2017-03-27

How Mothers Can Nurture Themselves

By Amy Tiemann

There is a spark within each of us—I call it our "mojo"—that makes us special as individuals as well as mothers. That spark may simmer down to an ember during demanding phases of parenting, but it is essential to stay in touch with that ember, to protect it, and be prepared to build it back up into a bonfire when the opportunity presents itself. Here are some basic steps busy moms can take to keep that inner spark glowing.

Learn the first self-care tip for mothers.

Amy Tiemann, Ph.D., is the author of "Mojo Mom: Nurturing Your Self While Raising a Family" and founder of www.MojoMom.com.

Fill Your Own Cup

It is essential to tend to your basic needs and avoid burnout. You can build a strong reservoir of energy by "filling your own cup" with enough sleep, good nutrition, and medical care. We moms need to learn to care for ourselves as well as nurture and tend to our children.

I know that sometimes after I've orchestrated my family's breakfast and ushered them out the door in the morning, I truly forget that I have not actually eaten breakfast myself. It is essential to wake up to our lives and make our basic needs as a conscious and well-tended priority.

Taking good care of yourself will also make you a better mother, but it's also important to acknowledge that you deserve to be well-cared for, for your own sake.

Give Yourself Time to Adjust

When you add children to your life, your priorities become guided by a new North Star. Be kind to yourself and understand it will take time to adjust to your life as a mother. Women are often given very unrealistic expectations about motherhood, and the gap between expectation and reality can lead to disappointment. Exhaustion, loneliness, feelings of inadequacy can surface. By realizing that these feelings are normal—typical, if not ideal—you can spare yourself from on piling guilt during this adjustment period.

Reclaim Your Mind Space

Caring for young children is joyful and rewarding, but also time-consuming and often overwhelming. You may feel frustrated that you have very little time to yourself. But you can turn frustration into creative tension by thinking about what you would do if you had a free hour, day, or even weekend to yourself. Make a list: Would you write in a journal, get back to playing the piano, visit a museum, or just take a nap? There is no judgment here. When you have very little free time, your priorities can come into focus. Then, when you can arrange to have the independent time you crave, you’ll know how to invest it wisely.

Allow Interests to Surface

You energy might start flowing in new directions that do not seem productive at first. But if you pay attention, you may learn something interesting about yourself. When my daughter started preschool, I discovered eBay and found myself shopping for movie memorabilia. That may have seemed like a waste of time, but it was a sign that I had enough time to develop a new interest, an impulse that could be channeled more productively. I had uncovered a deep interest in film—and I ended up writing a movie screenplay.

Express Your Creativity

Creativity is an underutilized secret weapon of motherhood. As a mother, you use your creativity when you play make-believe games or do projects with your children. But a few hours of pure creative engagement apart from your family can do a lot to recharge your batteries. I had always wanted to give improvisational comedy a try, and I finally did so by taking an improv class when my daughter was a toddler. Throwing myself into the creative process gave me a sense of freedom and release that I rarely felt in my role as the mother who had to “keep the whole family on track” at home.

Take Small Spiritual Retreats

Every mom needs time for silence and contemplation. Worship communities and spiritual groups may provide the best opportunity for quiet time that parents will experience all week long—and they often provide child care so that parents can truly relax and tend to their own spirits for an hour. I connected with my spiritual journey in a new way after becoming a mother. The relationship with my baby opened up my heart to truly experience unconditional love, and I realized that I was only just beginning to scratch the surface of understanding life’s meaning.

Use Family Teamwork

It’s natural to want to prove ourselves competent as parents, but it’s also worth remembering that a mother’s ultimate task is to send capable young adults into the world. Enlist family teamwork from day one with your partner, and bring the children into the circle of family responsibility as soon as you can. Even little kids can help clean up with a sponge or child-size cleaning tools. Don’t worry about whether they are doing the task perfectly, but encourage progress and participation. Fathers are such an important part of the parenting equation as well. One of my greatest joys as a mother is knowing that I can go away for a week and feel confident that my husband and daughter will be just fine together at home without me.

Build Your Support Network

The older I get, the more I realize that all families will face crises from time to time. It may be as simple as a flat tire that makes you late to school pickup, or as complicated as spouse or elderly parent getting sick and transitioning from being a caregiver to needing care. The key to coping in a crisis is to start developing a wide and deep support system before you actually need it. Who’s on your speed dial? You want to develop a set of close connections you can depend on in a pinch—and know that you would do the same for them. If you feel awkward about asking for help, you can start by offering help to friends as you get to know them better.

Keep Investing in Yourself

I encourage women to take a lifelong view of their personal and professional development. In these days of economic insecurity, every mother needs to be prepared to take her career into her own hands if necessary. If you are currently at home with your kids, you can still keep in touch with your professional contacts, credentials and identity. It can also be a good time to explore new interests that could translate into a job later on. If you are currently in the paid workforce, you may need to carve out time for your personal interests. Motherhood is such a demanding role that it can seem to stretch on forever, but the eye-opening truth is that many of us will live more years as empty-nesters than we spent with our kids at home.

Stay Open to the World

The world needs your leadership. Even if you are overwhelmed with family life and your daily tasks, you can remain open to a calling or cause that speaks to you. As theologian Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Motherhood gives us an understanding of the world’s deep hunger and the capability to fill those needs through our skills, empathy, and leadership. Let your mojo lead the way.

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