Reader, let’s talk about self-care. I’ve hesitated to title this piece, because, really, all of us need self-care — not just writers and parents. And some of us especially need self-care — those who work in professions where the needs and well-being of others are a primary concern: educators, child-care workers, doctors and nurses, spiritual directors, and so on down the line. But because I’m a writer and a parent, that’s the experience I can write from. Feel free to take what you can from this post and apply it to whatever life you live.
What is self-care? The word self comes from the Old English word for “one’s own person.” The word care comes from the Old English for “be anxious, grieve, feel concern or interest.” Let’s say, then, that self-care means to feel concern or interest for oneself.
You’ve heard the phrase, If mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy? Yeah. Pretty much true, and to be fair, I think the same is true for daddies. As parents, the fruits of our labors won’t be ripe for decades; and, indeed, our labors can only influence so much. Also, nobody is giving out promotions and raises to the parents of the world — there are few signposts that say, You’re doing great! Keep up the good work! Because parenthood is an emotionally demanding and long-term task, it’s important to keep our buckets full by taking good care of ourselves. As for writers: we work alone; we work with our inner critics’ voices whispering in our ears (I’ve named mine Spiteful Gillian just for fun); our work gets rejected nine times out of ten; ours is a long apprenticeship. Again, a little TLC seems called for here. I’ve learned the hard way that self-care is not an indulgence but a survival skill. Here are some thoughts about how to take good care of oneself:
move your body And move it, preferably, out of your usual environment. I’m not a big worker-outer, but lately I’ve been going for a brisk walk each morning. I also happen to have a day-job (motherhood) that requires a lot of physical effort (chop, dice, slice, juggle, wipe up, fold, sweep, you get the idea). What I’ve learned is that, when we dwell in our bodies for a while, sometimes the thing we’ve been wrestling with — the right word for line 10 of the sonnet, the best way to help the absentminded 10yo learn to remember things — will loosen itself out of one’s intuitive space and announce itself.
eat well Yeah, yeah, I’m talking about the food pyramid, nine servings of fruits and veggies a day, sufficient calcium, and all that. But I’m also talking about eating things that will feed your soul. Your favorite dinner from when you were a kid. Warm oatmeal cookies. And, yes, I’m going to say it: gravy, people! It’s called comfort food for a reason — yes, dinner can actually make you feel tended, comforted. Treat yourself.
get enough rest Do I sound like your mother yet? Well, she was right. The parents in the readership will recall (or, perhaps, are living through) the sleep-deprived years of babies and toddlers. We were dumb, for years. We fell asleep in the hair salon chair. We ran red lights (oops). None of us are at our best without enough rest. Special note for those of you still living through the sleep-deprived years, your mother was also right when she said, Sleep when the baby sleeps. Just sayin’.
talk nice to yourself (excuse my poor grammar) I just went out to the kitchen to refill my coffee, and here’s what I said to myself, “Oh, Molly, your kitchen floor is an embarrassment.” Would I say that to a friend? No, I would not. I would, instead, say, “Look at this lady’s floor — she is obviously a wonderful person who has many people tracking through her kitchen and gathered around her table, and she’s not afraid to show it!” We’re raised to treat others the way we’d like to be treated. Let me add: treat yourself the way you’d treat a cherished friend.
do something nice for yourself I’m talking about stopping to smell the roses, or if you’re in the Bay Area right now, may I recommend the freesia? I’m talking about taking a nice soak in the tub, putting your feet up for a half-hour, taking a break to listen to your favorite music. Are you the type that thrives on silence? Treat yourself to some today. Do you get energized in the buzz of a crowded room? Go out with friends sometime soon. At one time, I had a goal for myself to do something nice for myself every Thursday. Then it dawned on me: Hello!? Once a week is not enough! Put it on your to-do list: do something nice for yourself today.
ask for help We Americans are supposed to be all self-sufficient and all that. Of course, none of us are. Yes, sometimes we have to pull ourselves up by our boot straps. Other times, we need to ask for help. Sometimes we need physical help: dear son, please fold this basket of towels; dear friend, could you grab some milk and T.P. for me when you’re at the store today? Sometimes we need emotional help: dear friend, will you imagine my future book on your bookshelf?; dear spouse, tell me I’m a good-enough mother. In the emotional help department, I also keep a file called Encouragement. That is where I file little notes that say nice things about me and/or my writing. When I’m discouraged, I open that file and read it out loud, and sure enough I start feeling better.
It’s Monday, Reader. The start of a new week. What can you do today, tomorrow, the next day, and all week, to take good care of yourself?