Here’s the core of what I know when it comes to self-care. It’s something a Christian psychologist told me —
“If you don’t change your oil, your engine will freeze.”
Do you know what I’m talking about here? Your car needs to have regular oil changes, or the metal parts in your engine will grate against one another, wear down, and eventually quit working.
We can experience a similar kind of grating. Life gets crazy. Our children need constant attention. We’re overworked. And we start having jagged edges in our inner workings. We need to take steps to prevent ourselves from getting so worn down that something goes wrong.
When my psychologist told me I needed to “change my oil,” it was huge. I had permission to get off the “MUST, MUST, MUST” treadmill. In fact, I realized my mental health depended on giving myself breaks from all of the things I thought I SHOULD do.
Sister moms, the same is true for you. You can’t just keep gutting it out. It’s going to lead to depression, anxiety, health issues, anger problems. . . the list goes on.
We all need self-care. We need refreshment and recharging. But what is effective? I’m gonna tell you, it’s not binging on ice cream and buying out Target!
Here’s the best place to start with self-care: nourish your soul with regular infusions of life from God. Your time with your loving Father can be so restorative. Find the cool refreshment of rest in him. Bask in the sunlight of his goodness. Cozy up to the warmth of his love and comfort. Take nature walks. Write gratitude lists. Listen to spiritual music and sing along. Practice trust.
You know, God describes to a tee what it looks like when we rely on our own strength, instead of going to him, “That person will be like a bush in the wastelands.” (Jer. 17:6) We’re like a dried up stalk, like our kids and life have sucked everything right out of us!
But Psalms 1 tells us a better way: “Blessed is the one . . . whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.” (Ps 1:1-3)
Come on, admit it. You absolutely NEED this time in your routine. Start your day with it. One mom came to this conclusion: “This is going to sound a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot), but I wake up earlier than my children. If I commit to doing this, I actually have more energy and approach my day much more grounded. Instead of being reactive, I have my plans and peace and am ready to give for what comes.”
The next thing you need for self-care is spiritual friendships.
One of the best things I ever did when I was bringing up my kids was have a regularly scheduled hour each week for coffee with a friend. It gave me a way to process, unload, and heal.
- “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal 6:2)
- “Confess your faults to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)
You may need to work at making this happen. I totally remember my children asking me, as I was taking them to yet another play date, “When do you get with your friends?” Yeah, right. But I was always intentional about squeezing in a little time with someone who was a lifeline to me. Sometimes I was able to have more interactions. Phone conversations often saved my sanity.
You may need to work at finding this friend. Over the years, I reached out to many women who didn’t have the time or desire for a committed spiritual relationship. But I kept trying, and eventually found sisters who were looking for the same thing I was.
Don’t think that this friend has to be a peer. At one point I started getting with a widow who was retired. It was so much what both of us needed.
And then you need to practice self-care by taking care of your whole self.
That mom voice in you is always sabotaging your plans for self-care. It tells you that your children need you with a capital “N.” It says it’s too much trouble to make “me time.” It screams that your floors need mopping.
The result is that you lose sight of yourself and anything you are outside of motherhood.
You’re like, “I need ‘me time,’ but I don’t even know who ‘me’ is anymore!”
The thing is, it’s not really about “me time,” it’s about God time. You’re not wrestling to find a few moments when you can finally do what you want. You’re walking with God, and seeing if there is an opportunity to shine for him.
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:17)
God gave you a body, and it can feel great to work out. He gave you talents, and it can be wonderful to use them to accomplish something. Whatever you do, make it about praising God though your actions, and you’ll find it’s invigorating.
Plus, looking at it this way gives guilt and discouragement a karate chop. Some days you will feel like you’re failing as a mom. Fight with faith! Believe that you were created as you were for a reason. You have abilities, things you can do, so don’t shrink back. Step out and do them!
When I was a young mom, I taught an art appreciation class through parks and rec. I had craft parties with my friends and their children.
I met an elderly woman at the grocery store and the kids and I started visiting her. I shared with other moms when I went to the park, and studied the Bible with them.
I’ll admit, sometimes it didn’t go smoothly. In fact, it could get uber crazy! But I’m so glad I did those things. I could feel myself growing wings and celebrating God.
Here are some recommendations from my mom advisers:
- “Hobbies are great! You need something outside of the family life to keep your identity as an individual intact. I love blogging and photography.”
- “I’m terrible at this part of “balance,” but my one thing is exercise. It gets my blood flowing and changes my mood right away.”
Finally, here is the statement you’ve been waiting for: Self-care is also taking a break and resting!”
God says, “Be still and know that I am God.” (Ps 46:10) And here’s another good one, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Ex 14:14)
God wants you to learn to stop. He wants you to lie down in green pastures. (Ps. 23:2) He wants you to take notice of the lilies of the field. (Matt 6:28)
He wants you to quit trying to do everything (including his job) so you can realize who he is, what he does and what he will do. All of this is so restorative.
Sister moms, oh, how you need this rest!! When you have a job, you need time off. Why shouldn’t this apply to you as a mother?
There’s just one thing. You’re going to have to make a deliberate decision to let something else go in order to have time off. You’ll have to be totally intentional, and schedule it.
This is how some moms are intentional about resting:
- “Me and several other sisters switch out keeping each other’s kiddos so we all get a break. It’s so needed.”
- “My husband has a little daddy son time every Saturday, so I get a couple of hours to myself. Also, during my son’s nap time, I try to do one or two things, but leave myself at least an hour of down time while he’s sleeping to recharge.”
- “My baby goes to bed at 8 pm, so I have up to two hours for reading, praying and playing a game or two in my phone. I also go walking with her.”
But wait, there’s more! Check out these ideas on other ways to practice self care:
- Get out of the house, especially if you are an extrovert. “I like to get out during the day, to get us moving and experiencing new things, and to give me an opportunity to chat with other moms.”
- Stay in and unplug (occasionally) if you’re an introvert.
- Join a mom’s group. “I’ve found that mommy groups are great for social interaction for me and my kids.”
- Engage in family leisure activities. “Weekends, we try to do family things, a hike, or a beach trip.”
- Do the little things that make a difference. “Self-care is taking a shower each day, doing your hair or even putting on some lip gloss. I play uplifting music while I clean.”
- Unwind with your honey. “I go on dates with the hubby.”
- Choose wholesome activities. “I try to watch shows and read books that make me feel good, instead of those that leave me feeling kind of yucky, like I ate too much junk food.”
- Be engaged in church. Don’t let it get crowded out. It feeds your soul. It helps you stay focused on what is most important. It provides relationships
- Live out your purpose. It’s fulfilling. Let motherhood be your ministry. In raising your children, you are doing something supremely meaningful. In reaching out to help other mom friends, you change lives and futures. There will never be an easier time in your life to reach out. And you will go to bed at night feeling deeply satisfied.
In summary, self-care means learning how to pace yourself.
You can’t do everything. Even if it seems like others are. Even if your heart longs to do so.
Find your groove, as God created you.
Recognize your capabilities, and plan accordingly. Do what’s most important first. Make space for replenishment. Acknowledge that the more demanding life gets, the more you need to recharge. (I know, it’s so counter intuitive!)
Watch for opportunities to grow. Watch for signs you need to scale back.
Be your best self, nothing more or less.
Work out a rhythm between you and God where you find balance and peace.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” (Ecc 3:1)
Sister moms, you are wonderfully made! (Ps 139:14) Take care of what you have been given, the whole self, the physical and the spiritual.
Seek well being.
As you do, it will radiate and bring well being to those around you.