The more children I have, the less I feel I know about parenting. It’s a continual lesson in humility and an ever-increasing giving of self — which makes self care all the more critical.
For a long time I’ve thought that self care and sacrifice couldn’t co-exist. But I’m realizing that in order to sacrifice for my family, I also have to take care of myself.
After our seventh baby’s birth, I could feel my anxiety and tension rising every day. Mothering is hard work! It’s stressful trying to keep your rambunctious two-year-old from poking the baby’s eyes out all day. The continual cycle of cleaning and cooking is draining and monotonous. And if you throw in a job change for your husband and the many activities and dramas of older children, the stress only increases.
I’ve gotten better at resisting the urge to yell or give up completely when I’m feeling overwhelmed. I love my family. I love to serve them. But I need time to restore myself and reflect peacefully on how best to fulfill my vocation. I can’t run on fumes in survival mode 24/7. Even Jesus is often found searching for a quiet place to pray and refresh himself throughout the Gospels.
Seven ways that I find rejuvenation during this demanding season of motherhood:
As I heard at a recent retreat, this is the “non-negotiable” of the day. Choose a prayer routine that you know you can do every day. Right now for me, I know I can read a short daily devotion, say a decade of my Rosary (sometimes while doing chores or driving), and spend a few minutes with Scripture.
Take a nap, sit and read, or close your eyes for a few minutes while you snuggle with your baby and your toddler watches cartoons — especially as your body recovers from pregnancy and childbirth. I find true rest in something rejuvenating and inspiring like reading, crafting, or silent prayer. I try to be careful not to let my “rest time” get sucked away by social media or mindless television.
Exercise releases stress, helps me feel stronger, and gives me the energy I need to keep up with my day. I love getting away by myself to the gym — even if it’s just for an hour once a week. Sometimes it is essential to leave the household and kids behind for a little while so I can work out uninterrupted, listen to a podcast (my new favorite is the Messy Family Project), and return to my family, ready to serve them in a more virtuous way. When I can’t get to the gym, I try to get up early and work out at home with videos on YouTube, or this fantastic postpartum recovery program.
4. NFP charting
Practicing natural family planning during the postpartum time can be confusing and complicated. Making the effort to chart any signs of impending fertility helps me to know what is going on with my body, encourages communication with my husband, and reminds us to be continually seeking God’s will for our family size through prayerful discernment.
I am not always good at this one. As an introvert, I tend to hole up in my house, only going out for necessary errands. But we were created for connection with others, and I always feel better after a visit with a good friend or attending an event in our community or at our church. If I’m feeling overly stressed about my messy house or undone laundry, sometimes it helps just to get out for awhile. It gives me a new perspective when I remember that a world exists outside of my house!
There’s just something about seeing a nice, clean space in my home that helps me think more clearly, takes some tension out of my shoulders, and gives me a calmer spirit. It’s easy to get paralyzed and overwhelmed by messes, especially after having a new baby, so turning to a cleaning system that tells me what to do each day helps me to keep going. I’m especially loving the book Having a Martha Home the Mary Way: 31 Days To A Clean House And A Satisfied Soul as it prayerfully leads me through simple cleaning tasks each day.
7. Just Say No!
Say no to what you and your family can’t handle. Don’t be afraid to have some empty holes in your schedule. Listen to God’s plan for your life. One person’s dying to self looks different than another’s. It’s okay to “just” be a mom and a wife. Cultivate a habit of prayer and of being in tune to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and you will know when it’s time to add more to your life.
During this season of my life, God isn’t calling me to be a martyr. He’s calling me to love and take care of my husband and children–a calling I can best fulfill if I start by taking care of myself.
Copyright 2019 Charisse Tierney