Welcome to Fresh Brewed! Each week, if I can, I will write about a topic that relates to families. Then, at the bottom of the post is a Linky Tool so that you can link up your posts related to the topic for the week. It doesn't have to be a new post from the past week, if you have written about it in a previous post, link it! The topics will be broad enough to encompass many avenues of thought, but do please only post related posts. Opinion posts are welcome, but not bashing ones please. Please keep it respectful. There may be posts with vastly different viewpoints, or addressing points on vastly different areas of the topic. That's fantastic as every family is different and struggles with different circumstances. If you are not a blogger, but you have an interesting article to share, or read something another blogger posted, please feel free to leave a link in the comments section of the weekly post and a short description of how it relates to the topic.
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Mother May I...
And the Struggle to Make Ourselves a Priority
The tendency to care for other's, specifically our children's, needs before our own is in our genes.
Yes, we are literally genetically programmed to ensure that their vital needs are met before ours. This begins with conception and continues all throughout pregnancy. The nutrients, minerals, and proteins, that we have in our body automatically go first to the growing fetus, then the remainders nourish the mother's body. If a mother is not taking in enough calcium through her diet to supply the rapid growth of baby's skeletal system, then the calcium stored in mother's bones is mined and used for the baby.
This process continues while a mother is nursing, with her energy and nutrients being directed at her ever busy milk factory. But not only that. A mother's brain and body actually experience hormonal shifts that enable her to be on heightened alert, to wake when baby cries (this partially explains why Daddies blissfully snooze until crying reaches fever pitch), to respond to babies hunger cycles by letting down milk even before baby cries, and often recognizing the different cries baby vocalizes.
It is no real wonder then, that as our children grow, our tendency to tend to their needs first is really first nature, not even second.
Looking around society however, one can reasonably ask, where should a mother's needs fit in? If this is our nature, then shouldn't we follow it? To what extent?
Again, our own bodies provide a good basis. A woman who is malnourished has a very difficult time getting pregnant and carrying a pregnancy to term, and those who do may have babies who experience low birth weight and other health difficulties including being at higher risk for pre-term birth, and more susceptible to infection. A woman who is poorly nourished and is trying to breastfeed may find that her milk supply dries up and she can no longer nurse her infant. And when resources are scant, a woman who is nursing and finds herself pregnant may discover that her body will not allow her to do both at once. Her milk supply will cease, saving critical nutrients and energy for the growing fetus.
In these cases, a woman's body is designed to cut off care for a child if the mother's body is so depleted that her body and brain feel it is at risk of shutting down. It has gone into survival mode.
Obviously, these are extreme cases regarding pregnancy and nursing. And in most cases, completely preventable. But how many of us have found ourselves in extreme deprivation of our mental, physical, and emotional energy and resources? The fact is, far too many. And the fact is, this is still dangerous!
I know from experience, and from taking with numerous mothers that one of the primary things that keeps us from taking better care of ourselves is...GUILT.
We feel selfish and guilty doing anything that feels self-indulgent rather than productive or for the greater family good. So we avoid it. The demands of life, the consumption of our energy just compiles and overwhelms us though and the downward cycle robs us of joy. This is not a healthy way to parent. This is not a healthy way to live!!
Selfishness is defined as "devoted to or caring for oneself...regardless of others." Nourish is defined as "to sustain with food or nutriment; supply what is necessary for life, health, and growth." and "to cherish, foster, keep alive..." One is detrimental to happiness, but the other is essential.
Our children are not designed to be aware of our needs in this area. By design, they are survival structured. They behave in whatever way gets their needs met. As infants this means crying to alert parents that they are hungry, dirty, or hurt. As toddlers this involves a fear of strangers and separation anxiety. It also involves throwing tantrums, because, logically the more disruptive one is the more likely they will get needed attention. Clearly toddlers cannot distinguish between the health benefits of carrots and cupcakes, they just need food, so their behavior is the same. Even sibling squabbling is a means of survival. Child One takes what he wants, or what his immature brain is telling him he "needs", Child Two grabs it back, self-defense and adrenaline kicks in and before you know it fists are flying and teeth are biting. Their brain has no way of knowing yet that there is enough to go around, that everyone is safe, and that this is not an emergency. They simply are not programmed for it, yet.
So clearly they are not going to be able to analyze their behavior and think, "mom looks tired, I think I'll just quietly play in my room and not make a mess." Gradually as they grow and mature, they will begin to be able to reason better, but it's long process.
Here is the tricky part. They will never learn to look out for our needs if we don't demonstrate that our needs are as important as theirs. Dads tend to do this naturally, and kids accept it and it becomes part of life. How can moms forge this same autonomy?
1. Stop viewing caring for ourselves as optional. Gently, but firmly, stop allowing our family members to do the same.
Changing the oil in our vehicle's engine is essential to keeping our car running and useful. Let's face it, Mom is the engine of the family. Caring for our needs, especially in regard to rest, nutrition, and stress management are as vital as good oil in an engine. We can run for a while on bad oil, but eventually, we will seize, burnout, and the risk of damage is high. Fatigue, depression, high blood pressure, headaches, are all physical symptoms that our "machine", our body and mind is in severe need of maintenance.
2. Don't live in crisis mode if we are not experiencing an actual crisis.
In periods of war, famine, or emergency, it is common for mothers to ensure that their children get a larger portion and to forgo comforts to make sure the children will survive. The premise for such sacrifice in part is that we believe the situation to be temporary, and the short term sacrifice will ensure that our children survive and suffer as little as possible, then we will be able to restore ourselves when supplies are again bountiful.
Most of us however, are not living in such a state of crisis. Yet, we often work well beyond our energy thresholds as if we were, even if it's not as extreme as the above scenarios. We have to get better at labeling emergencies, and stop reacting to normal daily events as if they were. In fact, we need to treat our bodies and minds as if we are preparing them for a time of crisis. By fortifying them with good nutrition, rest, and activities that help us maintain mental clarity and positive emotions. By filling our reserves now, when life is busy but not in crisis, we will have a more fully engaged response now, and be better equipped to deal with a real emergency should one arise.
3. Learn to say "No."
The happiest people stay that way because they allow themselves to say "no." No, to things that drain their energy reserve. No, to people or things that harm them rather than help them. No, to people they love because the benefits don't outweigh the risks. No, to their own negative self talk. No, to other's negative talk. No, to doing things just because it's "expected" or because it's "standard". No, to doing things for others that they are perfectly capable of doing themselves. No, to apologizing for things not needing an apology.
"No." It doesn't always need validation or explanation, and typically the person most demanding of one is the least deserving of it, nor will it be sufficient. Practice until saying it feels as natural as acting on other's requests once did. A "no" can often later be changed to a "yes" if we decide that the circumstances merit it.
4. Learn to say "Yes."
The happiest people also allow themselves to say "yes!" Yes, this is what I need. Yes, to things that bring joy. Yes, to new things. Yes, to things that feed our passions. Yes, to time and conversation with those we love. Yes, to indulgences. Yes, because it is what we would encourage someone else to do in the same situation.
5. Take your own advice.
We all tell other moms how important it is to take care of themselves. To make time to engage in activities they love. And that they are doing a great job. Then we go home and do the exact opposite. Stop it!! Need a visual and physical way to remind yourself how important this is?
Write a letter to a mother struggling to get it all done, and who doesn't feel very good about herself. After the date begin the letter "My dear friend" and then leave the name space blank. In the letter, commiserate with her, encourage her, tell her she is beautiful, and how important she is to her family and as a friend. Give her ideas of ways she can give herself fulfillment that is free or cheap, and that can even be done at home. Pour out your love to her, because you know how she feels.
Good. Your letter is all done? Sign the bottom, "With lots of love" and sign it.
Now, make a copy of it...write in your friend's name at the top of the letter. Then write your name in on the top of the copy! Every single word in it was thoughtfully written, carefully forged from a place of understanding and love, and they all apply to you personally. Put that advice into action!
There will always be more to do than we can fit in a day. The only way we can enjoy life as we do it is to prioritize. We automatically prioritize every other member of our families. We are just as much a member of that family. A family portrait isn't complete when one member stands to the side. Their absence is glaring and the picture is incomplete. So too is our family when we do not treat ourselves as a priority.
So, how do you take care of yourself? What are your challenges to prioritizing your needs? What are your goals? Share your thoughts in the comments and then link up your own Mama stories!