Dear Parent Valentines,
Roses are Red
Violets are Blue
Baby Crapped on your lap
Now you're covered in poo.
No, no. You deserve better, you really do.
We hear a lot about "self love" and "how to love yourself" in inspirational messaging these days, but for many of us the journey to knowing who we are in body and spirit is enough of a task without then being also expected to love all of that. It's more than a meme or a quote on the internet. It's a life's work. Like parenthood. Which often takes up so much of our bodies and spirits (and minds, and time, and living space) that we aren't left with any to give back to ourselves.
I'm not a good enough writer to craft a blog post that will help you magically start to love yourself, but as a parent and someone who works with new families often I really do aim to inspire you to show love to yourself in the form of self-care. Acts of love and care for ourselves can help us remember who we are at our roots, even though our branches are heavy holding all the squirrels and nests and kiddos.
Self-care is not selfish, though in groups of parents I have heard conversations where one-upping our martyr moments is the name of the game. "You woke up twice? Well I NEVER WENT TO SLEEP. GOOD MORNING." My husband and I call it "the competition of sadness" when we find ourselves playing it, and no one wins.
I have a friend who shared with me her story of giving so much that she felt depleted, and that she was told by another wise friend (we all need lots of wise friends) that she was a beautiful teacup and couldn't share her tea with others if she didn't get refilled every now and then. There are lots of similar analogies using buckets and bowls and whatnot but the takeaway is that you'll be able to give more if you restore your supply.
As parents, our primary currency is LOVE. We got it, we give it, we get it in return. It's an amazing gig, really. Even before our babies are born our bodies are just coursing with good love energy. Our oxytocin love hormone is so powerful it helps make the babies, it helps bring babies out and into our arms where they fill us with so much MORE love that it keeps flowing out in breastmilk form!
So parents, whether you are expecting your first little loves or chasing after your slightly bigger ones, I want to share a few small ways that you can be loving to yourself this Valentine's Day. They may seem obvious, but my mama brain sometimes makes me forget things that should be easy and maybe yours does too. I hope your family and friends are treating you right, but it's also totally okay to say that if you want to do something right you've got to do it yourself.
Some simple self-love for the sweet days ahead:
Start the day with yourself. It's a lot to ask a tired parent to wake up 15-30 minutes ahead of the family, but the peace and pleasure of a cup of tea or coffee alone might be worth it. Stir it slowly, do some stretches while it cools off a bit, and enjoy the silence before the day begins.
Go on a date. Alone. Go on dates with your partner too of course, but when babies need a parent at home, plan something just for you, and enjoy it. An hour. Two. A walk through a museum. A glass of wine and a book at an outdoor cafe. Yoga in the park. Even if you've got a small baby who can't be left at all yet, put on your favorite sling/wrap/carrier at naptime and just go and be.
“Love yourself first and everything falls into line.”
Treat yo self. When was the last time you did something kind for your body? I'm not talking about standing over the sink with a box of Oreos (though yes to that also) but taking 30 minutes to make yourself something sweet or savory that won't make you feel crappy afterward. And when was the last time you went dancing or took a prenatal/baby yoga or dance class? Checked in with the chiropractor or asked a massage therapist for a house-call? Our bodies are practically begging us to treat them with love and care sometimes. They carry us and our children and do amazing things every day!
Brain dessert. You know that image people have of parents just sitting around at naptime watching daytime talk shows and eating bon bons? Try that. Put down the pregnancy and parenting books for a day, let the laundry folding wait a while, and just marvel at something absurd on TV or in print. No reality birth shows though, I mean it.
Be your own Valentine. If you aren't into the Stuart Smalley style mirror affirmations (I'm aging myself with that reference), show yourself some love by telling yourself something good. Write in a journal, heck even make yourself a pretty crafted card with sequins and list all the ways you've been awesome lately. Accentuate the positive with doilies and puff paint. Sing your own praises, or invite some friends over to do it with you.
Connect with your tribe. While love starts within, it sure is nice to share it with our friends. Log off of the phones & computers and get together with your people. Hold hands, have a laugh and a cry, a drink and a cookie. Being with other parents, whether in a playdate, a mama group, a class, a walk around the park can be powerful and uplifting. Don't see a group you fit in with? Start one. Giving yourself the gift of friendship gives one to them too.
I love this quote from writer & activitst Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." Political warfare sounds so strong, but with the way pregnancy, birth, parenthood and childhood are valued in our American culture today don't we need to be? Depleted parents can't fight the good fights for our families, our communities, our causes.
Show yourself some love and care this weekend, and any day of the year, and soon you'll be inspiring others to do the same. See how love spreads?
Roses are Red
Violets are Blue
You'll have more love for your babies
If you take care of you.
Mary Catherine Hamelin is a mama, a doula, occasional blogger, and perpetual daydreamer in Tampa Florida. She occasionally muses on birth and other magical days on her blog. (http://www.marycatherinehamelin.com)