The Importance of Looking After Yourself

I’ve just done something I haven’t done for a very long time….I’ve just booked something that is just for me, nothing to do with the kids, my husband, my house, my pets or my work….something just for me, something selfish you could say, at least that’s how I came to view anything for myself that didn’t have anything to do with the above after I became a mother. So, what have I just done? booked an expensive haircut? a manicure? a facial? No, I’ve just enrolled in Art classes.

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Many years ago, long, long before I had children I used to be an artist. Indeed that’s how I was known to most people as a teen: “Sarah – the one who’s brilliant at art”. I won every art competition I entered, I went to private school on an art scholarship and had dreams of attending Goldsmiths College to study Fine Art (before I was persuaded into a ‘more academic’ course by my parents – something I am determined never to do to my own children by the way!). Somewhere along the way I lost that piece of myself, my paints cracked and dried up, my portfolio case was resigned to the attic and the only time I ever picked up a paintbrush was to paint Wind in the Willows murals on my baby son’s bedroom walls. My identity was now “Sarah the mum”. I absolutely didn’t mind that, it was the best identity ever, but now I feel the need to reclaim the part of me I lose, I feel the need to be completely ‘me’ again, I feel the need to be selfish I guess, I need to be more than just ‘all things parenting’.

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…and you know what? I’m a better parent for realising this need. When I’m tired and stressed and invest no energy into myself – body and soul, I’m ‘snappy mum’, irritable, grumpy and hyper-critical. If I’m all wrung out I have nothing to give, to myself and especially not to others. For me to be the best mum I can I need to spend time away from my kids, I need time to nurture myself – how can I nurture anyone if I am in dire need of soul food myself?

I learnt this lesson the hard way in my early days as a doula and it’s a story I recount time and again at my classes. It was my first doula job, I was super keen. I had packed an enormous bag full of ‘stuff’ the labouring mum might need. I was ready to give this job and this mama my all. I arrived in the late afternoon and skipped dinner – I was on an adrenaline high and didn’t need the food! We stayed awake all night whilst the mother laboured. I didn’t dare go to sleep (how could I sleep? I was being paid to look after her! It would surely be rude for me to snooze?), I didn’t eat breakfast either – you see I hadn’t packed anything for myself in my giant bag, I didn’t matter in this momentous day. Lunchtime rolled round (it was a long labour), another meal missed and only one glass of water consumed in getting on for 20hrs. It was summer, it was hot and stuffy, the mum entered the birth pool, the room was soooo hot and stuffy, my head started to spin. “OMG, I’m going to faint” I thought – and just as the mother entered second stage I had to leave the room, I gulped down a pint of fresh orange juice and stood outside gulping the cool air for as long as I dared be away and I returned moments before the baby was born. I had not been there at the time the mum needed me the most. In my quest to ‘always be there for her’ and neglecting my own needs I had failed to give my support when she really needed me. What lesson did I learn? in my later doula births I put myself first. That might sound wrong and not very ‘doula like’, but I think it was my most powerful lesson. My bag dramatically shrank in size and became all about me, I packed it full of drinks, food and comfort items for me and barely anything for the mum in labour. I learnt that if I didn’t look after myself I couldn’t possibly look after others.

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As a busy working, stay at home, mum to four under 11 year olds I *need* to put myself first, I matter. If I don’t look after myself who will? If I don’t look after myself how can I be there for my children? Again this was a lesson learnt late in my parenting journey but one I cannot stress the importance of to any mothers reading. LOOK AFTER YOURSELF. Nurture yourself, feed you body, your soul, your mind. Do what you need to do to be calm and relaxed. Find a hobby, go swimming, go to yoga classes, take long thoughtful walks. If there is one thing that you can do to change your parenting and the behaviour of your kids I really believe it is this. When you are nurtured everything is easier and because you are calmer your kids will be too. It is an ever perpetuating circle.

So, how will you nurture yourself today?

Sarah

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About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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