everyone else's needs above my own. How will this play out when we feel burnt out and resentful? Will it be easy or difficult to do things for ourselves when it might mean other people's needs are not met by us?
The wild thing is this: our beliefs may be out of our conscious awareness. We might even think ‘Oh, self-care is so good and needed and necessary …’ but our actions paint a different picture.
So how can we dig down and uncover what’s there so that we can write a new story?
Here’s a question to ponder:
When you see your peers (the other women, mothers, humans around you) model self-care, how does it make you feel? What thoughts pop up in your mind?
Is it something like ‘Oh I love that! It’s so good to see them nurturing themselves and caring for their needs!’ or is it more along the lines of ‘Must be nice but I could never ...’ ?
For me, it 100% used to be the latter. I was swimming in resentment, exhaustion and overwhelm and when I would see someone else looking after themselves I would think they were selfish. That reaction alone points to some very firm and clear (even if buried) beliefs around what it means to engage in self care. And those beliefs were absolutely contrary to actually engaging in the very behaviour that would support me to feel better. What to do?!
What I want you to know is that there are ways to move towards a more comfortable relationship with self care even if, right now, that feels hard.
What are those steps?
1. DO SOMETHING:
First of all, you need to do something. Remember: as a human being your brain is constantly trying to keep you safe. And trying to keep you safe is almost synonymous with just keeping you the same.
Why? Because if you do the same thing you did yesterday, it's very familiar (and 'safe') even if it's not objectively ‘good’ for you or aligned with where you want to go.
So, in order to do something that moves you toward the relationship with self-care that you want, you have to pick an action that feels just a little beyond your current comfort zone. You can even think of it as straddling your comfort zone if that’s possible: one foot in, one foot out.
You want to do something that feels easy enough to actually do but is different enough from what you've been doing so that it feels like something new. This is the small change: the five minutes of movement, the two minutes of mindful pausing and breathing, the five minute walk around the block.
So, what is one self-care action that feels small enough that you can achieve, but also gets one foot out of your comfort zone?
2. GET CURIOUS ABOUT YOUR BELIEFS:
You also want to be kindly checking in with and questioning those beliefs that keep you treading water. Because until you interrupt those beliefs and start to make new ones, you're going to feel yourself being pulled back into that cycle.
Remember: your beliefs drive your thinking and your thinking drives your behavior.
Some questions you can ask yourself:
Who showed me what self care looked like?
Who showed me what motherhood/parenthood/partnership/friendship looked like?
Do I want to subscribe to that definition now?
If what was demonstrated to me was that to be a good mum/person I had to sacrifice and I had to suffer; do I want that?
And if I don't, what do I want to believe instead?
This is where questioning your beliefs and then doing something come together and help you choose a new direction.
In doing something new, you're laying down new evidence for what is possible.
In questioning those beliefs, you're opening space for new stories to be written; stories that lead you in the direction YOU choose.
It may be uncomfortable and it absolutely will take time.
That's why you meet yourself with compassion; that's when you meet yourself with kindness.
You can say: This feels hard and I am feeling guilty/uncomfortable. It is also important to me that I move in the direction of this new story I’m carving for myself. So, I'm going to do this thing, and I'm going to meet myself with compassion in the discomfort. I'm going to lay down new evidence of what is possible for me.
Keep going through that process knowing it takes time, persistence and a commitment to your own wellbeing.
Here’s to you writing a new story; one that champions you taking care of yourself.
Want help with this? I offer 1-1 counselling sessions to help you move toward the relationship with yourself (and self-care) that you so desire. You can learn more about working with me here. I’d love to support you.