As a mother, some of my favorite daily moments are when I’m laying with my babies at night while I put them to bed. I see them so still. I hear their unique breathing patterns, patterns that are just their own. I see the tiny freckles on their faces, freckles that will never be repeated the same on another human face. I move the hair away from their faces and feel their soft skin. Their skin is changing all the time. It’s skin the has changed from baby skin to toddler skin, from toddler skin to little boy skin. I love how their becoming more of who they were created to be. I see my oldest son’s superpower which is empathy for people. He feels things deeply. He also is starting to recognize that the world doesn’t always celebrate this in men, I notice when he tries to swallow his empathy to be tough. I see his desire to please and his big, curious brainy brain. God made him by design and he’s a beautiful person. I see my younger son’s super power which is grit. I see his authentic self confidence that was there even as a toddler. I see his desire to share his own voice, a voice that is different from his big brother. His personal character is so strong, he leads naturally because he’s already so comfortable with who he is as a unique person. God made him by design and he’s a beautiful. Within moments of gazing at these tiny humans (that I grew myself, no big deal, no recipe or instruction manual needed, I just made them from scratch), I feel like I can see right into their heart. In return, my own heart feels like it will burst of love, like and pride for my boys. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the thought and creativity that went into their blueprint. The architect made no mistakes in designing who they are and the gifts they bring to the world.
As a mother, there’s nothing more important to me than to love and care for these boys. To do everything I can to nurture them into exactly who they were meant to be. I love them so much that I want to model for them how to take great care of themselves. I invest in learnings, experiences and things that will help them grow spiritually, intellectually and physically. Then I do the obvious things to make sure thew are well cared for, I make sure they are well rested, well fed, and well exercised (God knows these kiddos have energy to burn). No one would ever question me for caring for these sweet boys until they are old enough to care for themselves. However, I have experienced real and perceived judgement for caring for myself in the same way. Who am I to prioritize my health? Who am I to prioritize my rest? Who am I to prioritize my happiness? The world sends messages like “your care most come after everyone else’s care. Otherwise you aren’t a good woman.” The world reinforces an inner dialogue “if you care for yourself, you aren’t caring for other people.” It’s such a lie.
In January of 2020, I didn’t set my normal New Year’s resolutions. I didn’t have a weight loss goal. I didn’t have a financial goal. I had one thing that I wanted to improve in 2020, my goal was to grow my self-love and self-care. I was working on seeing myself the way God sees me. That was going well. I was reminding myself every day. I was appreciating who I saw in the mirror. But was I really loving myself if I wasn’t also taking care of myself? It was time to make self-care a priority.
As it turns out self-care wasn’t a check the box type of resolution. The world wants to sell you self-care. But no one knows what you need to care for yourself except for you. Self-care isn’t a spa day that you do once a year. There isn’t a breakfast and lunch high protein whole-foods shake for that. There isn’t a 30 day guided journal for that. There isn’t a hand-crafted artisan designed piece of jewelry that is engraved with the right words to remind you of that. There isn’t a multilevel marketing firm that is selling real self-love and self-care on a monthly service renewal program.
I needed to slow down and really listen to myself. On days that I felt most like myself, when I felt most happy, when I was living in alignment with my Values, what was I doing? How can I recreate my best days. This take some time to do, and for me it’s constantly getting tweaked (even after I reviewed my list, I added one that felt important). I’m not at point of arrival by any stretch of the imagination but I can tell you that I started by listening to what I needed? How can I take care of myself so that I’m happy and living in alignment with my values. I started to take care of myself like I took care of the other people I loved. I made sure I carved out time for myself. I made sure I took care of my body because I loved it. I made sure my self-talk was positive. I made sure I had things to look forward to. I made sure I had fun. It was intentional work. I got to know myself and learned what I needed and then I took care of myself. At the very beginning of Covid, I created a check list to make sure I was doing the things that I knew helped me to love and care for myself.
I started doing these things and guess what, no one was neglected. No one died of starvation or thirst. I’m not sure anyone even noticed. Some days when I’d miss my early morning alarm clock and have to make it up after work, I’d tell Mike “I’m going to work out quick and then we’ll get dinner going.” Or I’d say “I’m going to get in a quick work out before we leave for basketball.” At first, I felt like I needed to ask permission to do these things. I felt like I was really putting him or the boys out. As it turns out, they didn’t even notice. They say “sounds good.” It was as if they expected me all along to take care of myself. Duh!
There are plenty of days where I can’t check everything off this list. But it’s a small system I implemented to prioritize my values and self-care. Maybe I have a particularly busy week and I can’t get to some areas, I notice it, but I don’t beat myself up. I just figure out how I can reincorporate it as soon as I can. You might review the checklist and think, “I don’t have enough time to do all these things.” I remember thinking that too. I’ve learned that if I don’t make time to do these things, I’m not running optimally. When I make time to take care of myself, I’m more efficient but I feel better too. I’m just happier.
- If I get a good night sleep, I won’t have time to work out in the morning. No, just skip Netflix and go to bed earlier. Or work out at night (I know plenty of night owls that need to release energy before going to bed). Or workout as soon as you get home from work, ask your kids to join you. Spend time with your spouse on this one and go for a walk.
- If I move my body every day, it means I prioritize myself over my family and work. Yes and Yes. One of the best ways for you to serve your family and perform at work is to be physically healthy. Your body isn’t the only thing that gets healthier, your mind is sharper, your ability to focus improves, your ability to lean into hard things gets easier. So yes, your family and work are served well when you are a physically healthy person. More on this topic later.
- I don’t have time to have fun. I’m too stressed to have fun. This one requires some intentionality. I love fun but I’ve been in seasons where it’s easy for me to push it to the backburner. If I’m not having fun it’s because I’m not being intentional about having fun. I’m not scheduling date nights with Mike. I’m not scheduling girl nights or girls weekends away. I’m not incorporating it into my work culture. Don’t be a fun victim, you control this. I’m preaching to the choir here.
- I’m too busy to think about what I’m thinking about. Wrong! This takes literally one minute. My mentor Doug Lennick of Think2Perform calls this the freeze game. It’s a quick personal assessment to understand what I’m thinking and feeling. What are my emotions trying to tell me? I like to ask “What stories am I believing today about myself that aren’t serving me?”
- I don’t have time (or money) to eat well. I can’t unpack this one in a sentence. And there are also so many triggers that come along with this commitment. I just started by asking myself “what are the things that Elena eats and drinks that help her feel best?” Notice, I don’t say “what are the things I eat…” I take care of myself better when I think about Elena as a third party. Much more on this topic.
- I don’t have time to do devotions/prayer/meditation every day. In full transparency, this doesn’t happen every day for me, just like being active doesn’t happen every day. However, once I realized this was serving me so well, I wanted to make sure to prioritize it as much as possible. Being spiritually and physically healthy is a game changer. This doesn’t require 60 minutes of prayer and meditation, even ten minutes can make all the difference in the world when done on a regular basis.
- I don’t have the energy or time to deal with the unresolved tension/conflict right now. This is a lie. This will derail your day if you put this off. Putting off this conversation will make every other task longer. It doesn’t matter if the conflict is with your partner, your parent, your sibling, your child, your friend, your boss or colleague. If you care about the person, resolve the conflict early and often. If you resolve the conflict early, you’ll be more productive in every other area of your life. If you want to think about lost energy and time, think about all the time you’ve lost worrying over unresolved tension.
This checklist isn’t perfect. It’s not going to be perfect for you, it’s a tool for me. It’s a small system to prioritize my values, the things that make me happy. It’s not a grading mechanism that will just produce more shame. It’s a system to treat yourself like a priority, so that you show up as the best version of you.
In this next week, do you need to create or adjust your systems to make sure that you’re taking care of you? Are you caring for yourself with as much love as you the other people you love? What is one thing that you can commit to in order to care for yourself more meaningfully? Even better, can you find a friend to hold you accountable? If you haven’t gone through some sort of values exercise, here is one that I have used for myself and my husband, I’ve also used it with literally hundreds of people that I’ve led. If you’d like to purchase the values cards, you can find them here at the think 2 perform website.
In this next week, who is a woman that needs encouragement from you to care for and love herself? If you are a partner, father, brother, friend to a woman that needs to be empowered to make sure she has the time to care and love herself, what can you do to help? If you are a woman in position to help another woman see that she needs to prioritize herself, how can you encourage her? How can you come alongside her? Could you send a text or make a call? Could you watch her kids? It might make a world of difference to hear you say that she is someone that deserves care.
I see you. I love you. I’m cheering you on!