Disclaimer: This post is not at all meant to discredit mental health struggles or illnesses or to say that depression = laziness. Just to be super clear… If you find yourself frozen in inactivity or mentally unable to accomplish basic self care, please reach out for help to a professional or a friend who can assist you with finding help.
In Motherhood (Part I), I challenged us to “slow down, examine our methods and try again each day for love of the people around us.” But I find that I can hardly make any headway on goals related to productivity when I’m in a sour mood, tired, hungry, depressed, or lonely. So, I think an essential part of our “method” is looking at how we care for ourselves. There are plenty of other bloggers and professionals out there who can make nutrition, sleep, and exercise recommendations. So, I’ll let you read those there. I want to focus instead on what we do with our “leisure” (or at least our stolen moments.)
Let me tell you about a pernicious little pattern I fall into…
Let’s imagine that I’ve had a long day (and it’s like 10:45am). The kids seem to be playing joyfully with mud and sticks and though I have some serious scrub downs in my future, they are happy, so maybe I’ll take a moment to breathe.
Voice of Guilt: “A break?!? You’ve got to be kidding me. You still have not cleaned the breakfast dishes, which by the way probably could have been done by your children if you had trained them better. And you need to gather those library books that are overdue. And you have created paths through all the bedrooms upstairs like a deer because your baby and toddler are obsessed with distributing clothing everywhere …
Tired bit of myself: What I could really use is a shower, but I can’t leave the kids unsupervised. A cup of tea (have I even had anything to drink yet today?) and a book sounds like a nice second.
Actual course of action: Go to the computer to renew the library books and get a little more grace on those … and then check the news … and Facebook … and Pinterest … and begin to research leather processing methods and where do red foxes vs. grey foxes live anyways?
So, I move from guilt vs. self care to avoidance. This is not healthy or holy, for me or for my family. And I know that the more lonely I feel the easier it is to take this path.
By the time 40 minutes of my life has disappeared into a black hole that only promises a vague sense of connection, humor, intellectual stimulation, and escape in return (and often fails to deliver even that), I do not feel ready to face the mud and rambunctious requests for lunch that stampede me at the door.
If I had tackled a task, at least I would feel a little more accomplished, even if I was tired. But what I really needed was a little self-care.
Ladies, self-care looks quite different from one stage of motherhood to another.
Sometimes, self-care is just making sure you’re somewhat clean, fed, and hydrated. And the 2-10 minute snatches to do that are golden. You may not feel like yourself during these seasons because there is little time or energy for professional pursuits and hobbies or for cultivating much at all beyond the physical level of sustaining life and sanity. As I reminded a friend lately, these are seasons of “becoming,” and like a caterpillar in chrysalis, sometimes we are literally unmade down to our most basic elements so that we can become the beautiful creation we were intended to be. God can do astounding things in your heart if you listen during these times; though, often you’ll only notice the difference after you emerge from the desert. (More on that in the next post).
My oldest two are 8 & nearly 6, and it is a different stage of motherhood. Showers are still less frequent than I may prefer, but they happen with regularity as do meals. And I have time for some reading, writing, community investment, and hobbies again. This would have looked like a luxury to me a couple years ago. And yet, it’s still busy. And I have to be careful not to listen to those who have a different life path and priorities and can’t picture a sane life that doesn’t include manicures, concerts, travel, take out, whole days to oneself or girl trips to the beach, and copious amounts of wine and coffee.
No one knows what you need better than you do. And we are meant to enjoy that self-care with a sense of gratitude and peaceful rejuvenation–not guilt as if it were a sinful pleasure (umm, assuming your activities are not actually sinful or something).
[I’m using both terms self-care and leisure because self-care is probably broader in covering physical needs as well as spiritual/intellectual nourishment and leisure is more specifically oriented toward culture, crafting, play, companionship, etc.]
Here’s a hint: if it doesn’t change you for the better, it’s probably not the best form of leisure/self-care for you. It may just be an avoidance trap to dull the unpleasantness of the moment OR a form of self-care or indulgence that you’re doing to “keep up” with someone else who is in a different season of life than you are.
I also find that it helps to communicate about times of leisure when your husband is home. It makes a big difference for us if we have the politeness to say, “Hey, is it ok if I grab a shower quickly?” or “Do you mind if I spend an hour working on this project?” That way, we can tag team kid supervision, and the on-duty spouse doesn’t feel like the other “escaped” or “dumped the kids on them” or “doesn’t want to be with me right now.” It’s a real gift as spouses to help each other work and to help each other rest. And various personalities may need different things. My introverted husband needs time alone to focus on his projects; I would rather do mine with him nearby most of the time. I crave deep conversation; he’s often happy just being present to each other and connecting briefly about the day. We really love having time that’s just for the two of us in the evenings, but sometimes a little individual self-care is needed for us to even be energized enough for quiet leisure together. Find balance. Communicate needs. And be patient if it takes a while to figure this out.
I encourage you to fight discouragement through a little self-care and leisure. You might be amazed how much more prepared you feel to face the more mundane tasks of the day and to “love others as you love yourself.”
Dear Jesus, I feel very little and very weak today. I get distracted and lost when you have my filled my hands with blessings. Help me to work with focus, relax with joy and gratitude, and care for the life that you have given me. Please give me the strength to see myself as you see me–beloved and chosen. And grant me the purity of heart and wisdom to respond to Your love. Amen.
Want to know what else is coming in this mini-series?
Part III: The Home–A place of fasting
Part IV: The Home–A place of celebration
Picture credit: Beatrix Potter [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
It seemed apropos since Peter was more interested in satisfying his curiosity than in picking blackberries, which is a perfectly lovely, peaceful activity and more satisfying for true enjoyment than any old veggies he could steal.