This past weekend I celebrated another birthday. It was a milestone birthday for me: forty-one. The big 4-1. Blerg. Forty didn’t bother me at all. But here on the other side of 40, closer now to 50 than 30, it really brought about reflection on how my life has changed since having a child. Aside from the obvious (more love, more hugs, more smiles, more money being spent on everything from daycare to LEGOs to snacks), I realized the biggest way parenthood has changed my life comes down to two words: self-care.
When I visualize self care, it appears as a big warm, squishy, soft quilt surrounding me. Not the kind of quilt you wrap yourself in when you want to hide from the world. It’s a quilt of energy and vibrancy. It’s a quilt I created with some perseverance and hard work and occasional splurges. Here’s a look at the squares I have crafted on my own self-care quilt.
- Finances. I was terrible with money for years: ignoring debt, robbing Peter to pay Paul, blowing money at the bar, etc. The day I found out I was pregnant, something switched inside my head. Suddenly, I became super aware of my spending and my saving. It was a painful realization of all the financial mistakes I’ve made. Fortunately, because my son is 3, time is on my side (ideally). I took advantage of that and opened a few different accounts for him. The contributions are incredibly small, but they’re consistent. And if I can save $10 I can save $100 I can save $1,000 and so on. I’m also upping my student loan payment that I ignored forever, and will have it paid off in five years. It’s hard. It wouldn’t be so hard if I was taking care of myself all along and meeting my financial obligations, but there’s no room for regret on my self-care quilt.
- Therapy. Of course you know someone who is in therapy, and perhaps you are as well, or you’re thinking about it. Do it. Therapy is tough stuff. It requires commitment, patience, the ability to be uncomfortable. But we all have experiences that somewhere along the line have hindered our ability for healthy, happy progress in our lives. Do the work. Untangle the messes. Not only is the therapy square of my self-care quilt helping me grow, it’s making me a better parent.
- Gratitude. Recently I finished reading actress Chrissy Metz’s new book This Is Me. She shares her story with such honesty, clarity, and joy that you want to hire her as a life coach. One thing she said she does everyday as soon as she wakes, before she even goes on social media (yikes!), is to think of five things she’s grateful for. She writes that it puts her in a mindset of gratitude before she can be distracted. This has been life-changing for me. On days when my three year old is exercising his strong personality, and I’m secretly crying on the inside before 8 a.m., I remember my five things. Sometimes I’m grateful for nothing more than 1) coffee 2) cream 3) Splenda 4) my mug 5) a second cup, but it’s enough. My brain and then my heart start the day in a place of gratitude.
- Giving and Receiving Help. My pastor often says we are blessed to be blessings. It is a statement that has burrowed its way inside my head, and now guides how I live my days. Sometimes I am blessed with abundance and am able to share that abundance with others. Other times, friends and family members reach out to me and offer help even if I’m too proud to ask. It’s then I realize my role in the blessing is just as important: I am helping that person share their abundance as well. Realizing we are part of someone’s blessing somewhere is a grounding square in my self-care quilt.
- Sweat Equity. Before motherhood I ran. A LOT. I got into ultra-marathons and did several 50k and 40 milers before an injury sidelined me, and then pregnancy and life got in the way (and yes that’s a humblebrag because it’s OK to take pride in your accomplishments). It is the square from my pre-kiddo self-care quilt I miss the most. While I don’t have the time it takes for ultras, I can still create new kinds of fitness squares in my post-kiddo self-care quilt. Going for walks, playing outside with my son, working out at our local YMCA, getting down and dirty in the garden I’m building, taking my son to local nature centers to hike, etc. As a single parent it takes some creative ways to find time and a heavy reliance on the free childcare at our local Y, but it’s worth it for my well-being.
There will be a time soon when I book a much-needed pedicure or when I take myself to a movie again, and I can’t wait for both of those. In the meantime, I will focus on maintaining the squares on my self-care quilt and showing my son why taking care of yourself is key, no matter how old you are.