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Self-Care for Mothers

Written by Jane Sheppard   
Monday, 01 March 2010 00:00
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Of all the problems of modern life, few are more pervasive than stress. Stress and fatigue are signals that you are not giving enough to yourself. Stress can cause a wide variety of ailments and serious diseases, including allergies, pain and heart attacks. I’ve taught a course in stress management, so I know how to deal with it. I’m the first person to lovingly tell others to take care of themselves. I used to manage my own stress by meditating, getting massages, hiking in nature and taking plenty of time for myself.

Then I became a mother.

Being a single mother and the sole provider for the two of us, I focused on just two things—my daughter and making a living. I had a home business, a busy massage therapy practice…and not enough hours in the week. Taking care of myself didn’t even enter the picture. Merely knowing that I needed to take time for myself wasn’t enough. The trick was to figure out how to do it and still meet the needs of my daughter and pay the bills. When my daughter was two, I received a frightening wake-up call: My body gave out. I had so much pain in my neck and shoulder that I could barely function. I found myself completely drained, in a state of deep exhaustion from lack of sleep. I was alarmed: How would we survive if I couldn’t work?

A Healing Crisis

Recognizing the severity of the situation, I realized that if I was to get any rest, I had to get away, even if only for one night. I was amazed at how easy it was to arrange. It took about 20 minutes and a few phone calls to set up babysitting and a mini-retreat. I drove my tired body to a remote cabin in the forest only 20 miles away. There was a hot tub, a sauna, a pool, a comfortable bed and, best of all, peace and tranquility. I also arranged a massage and an acupuncture treatment for myself. Basically, all I could do at the cabin was sleep and rest—something I couldn’t do at home. I had to actually step out of my life for about 30 hours—30 wonderful hours of no work, and no taking care of anyone but myself.

How many times have you wanted to get away to a little retreat, but gave it up because it didn’t seem possible? Perhaps your baby or toddler isn’t ready to be away from you all night: Partial-day retreats can be just as wonderful. Or you can take naps with your baby or begin to do regular infant massage. Giving a massage can be as relaxing and nurturing for you as it is for your baby. The point is to make it a priority to carve out time for relaxation whenever you can. We must regularly do the things that foster peace and serenity in our daily lives. We must turn off the noise and fuss that has become so common. Unless we regularly take care of ourselves, our bodies will call for attention. Ignored, that call will turn into a scream—a scream that manifests as pain or disease. Once things are at that point, everyone suffers, including our children.

My own breakdown would never have happened if I’d listened to my body’s signals and allowed myself some regular rest and relaxation. If I had been receiving one or two massages a month, I might not have needed three in one week, plus acupuncture. The retreat was exactly what I needed, but it would have been better if I’d been doing it periodically with joy, instead of waiting for an emergency when I could barely move.

Yes, our children need us to be there for them, wholly and completely. But we need to be whole and complete in order to take care of them. We need to be happy and healthy before we can have happy, healthy children. We can’t teach our children how to be healthy without modeling it ourselves, nor can we look to anyone else to make us healthy. Health practitioners or doctors can assist us in the healing process, but true health must come from deep within ourselves. This is our responsibility. True holistic health means to be sound and vibrantly well on all levels of being—physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.