Go Big: Self Care to the Tenth Degree

By:  Gari Lister

What is a good mom?  Here’s how I would answer a questionnaire on how I was a good mom today:  I drove my ten year old an hour and twenty minutes each way to skating camp; I tried really really hard to talk to my twelve year old about sensitive pre-teen things I cannot share here; I fed my kids mostly healthy gluten free meals; my house is reasonably clean; I taught my middle daughter how to complete a job successfully; I gave the girls all kinds of brain-strengthening vitamins; and I went to yoga.  Ok, maybe I wouldn’t include the last item.  But maybe I should.

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Because sometimes the best way we can help our kids is to help ourselves.  I am calmer and more patient than I was a year ago even though my world doesn’t seem to have changed much.  My little one is still behind in school, and she still bursts into tears at random things – today it was because she was afraid (with no identifiable basis) that we would never again have pizza in our favorite restaurant.  My twelve year old is still nasty for unspecified reasons, and my cats still have completely unnecessary and inappropriate accidents. We still don’t have enough disposable income, and – well, I could go on, but you get the idea.

But I’m changed.   Because I did something that most moms of traumatized kids would never think to do.  I invested time and way more money than we can afford – not on therapy for our kids (as we usually do), but on me.  I paid to dedicate three months to an intensive yoga teacher training program that required me to spend eight weekends and numerous evenings away from my kids and my husband.  My girls hated it.  They acted out, they whined, they complained.  Sometimes they were so sad it broke my heart.  My husband, who is great – but not used to being “on the front lines” all day – kept asking me if I could stay home “just today.”

Which was really tempting.  The training was tough.  I am not naturally flexible, and let’s just say that fitness was not my top priority for the first ten years or so after we adopted our girls.  I was also the oldest in my class by more than 10 years.  In short, I was waay outside my comfort zone.

I did miss a few sessions – when my girls truly needed me – but I stuck with the program.  And because of it, I’m stronger than I have been in years.  Maybe ever.  I’m more creative and energetic, and I laugh a lot more.  I knew yoga helped me stay calmer in my girls’ crises.  But here’s what I didn’t know: investing three months in something for me has done something miraculous:  it’s made more of ME.  And because there’s more of ME, I can do more than just stay calm:  I can prevent crises.

Why is that?  Well, once my girls’ challenges became apparent, my heart and mind have always – twenty-four hours a day – been preoccupied with them and their issues. Oh, I worked, and I volunteered, and I spent time with friends.  But somewhere along the line I stopped being present to anything other than helping my girls.  Everything I did and thought was about them.  Initially, they were so fragile that I needed to be that way.  But somehow I missed when they got better and we transitioned to the long haul.   My girls need me to be there for them – maybe more than most ten and twelve year olds – but they also need me to inspire them.  And they need me to show them that they’re strong enough to be without me sometimes.

For me, true self-care required more than yoga once or twice a week.  Taking care of yourself can be going for a jog or scrapbooking or making mosaics…  or it might be committing to a marathon or learning a language or starting a business.  Our kids take a lot out of us, and sometimes we need to go big to get “it” back.   I did, and because I did, we’re all stronger … even my girls.

Touching Trauma at Its Heart is a blog written by Attachment & Trauma Network’s voices: a collection of parents, professionals and volunteers who represent a variety of perspectives and experiences related to attachment issues and the effect of trauma on children and on families.

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