The concept of self-care is still riddled with the attitude of it being self-indulgent and selfish. We often champion the idea that putting others before ourselves is something to aspire to, and perhaps there is nowhere that this is more pronounced than with mothers, who are applauded and celebrated when ‘putting the children first’.
The thing is that most of us know that we learn so much more by example rather than by being told – so the natural extrapolation of this is that if we look down on the activity of self-care, we are creating a framework that says:
- Don’t respond to, or respect how we feel
- Don’t listen to what our body is telling us at any given time
- Push through in disregard of ourselves to take care of others.
There is one super simple point which is played out all too frequently: if we do not take care of ourselves, there comes a point when we are not in a position to care for others, either because we have become unwell or because we have imploded with the resentment of martyrdom.
So, not taking loving care of ourselves is actually, perversely maybe, an abdication of responsibility. And again, nowhere perhaps is this more keenly felt than in parenthood, which is the foundation upon which our children grow. If we do not take responsibility for ourselves, we often feed a social framework of victimhood and expecting other people to solve the mess we get ourselves into – either through driving ourselves to ill-health or blaming others for our conditions or circumstances.
As an experiment and moment of self-study, I tried this exercise: I took one thing I did in my everyday that I could identify as taking care of myself – over time it included super simple and ‘mundane’ things, like brushing my teeth, putting cream on, getting dressed, boiling the kettle, cooking etc. – and I gave it a bit more attention. I asked myself, “Is this just a perfunctory habit… getting things done, or is there more to it? And is there space for deeper care, observation and self-respect in this task?” Over a period of a week, I simply clocked what was going on:
- Distracted, or present with myself?
- Thinking about a multitude of other things?
- Attentive to what I was doing right in that moment?
- Already focusing on what I was going to be doing next?
And over these days, I started to clock if anything was changing.
My experience of doing this has been really profound. In the most mundane, repetitive of tasks I have found extraordinary opportunities to take care and get to know myself on a whole new level. The way I open doors has been a big one. Do I do it in such a way that hurts my hand, or in a way that feeds me back respect, care and tenderness? Maybe the experience is somewhere in between these two, but it is always an opportunity to observe and to learn something.
What I have found as a parent and teacher is that by putting into place basic strategies for self-care, my children and students have stepped up to taking more responsibility for themselves. The knock-on effects are significant.
We have a joke in our family that when I was cold I used to ask the kids to put on jumpers! Well now I dress myself appropriately for the weather and, hey presto, they have taken to doing so too, or running back and getting a jacket or jumper when they step outside and realise it is colder than they thought.
In school, having a bottle of water on my desk and sipping it frequently led to the students all bringing in water bottles and drinking from them regularly too.
It is the really simple things that make a foundational difference and we cannot escape the fact that we have to ‘walk our talk’ for the ‘talk’ to be in any way sincere or inspiring… and when we do, the ‘walk’ does a lot of the ‘talking’. I am certainly inspired by many others in this way.
By Matilda Bathurst, Registered Midwife & Nurse, Teacher and Mother of 3 boys, Hampshire, UK