February is the month of hearts and flowers — and an endless deluge of media persuading us to believe all the ways in which gifts can make us feel loved. We spend the month hoping that someone in our lives might surprise us with flowers, tuck a love note into a box of chocolates, write us a poem or hand deliver a letter — and when they come from the right person, these gestures of love and appreciation can mean the world.
But these are not the things that sustain the richest of relationships. When the chocolate is eaten and the flowers have wilted, what are you doing to feel loved?
This Valentines Day, I encourage all mothers to pause for a red hot minute, and take a careful look at the ways you’ve been loving yourself. And if by chance you realize you’ve been coming up short in the self-love department, then don’t wait another day to see if someone else might tell you how very valuable and worth it you are — start telling yourself!
Mothering is one of the most difficult jobs out there, and often seems the least gratifying and thankless — full of self-sacrifices to make sure that your child is receiving all the tender love and care they need. But loving your babies well should not come at the expense of your own worth and value — you deserve to “feel the love” even in the often chaotic mix of the day-to-day, and in fact will be able to give more to your babies when you are sustained.
Naturally, loving yourself well throughout motherhood is going to look different at each stage. The physical demands, daily routines and emotional complexities of developing children change so rapidly that you barely have time to think, “I got this!” when you’ve entered a whole new phase that requires an entirely different skill set.
Here are a few ideas on loving yourself through every stage — and understanding that taking time for yourself doesn’t require a lot of time or money:
Practice Intentional Gratitude
During pregnancy, when you wake up in the morning, start your day by thanking your body for the good work it is doing. Reward it in the ways that bring you joy: if you like to exercise, find a routine on the internet that supports and strengthens your body, and the expanding cradle it is providing for your growing baby. Give yourself a home spa treatment by rubbing coconut oil onto your face and belly. At the end of a long day, thank your tired feet by resting them in a simple hot water soak.
Make Time for Quiet Moments
With babies and toddlers, take a dozen minutes or more to lay down and rest, even if that means you’ll have your wee ones crawling all over you the entire time. You deserve a moment to be still. Breathe deep to flood your cells with oxygen. And for an extra boost of endorphins and serotonin (the feel good hormones known to induce relaxation, reduce stress, and lower your heart rate and blood pressure), try breaking into a smile as the release of these neurotransmitters are triggered by the movements of the muscles in your face.
Schedule “You” In
During the grade school years, intentionally design a little “me time” into every week. If even for an hour before the children wake up in the morning or after they go to bed at night, dedicate that time to yourself. Do something that brings you life — read a book, watch the latest award winning movie, exercise, listen to your music, dance, have a therapeutic talk on the phone with an old friend; or best yet, indulge in a hot bath or shower, uninterrupted.
With teenagers, see about taking a little time away to continue crafting your own dreams while your big kids are crafting theirs. Take a class, take a hike: heck, take a weekend. The bottom line is that it’s important to take time to get to know yourself again after the rigorous and physically demanding younger years of mothering.
Do you remember hearing the flight attendant on the airplane instruct you to put your own oxygen mask on first, before you help your child with theirs? Making sure that we’re all thriving, and not just surviving every day, is a lot like this. Keep this metaphor in mind as you navigate through motherhood on this Valentine’s Day and every day.