• Alicia Assad

This is How I Survive Motherhood

Choice #3: I nurture with Self-Care

Do you sacrifice your needs because of the child you are raising?

Does instinct tell you martyrdom will earn you the title, "Good Mom?"

Or was that just me?

Back when I was a new mom, I was distraught that my natural birth plan flopped, because I assumed this "failure" was predictive of my success in motherhood. Still, the natural parenting warrior in me carried on, and I selflessly devoted every ounce of my energy to nurturing my daughter....

....until I totally crashed and burned.

At my 8 week post-cesarean checkup, I told my OB,

"I feel like I am falling apart."

Apparently it was NOT normal to feel so overwhelmed at this point, and I was recommended to a therapist who asked me,

“What are you doing to take care of yourself?"

I replied,

"Well, nothing…I am too busy taking care of the baby...."

My therapist prescribed "self-care," and insisted I at least started taking walks or having a cup of coffee by myself. Indeed, the small moments of self-care I found added up, and I began to heal.

Then, at my daughter's six month checkup, when I was talking to my pediatrician about introducing solids after breastfeeding exclusively, she told me,

"Peas are peas, Alicia."

When I recently shared the story about how these four words changed everything in my motherhood experience, the powerful reaction I received to my essay on the stress and guilt we face in motherhood made me realize I am not alone in my need to nurture with self-care.

As I’ve surrendered into motherhood and transitioned from 1-4 kids, I've remembered to set realistic parenting goals, and keep my self-care routine a priority. A colleague and friend of mine once said to me,

“Remember to drink while you pour, Alicia.”

"Drink while you pour" now reminds me to nurture my mom self along with my kids. I find this thought as counter-intuitive as the airline safety instructions insisting I put my oxygen mask on before my kids if the plane is crashing. But I take care of ME first, because I learned the hard way what happens if I don't...

Sometimes self-care is as simple as taking a "mommy time out." If I am feeling frazzled, I will put one down for a nap, and another in front of the TV. Then I'll make myself a cup of coffee and drink it without doing anything else in silence.

Well, even if I can't enjoy my coffee in silence (note the scene above), I find the simple act of making coffee just for ME is a micro moment of self-care that builds the foundation of my resilience in motherhood.

While I talk mostly about mental resilience, I don’t tackle motherhood by mind alone. My studies of holistic nutrition, dance, and performance experiences shaped the habits of practical self-care I have created over the years.

I implement a balanced approach to health and wellness that I want to start telling you about. I'm hard at work creating a new page on my website where I'll share my thoughts on:

  • Nourishment

  • Exercise

  • A Practical Beauty Care Regime

  • Inspiration

Subscribe at the end of this post if you are interested, and I'll let you know when it's complete. But today, I want to delve further into the two important concepts that inspire my self-care routine.

Here's how I've survived nearly a decade of motherhood:

1. I choose self-compassion over guilt.

Recently, I came across, Push Back: Guilt in the Age of Natural Parenting by Amy Tuteur, MD.

In this book, Harvard-trained OB-Gyn and mother of four addresses the struggle in childbirth and new parenthood today: the pervasive sense of guilt, the judgment of other women, and the endless creation of ever-greater expectations. An introduction to why she things the natural parenting industry is contributing to the added pressure we feel is here.

Personally, Tuteurs words make me think:

Wow, that was SO my problem!

Listen, I'm not blaming the natural parenting industry for my stumble, but my natural-minded goals (and failure to meet them) definitely influenced my feelings of shame and guilt back in early motherhood.

Regardless of how we parent (natural or not), Tuteur presents a powerful and important argument I think every new mom should read, because her words just might remind us that a mother's love and concern is what makes for a healthy child: not how we give birth or how we raise them.

When we are deciding how to tackle motherhood, we must make decisions with self-compassion, because that's what will make us strong enough to survive the long haul. It took me a while to catch onto this, but I think it's the most important lesson I've learned since becoming a Mom.

Anyway, I started taking care of myself after I crashed into motherhood, but I didn't approach my self with love and compassion until I was desperate to escape the guilt I felt following my son's burn accident. My article, A Resolution of Self-Compassion Changed My Life, explains that transformation but the point is, sometimes we simply cannot be and do all the things we want for our kids. We are imperfect. We are gong to fail. And when that happens, I believe self-compassion is the most important tool we can lean on to survive the inevitable "failures" of motherhood.

Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristen Neff, Ph.D, tells us why we need to stop beating ourselves up and leave insecurities behind. In this video, she explains the three components of self-compassion are kindness, a sense of common humanity, and mindfulness.

When I take Neff's words and apply them to motherhood, I am inspired to be kind to myself, my kids, and other mothers. I feel less "guilty" and I've become more mindful about the decisions I make in raising my children (and how they affect me as well). I am also less judgmental, more open, and have found an abundance of powerful and important connections with other moms.

2. I play to my strengths and set realistic goals.

Through a more self-compassionate mindset, I've begun to see the moms around me with compassion and respect. When I notice how differently we all parent, I'm inspired to believe if we just show up with love, we all can be "good enough" in motherhood despite our varying parenting styles.

This is what influences my strengths-based approach to motherhood and the book, Character Strengths Matter: How to Live a Full Life, explains how we can leverage our strengths in service of our self, our family, our workplace, our community, and our world.

If you aren't aware of your key strengths and how you can capitalize on them, visit viacharacter.org and take the 15 minute survey (it's free). I just took this again for the first time in ten years and my top five strengths are:

Perseverance, Prudence, Social Intelligence, Gratitude, and Love of learning.

I'm the type of mom who is organized, routine-focused, and nurturing. Therefore, I am not spontaneous, I'm rarely playful, and any adventure my kids experience in life is because my husband initiates it (I reluctantly tagalong). Sometimes I feel badly about not being fun and adventurous, but I accept that I'll never be the "cool" mom...

Point being, I shower my children with love through my strengths, knowing I cannot possibly be EVERYTHING for them. All I can be is me, flaws and all, so I love them through the strengths that come natural and easy to me. At the very least, I feel much less overwhelmed and guilty this way.

The Takeaway

In motherhood, where there is no clear way to define success and a million ways to fail, there are two "mantras" that help me navigate this ambiguity and adversity with more resilience:

1. "Peas are peas" reminds me I must set realistic, strengths-based goals in parenting.

2. "Drink while you pour" inspires me to maintain self-compassion as I nurture.

With love and gratitude,