By Brea Schmidt
When I became a mom to three kids under the age of four, I quickly learned that there was going to be little time for “me.” I knew if I was going to maintain any semblance of self, I was going to have to work on it.
I had always thought self care meant eating right and working out. And while I certainly think that’s a part of it, today I look at self care as taking time to check in and LISTEN to what my mind, spirit and body needs.
Does it need better food? Does it need to move more often? Or does it need 15 minutes of quiet at the beginning of the day? Does it need coffee with girlfriends? Does it need a book to replace my constant need to scroll? Does it need more quality time with my husband?
At the end of the day, choosing “me” meant choosing to slow down long enough to listen to what I needed, and to then carry through with that. I had to fight hard for it, but the benefits were worth all of it.
Self care hasn’t made me a better mom, it has made me be more like the mom I was meant to be all along.
When I wasn’t taking care of myself, I felt like I was walking around as this caricature of who I really was. A SEMBLANCE of me was there, but the details were off.
I KNEW the kind of mother I was capable of being … I was IN THERE … but my exhaustion, self-doubt and lack of self-love put up a wall that made it impossible to climb. The result? I felt unhappy, and my kids weren’t getting the very best of me.
When I started taking care of myself and started being more self aware, it made way for peace and calm to come into my mind so I could simply hear myself think. I started cutting down the barriers that were keeping me from being the authentic mother, and ultimately the person, I knew I was.
I paid less attention to outside parenting expectations, and more attention to my motherly instinct. I paid less attention to negative thoughts, and more attention on growing positive ones. I paid less attention to the mess, and more attention to the little people making it.
And while there are days the negative thoughts creep in or I care what people think … it’s certainly not as much as I did before. Because my self care has helped me shed the out-of-character version of me, and step into who God had intended me to be for my family all along.
It has helped me be more empathetic to other people having bad days.
When I started focusing on working on myself … it highlighted just how “off” I had been when I wasn’t making myself a priority. I tended to act out of character. I got agitated at other people more quickly. I was less patient with my kids. I didn’t want to talk to people in the preschool pickup line. I wasn’t able to see the positive in anything. I didn’t respond to calls and texts quickly. I didn’t reach out to friends.
Because of this, it has allowed me to see the people around me differently.
When I see other moms or friends doing the same things I used to, instead of judging her, wondering “what her problem is” or taking her distance personally – I now see myself in her, and extend to her what I needed in that time. I open myself up to her as a safe space. I offer to help. I extend kindness; knowing all of those things are what I needed when I was in that moment.
All things that ultimately fill my soul with positivity, and hopefully feed the ones of the people I love around me.
I don’t see bad days as bad. I see them as a chance to find the perspective and the message in the struggle.
We’ve all been there. A rough start to the school day when everyone is running late and nothing that you need is where it’s supposed to be. A mothering moment that impatience led instead of your heart. A fight with your spouse over something small. A domino game of months where nothing seems to go right and happiness seems to allude you.
Those things used to trigger a series of negative thoughts about my inability to have it “all together.” About my worth as a mother. About whether or not my husband would fully love me for who I am now as a mother, the way he did when he first met me.
Today, self care has given me the space to see these moments as not being “bad” … but instead as special deliveries of perspective; ready for us to open their envelopes so they can help us grow. Help us learn. Help us realize where we have opportunity to strengthen as a person… or to realize how far we’ve come when we see that we’ve handled it with grace.
And while I certainly don’t “welcome” bad days, when they do show up on my doorstep, I take a deep breath before they come through the door, and trust that it’s bringing some sort of new strength for me in its pocket.
I feel free.
When I was putting everyone and everything else first, I felt trapped. I could HEAR the real me inside begging to be let loose, but I didn’t know how to do it. It took practice and it took dedication to not let the moments that I sold myself short on self care to not give up.
But today, I feel like my inner spirit is set free. I’m living the life that feels authentic to me and brings me joy.
I deserve that. And you deserve that. And the people around us who love us (especially our kids) deserve to see that in us, too.
Brea Schmidt is a writer, photographer and mom advocate who aims to generate authentic conversation about motherhood and daily life on her blog, The Thinking Branch. She also owns the Pennsylvania-based family photography business Photography by Brea. When she isn't writing, photographing or Mom-ing her three kids under the age of five, you can usually find her listening to country music or aggressively cheering for her favorite sports teams. Find her on her blog The Thinking Branch and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.