I found this ‘note to self’ online just after I had Henry, and the words really resonated: ‘Treat yourself the way you would treat a small child. Feed yourself healthy food and make sure you spend time outside. Let yourself take naps. Don’t say mean things to yourself, don’t put yourself in danger’.
At the time, I was recovering from an emergency c-section, was getting to grips with life with a newborn, and trying to keep our business running at the same time. Ultimately, I found myself struggling with post-natal depression which I’m sure was, in part, due to not heeding this advice.
There’s an idea that self-care is selfish; when we have children to take care of, a home to run, businesses to grow and a partner who has their own needs, it is so difficult to make taking care of ourselves a priority. However, there is truth in the adage that you can’t pour from an empty cup, and when I’m fatigued, sleep deprived and running on low energy levels I find myself irritable, emotional and quick to anger.
Our lives here are incredibly full, which, most of the time, I thrive on. We have a new, growing business letting three gites on our farm to holiday makers. My partner is currently converting our old hay loft into our forever home. We have a donkey, goats, chickens, cats and a dog to take care of, plus 45 acres of farm land and woods. We’re still navigating life in a different country, with all the challenges that come with it, including language barriers and cultural differences. And of course, my priority is and always will be looking after our boys.
In the run-up to Christmas, a time that I always find tiring due to the extra activities we have to squeeze into our days and weeks, Henry contracted a pulmonary infection, Noah caught Bronchiolitis, and we found out on Boxing Day that my partner had been battling Bronchitis. Oh, and did I also mention that over the holiday period we welcomed 38 holidaymakers to our gites? I started the New Year feeling utterly depleted.
Now, I know all about self-care. I understand its importance, and I’m quick to encourage others to take care of themselves. However, I’m rubbish at adhering to its principles myself. I don’t have time. It’s selfish. I’m at the bottom of my priority list. I’m too busy. It is indulgent. Thankfully, back in May shortly after having Noah I felt emotionally wobbly and, fearing post-natal depression I reached out to a lovely lady on Instagram, Suzy Reading. I’ve followed her for some time and found her posts inspiring. She sent me encouraging, supportive messages, and we’ve stayed in touch since. So, when I discovered she was working on a book, The Self Care Revolution, I pre-ordered and found myself curled up in my nursing chair, reading it on New Year’s Day. Suzy suggests carving out micro-moments in each day, 10 minutes here or there, to do something for yourself, be it a walk in nature, time with a friend, a scented bath…
Since then, I’m giving myself permission to make self-care a priority, and am already finding long days with the boys easier, even with the daily deluge of rain we’ve had recently. If I feel irritable I try to check in with myself to search for a reason. I’m an introvert, and am recognising that I need small chunks of time alone, or at least quiet, peaceful time away from the chaos of normal family life. I’ve started feeding Noah in my nursing chair, upstairs in the bedroom when Henry is at school. I’ve moved the chair in front of a window and look out over the fields with a cup of nursing tea by my side and my Kindle or a book. I can’t tell you how much better this is than tapping away at my computer with a free hand, or breastfeeding Noah in a sling while I get on with housework, and I honestly find these 15 minute intervals in my day nourishing and rejuvenating.
I’ve recently re-read Brene Brown’s The Gift of Imperfection, am currently re-reading both Kim John Payne’s Simplicity Parenting and Valerie Ann Worwood’s The Fragrant Pharmacy and have a pile of others to read through again, including Laura Markham’s Calm Parents, Happy Kids (her website is brilliant too), Neal’s Yard Remedies’ Healing Foods, and Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. I alternate between using my Kindle and reading paperbacks, so that I can limit my screen time in the hours before bed – something that has been proven to sabotage sleep. I find these books inspirational, and I feel as though I am learning something. Right now, for me, this is so much more productive and motivational than scrolling through my Instagram feed (where it is easy to compare yourself negatively to others) or news websites. I try to have my Kindle or a French copy of The Simple Things magazine in the car when I pick Henry up from school. I invariably have to wait 10 minutes or so and reading makes the wait enjoyable and, as a bonus, I can improve my French at the same time.
I’m spending more time meal planning, and batch cooking, and create meals the four of us can eat, instead of different meals for the boys and my partner and I. Since giving up dairy in May to ease Noah’s acid reflux, we’ve been following a mainly plant-based diet, and I’m focusing on nourishing, unprocessed whole foods. Knowing I’m putting only good stuff into our bodies makes me feel good, and I it is easy to spice up mine and my partner’s portions or add salt at the table. I’ll often make a big batch of granola, apple sauce or Bircher muesli at the start of the week, and make soups that become lunch two or three days in a row. I’ll write more about our switch to a (mostly) vegan diet but in the meantime, if you’re interested, take a look at The Minimalist Baker, 101 Cookbooks and Cookie and Kate; they’re vegan and vegetarian recipe blogs that I get a lot of inspiration from.
We’ve simplified Henry’s toy corner and I’ve committed to spending an hour to play with him each day. We might do a jigsaw, play with Playdoh or do some kind of crafting. Henry’s had a tough year in many ways, with some big changes; starting (French) school and welcoming a little brother. I can see already that this one-on-one time is giving him something he needs, and he seems happier, calmer and more cooperative during the rest of our day. I’ve taken away some books, jigsaws with missing pieces, toys that are no longer appropriate for his age and the (often broken) plastic toys that comes free with magazines or gifted by well-intentioned grandparents. Henry is less overwhelmed, is bored less frequently, has rediscovered favourite toys, games and books, and plays more ‘deeply’ with the toys he does have. I’d recommend it! I’m planning to go through the rest of our home, when I can, to organise and declutter.
I’m trying to make time to shower or, ideally, take a bath once a day (with two little ones this doesn’t always happen), using essential oils. My go-to synergistic blend includes anxiety-busting, calming and uplifting geranium, lavender and bergamot. My partner and I have decided to make Saturday evenings ‘date night’. We’ve tried this in the past and it hasn’t really worked, but now the boys are both sleeping better, and as we barely see each other during our busy weeks, we’re committing to making time for each other again and it feels good. It isn’t always easy as we’re both tired by the end of each week, but I’m glad we’re trying.
Suzy’s book has mantras scattered throughout, certain of which resonate, including ‘I am already enough. I am already whole. I am already perfect. There is no whole to fill, nothing to fix, nothing to be done’ and ‘I have all the time I need’. Repeating these throughout the day, when I feel I need to, is helpful. I also read something interesting over on Amanda Watter’s blog recently, about gratitude; she suggests replacing ‘I have to…’ with ‘I get to…’. So, rather than ‘I have to wipe down Noah’s highchair for the fifth time today’, aren’t I lucky that I have my boys, and get to stay at home to take care of them?
I’d recommend introducing any changes slowly and carefully. Speaking from experience, grand sweeping changes are rarely achievable, and it is about finding what works for you. I hope some of the changes I’ve made resonate and inspire you, and I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments section below. For me, I feel more energised and inspired, happier, and more connected to my partner and children. I feel as though I’ve slowed down, yet paradoxically am achieving more and have more time. There’s a ton of things I’ve read in Suzy’s book that I’d like to work on this year, including social connection (something I need but, as an introvert, struggle with) and exercise.
Lastly, Suzy writes about the future self; the person you are becoming, who you aspire to be, and the culmination of every decision your present self makes. This is something I try to recall when feeling tired or stressed. It usually (although not always!) stops me from reaching for that third cup of coffee that I know will make me feel anxious, or that huge plateful of toast before bed, and gently reminds me to take care of myself instead.
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