It's Mother's day and today is all about celebrating and showing appreciation for Mums everywhere. How we show appreciation varies immensely but what matters is that we tell our Mums that we love them.
As a Mum, I look forward to Mother's day a lot every year, not only because it's a day the children make a big effort to spoil me, but it's one of the few days in the year that I do nothing. Yep, nothing. I don't lift a finger at home, unless of course I'm spoiling my Mum! But usually I'm off duty which means no cooking, no cleaning, no washing up, and definitely no laundry and it's always a great day. By declaring myself off duty and sticking to it, I realised that it's another form of self care, not only through the lack of action but honoring the decision to take a break.
How often do we honour ourselves in ways that help us to recharge and nourish our minds bodies and spirits? Probably not enough. 98% of the ladies who attend Space Retreats say that they occasionally or never take time for themselves which is a scary number. It does make me feel a bit better though as I did wonder in the past if I was the only one who found Motherhood all consuming at the expense of ourselves.
Today's Mama Power - Selfcare is vital as a Mum and a woman and who better to share her experiences of motherhood and self care than Suzy Reading, author and Physchologist.
Suzy is Contributing editor at Psychologies Magazine, a chartered psychologist, yoga teacher and author of The Self Care Revolution. Suzy is Mum to Charlotte who's 7 and Teddy who's 3.
What’s been your experience of motherhood – your triumphs and challenges?
Motherhood has tested me like no other chapter of my life and I am very open about the fact that I really struggled. It’s hard to tease apart the variables that made it just so tough – motherhood for me collided with the terminal illness of my father. I still don’t know whether it was grief, exhaustion or postnatal depression and with the passing of time, I feel a label isn’t personally helpful. I was just a normal, fallible human being doing her best to cope with an extremely taxing and painful set of circumstances. I think anyone in my shoes would’ve felt the same. Charlotte was born a week after my dad had a breathing failure and those seven days of last goodbyes followed by giving birth left me energetically bankrupt. It took me about two years to claw my way back to feeling vital and abundant and the silver lining to all that suffering was discovering the therapeutic power of self-care.
I’ll never forget posing for a photo, gently cradling my abdomen, 40 weeks pregnant, when a runner passing by called out ‘remember this moment when they’re crying at 2am’… I was so shocked at her remark but 7 years later I get what she was trying to do. At the time I thought how cruel it was to burst my bubble, but with the lens of experience, I think she was just trying to flag that moment of joy and desire, to help me remember my ‘why’. And we need to feel that purpose burning brightly because motherhood is damn tough! It’s relentless, noisy, chaotic and overwhelmingly stimulating. I don’t think anything else can truly prepare you for it.
I found the reality so jarring with my anticipation that when it came time to consider another baby, I referred to it as ‘round two’, like it was some kind of boxing match. And perhaps it is! It’s a test of endurance because motherhood is a long game. They don’t just need us when they’re a baby, they need us as toddlers, teens and my mum would say they need you just as much as they grow into adults too. I’ll be honest, while I wanted another child, I was scared of having another baby. Second time around it was hard, and again it is hard to pinpoint why because the variables were remarkably similar to life when Charlotte was born. We moved to the UK from Sydney when I was twelve weeks pregnant, to be with my father in law in end stage heart failure. Having had the privilege of being with my father for his last chapter I didn’t want my husband to miss out on that experience and it was magical that Teddy did get to meet his grandfather. But once again we were thrown into the chaos of mourning life while celebrating new life AND trying to build a new one for our family.
I am proud to say that we all weathered these challenges and that I can talk about these experiences in past tense. Second time around motherhood still tested me but with a strong self-care toolkit and the love and support of people around me, my energy bank faired so much better!
What led you to focus on Self care and eventually write a book on the topic?
I’m a chartered psychologist and yoga teacher and I spent a decade working as a personal trainer and health coach – self-care is the concept that draws all these different modalities together! But it was my life experience that really showed me how vitally important self-care is and that experience of energetic bankruptcy facilitated some key learnings – that no one is immune from life’s challenges and that even people with vast resources at their disposal can be traumatised and floored by life. I learnt that if you don’t nourish yourself you are generally pretty poor at tending to those in your care. I also learnt that I’m not alone in self-care falling away when I needed it the most – this is what I’ve seen countless times in my consulting room. Right when we need it the most, during periods of stress, loss and change, self-care falls away because we are too time and energy poor, our usual means of nourishment become inaccessible and we lack the creativity and resourcefulness to come up with new ways, and guilt looms large. I have also seen and experienced myself the potent upward spiral of positivity when we begin to engage in small acts of self-care – one healthy choice tends to lead to another and as our mood and energy is lifted, we lift up those around us.
Self-care gives us the means to cope during times of great challenge, helps us heal from those same experiences and provides a protective buffer against the next curve ball. Self-care is also the means by which we become the kind of people we aspire to be. I have seen the true transformative power of self-care, having made that the focus of my psychological practice for the last 5 years and writing a book seemed to be the most effective way of empowering more people with the tools of self-nourishment. I am so encouraged by the feedback from my readers saying that the Vitality Wheel, my framework of self-care, is making a tangible difference to their wellbeing and the quality of their days
How would you say self-care has helped you as a Mum?
Self-care has helped to soothe and heal my frazzled nervous system and if you aspire to be calm, patient and present as a mother, this is essential. My self-care practice has helped put me back together following chronic stress and daily commitment to it keep me energetically topped up so I am best placed to cope with future stresses. If you think about the qualities you aspire to possess as a mother, self-care gives you a fighting chance of being that person! I also want to raise resilient and compassionate kids and they need me to teach them the tools of self-care. Self-care truly is the ultimate win win.
What would you say to your pre-mum self now?
Write down your self-care toolkit! Get really creative with ways that you can nourish yourself that take little time or energy and do this before your cherub arrives. Don’t just think about it, write it down, because after 4 months of sleeping for no more than 3 hours at a stretch you will NOT be able to think straight. You’ll need that toolkit to refer to, to inspire you with some form of nurturing so you can keep going and keep giving. Keep the basics going – eat not just for your physical body but for your mood, move for mental health, connect with people to feed the soul. Sleep when you can and in the absence of good sleep, rest, and in the absence of time and space to rest, BREATHE. Get skilled in the art of practices that will soothe and heal your nervous system – you’ll find these in my book The Self-Care Revolution. And when guilt rears its head, as it will, use the mantra it’s not me “first” it’s me “as well”.
Finally, what would be your top 3 self care tips for Mums this Mother's Day?
1. What everyday tasks or activities can you turn into self-care? Is there something you're already doing that you could imbue with a little more tenderness and nourishment? Is there a meal you could savour or could you turn your morning shower into a mindful one where you appreciate the scents and sensations rather than ruminating on worries or your to do list. This is how we make self-care do-able.
2. No time for self-care? Try using a mantra. Two favourites for mummies:
'I have all the time I need' And 'I appreciate me'
3. No energy for self-care? Lie down with your legs up the wall for 5 mins, feel the sensation of your breathing and surrender to gravity. This is deeply restorative for your nervous system.
To find out more about Suzy visit www.suzyreading.com or follow her on Instagram @suzyreading. Suzy will also be on the Mam Power Panel at The All Mothered Up event and will also be hosting a group Yoga sessions and one to one sessions.