The conundrum of self care. If there was one common predicament for every mother I have ever encountered it’s “and when do I find time for myself?”
When I became pregnant I began to fear losing all the quiet, stillness, solitude, and contemplative time I relied on to feel grounded, content, and inspired. In retrospect, I think my dependence on these things was actually a hinderance, a state of being that kept me from so many truths, feelings, ideas, and growth. But it was comfortable, and sometimes that just feels really nice! I put all of these “activities” under the umbrella of my “spiritual practice” and set out to integrate them into my life as a mother. How could I marry the two seemingly disparate acts of spirituality - perceived by me to be more solitary, quiet, still, mediative, slow - and the reality of motherhood - which from my vantage is a relentless, chaotic, constant motion, juggling act. I have struggled till this point to integrate them, to understand the new expression these two polarities make. I made the common mistake of trying to bring in the old ways, to carve out time for stillness, silence, and contemplation in my new life, but it always felt less than enough for me to get back to what I once knew. However, now I’m finding that it’s not about having those moments of solitude (don’t get me wrong, that is important to a degree, just not in the way I thought), and frankly it cant be because the reality for me is that motherhood is inherently crunched for time and personal space.
I was in therapy the other day and we were discussing the fact that I had realized that I am a bit of a “control freak” and I feel like it’s a major hinderance to me just enjoying life, especially with Rowen. I find that there are many moments throughout our day where Rowen’s behavior derails my sense of centeredness, I go into a sort of anxiety attack and try to flee the situation as quickly as possible. Here’s an example: we are working on potty training, that in and of itself has many anxious moments for me, but specifically when Rowen actually does go in his little potty he likes to help by dumping his pee into the toilet and then climbing onto the toilet to then rinse his potty before putting it away. Adorable and totally empowering for him, not to mention helpful! But, anxious mommy struggles with this as he decides to bang his potty on the toilet several times to get out every last drop (i.e. urine sprayed across the toilet and the wall). I feel my chest constrict, my breathing shortens and my brain says “let’s get the hell out of here!” as if the toilet might explode. I rush him through his process and we flee the bathroom to the safety of the living room where I can attempt to relax from that experience. Whew, that was a close one!
Situations like this can happen several times an hour (on a bad day!), which means I am generally in a constricted anxiety state or attempting to recover from one for much of the day. Not the experience of my body or my world I want to be in, to say the least. So this brings me to my point, which my glorious therapist offered up to me. It’s not about scraping together the crumbs of the little time or space I do have to tend to myself in order to restore a sense of homeostasis. It’s about learning how to care for those manifestations of anxiety simultaneously with the life situation that is triggering them. Self care happens in mothering. The two realities, inner and outer, exist in the same moment and can each be tended in that moment. So as I’m explaining to Rowen why we don’t bang the potty on the toilet and wiping up the sprayed pee I am also breathing deep into my belly, bringing a spacious awareness to the areas that feel constricted and gently reminding my nervous system (which is a beautiful but nonetheless archaic system) that there is no real threat here. Mothering AND Self Care in the exact same moment. It was a revelation. This is the third way. Now I’m off to practice tending toddlers and sensitive mommy hearts concurrently. Wish me luck!