There's a massive housing construction project going on at the end of my block. It's nearly finished, but no one has moved in yet. It's “funny” timing for a therapist and new mom as I, too, feel more whole lately. Though I have loved watching the many-colored buildings rise, and I am looking forward to more vibrancy in my neighborhood, I am also a little scared of the unknown.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, the excavation work began. There was much digging deep and heavy lifting. I was at work most of the time, so my attention was split in several directions, but I kept an eye on the progress closely. In the first, fragile weeks after my daughter was home, a delicate looking wooden frame arose from the dust, reaching toward the sky. And shortly after that, cement trucks rumbled noisily down our block, heading to pour a foundation. I walked around the new development yesterday in the eerie quiet as the tall buildings loomed, and thought of the work of the many people involved, and of the work of parenthood. This is all my long, therapist-y way of introducing some of my ideas about self-care for new parents. Even the most humble, tedious work we do with our children becomes massive in scope and scale with time, meant to live long after we do and do more than we are able to. This is the context in which I want us to think about self-care.
The concept of self-care seems deceptively simple. Make time for yourself. Take a long, hot bath. Have a piece of dark chocolate. Lovely and highly recommended things to do at any time of life, but in those early, help build a whole new brain days (both baby and parent, sometimes!) dark chocolate doesn't usually cut it. I like to think of self-care as a mindset that we matter. And that our mattering matters to everyone who matters to us. I found this quote in a wonderful essay this week:
“These days, our conversation on parenting seems focused on creating the perfect world for our children. We talk about how to balance their meals and manage their screen time, how to maximize their achievement at school and make them feel special at home. I wish that we talked more about how we tend to our own selves as parents, about how we sustain ourselves in the midst of unending demands. There are so many ways we can tend to our children—that work will never be done. But I’ve convinced myself that to love my children wholly I need to be whole. Being whole means that I too require tending, not just once a month or twice a week but every single day.” -Jennifer Berney
Often, in early parenthood, this kind of self-care isn't easy or pleasurable. It's telling your partner you need a break, knowing that they probably do, too. It's allowing yourself to be more vulnerable than you may be comfortable with so that you can be honest about how life really is for you at this specific moment, and tuning out every voice that says things “should be” different. It's okay to need tenderness, too, when doing such tender work. It's both planning and organizing and scheduling so that there's time to eat a warm dinner and also just giving ourselves grace and compassion at the end of a long day.
For a more concrete self-care start (as these are the basics), here's a tool that I like for all brand new parents, not just moms, even though it says “mom” in the title:
Have I eaten enough nutritious food today?
Have I slept at least 5 hours, or taken a nap?
Have I bathed or showered today?
Have I exercised at least 10 minutes today?
Have I had at least 10 minutes of quiet time for reflection and renewal today?
Have I let myself laugh today?
Have I let others help me today?
Have I kissed my baby and told him/her “I love you” today?
Have I talked to at least one adult today about how I‘m doing today (not just about the baby)
Have I forgiven myself for mistakes today?
Copyright Sherry J. Duson, 2001
As our children and communities grow and learn and stretch, we do too. It takes years of work and care and planning to build both the buildings we live and work in and the people in our lives. And doing that with the utmost care for ourselves in the process is life and world-changing.
See how much you matter?!