Guest post by Suzi Lula
For many years, my intention has been to live a fulfilled life. Actually, I aim to live an inspired life so that I can make my time on Earth a masterpiece.
When I became a mother, this became even more important, for the quality of my life now affects the quality of my son’s life.
Yet now that I had a child, to actually live an inspired life suddenly became much more challenging. I found it quite difficult to engage in the kinds of things that really brought quality to my life.
This was only partly because another being was now entirely dependent on me. Mostly it was because of an unspoken cultural message that says sacrifice is noble, and to even think of considering your own needs alongside of, let alone before, those of your child is to be self-centered.
The idea that “taking care of ourselves is selfish” is a deeply ingrained belief I find myself encountering constantly in the clients, and especially mothers, I see in my counseling practice.
No one loves their child more, wants more for their child, and seeks to give to their child more than a mother. But a mother can’t truly give to her child – or anyone else for that matter – when her own tank is empty.
Deep down within us, we intuitively know these things, yet we have such a struggle with taking care of our own needs as mothers. I know that when I finally realized I needed to place my needs not last on my to-do list but ahead of everything else, it initially felt selfish. However, in practice it turned out to be anything but.
There’s never been a more important time for mothers to nurture themselves.
The better we care for ourselves, the more we flourish—and the more we flourish, the easier it is to consciously care for our children. Rather than “sacrificing” ourselves for the sake of our children, as has so long been the mother’s mantra, we must commit to thriving for the sake of our children. We must dare to say that by putting ourselves first, paradoxically we have more to give to our children. And giving that flows from our own fullness, instead of from being run ragged, is done joyously and abundantly.
Ironically, when we serve our family from a sense of overflowing well-being, we restore the word “sacrifice” to its original meaning, which is to “make sacred.”
Mama, This is Your Permission to Thrive
Mothers are doing some of the most important work on the planet, yet they are among the most undervalued segments of society—in many cases almost to the point of invisibility. Consequently, I’ve found myself becoming somewhat of an advocate for mothers. When mothers flourish, living a life of meaning and purpose, it not only enriches their relationship with their children but every relationship in their life. Mothers in particular appear to need “permission” to take care of their own needs alongside those of others. They don’t seem to realize that they too have not just a need but an inherent right to flourish.
I love the word “thrive,” which speaks to the experience of an inner sense of well-being in the midst of any external situation we find ourselves in—and that consequently surpasses any fulfillment we can derive from the world around us, or from our children.
To thrive as mothers means we experience a sense of well-being even in the chaos that often closes in around us where raising our children is concerned.
If there’s one group on the planet whose spirits need to be nourished, and who therefore need desperately to engage in this inner-care, it’s mothers. The announcement heard before every commercial jetliner takes off speaks to us as mothers: “Put your own oxygen mask on first.” When we hear this announcement on a flight, we don’t think that putting on our oxygen mask first would be selfish. We understand we can best assist others when our own mask is securely in place. Well, just as we value the importance of this act of self-care in an emergency, why wouldn’t we value self-care in our daily life?
Thinking that self-care is selfish implies that a mother would take care of herself to the exclusion of her children.
Quite the opposite, those with the most vitality are the first to assist others in life. When oxygen masks drop from above us on a flight, we don’t for a moment intend to put on our own oxygen mask, then do nothing to assist those around us.
None of us wants to be called selfish or, worse, “narcissistic,” which is the tendency to imagine the world revolves around us. So it may surprise you to hear that taking care of ourselves is actually the antidote to narcissism. How so? In narcissism—and, surprisingly, its polar opposite, feeling like a martyr—our whole focus is ironically on ourselves.
“Taking care of yourself doesn’t mean me first, it means me too.” L.R.Knost
When I am running on fumes, without saying a word, I can walk into a room and everyone can feel my grumpy mood. My son may think he needs to walk on eggshells, so as not to “upset mommy.” Everything is revolving around me and my mood. This is narcissism!
In contrast, when we care for ourselves and take the time to nourish our spirit, our life is enriched and we are able to care for and truly give to others from our overflow.
Caring for ourselves is not only not selfish, it’s the most self-less thing we can do for our children.
Are You Running on Empty?
If you are running on empty, caring for others feels burdensome. In contrast, caring for others when your tank is full and on overflow causes you to feel alive and purposeful. When we are full, we can be completely present with our children and those around us.
In my counseling practice, I notice that mothers especially tend to run on empty. We think of inner-care as expendable. When the pressure is on, caring for her own well-being is usually the first thing tossed from a mother’s list.
Ironically, it’s precisely when finding time for inner-care seems the most challenging that it’s actually most needed and most warranted. These are the moments when self-care should be just about the last thing to go.
Today, more and more mothers are seeking to live their life and parent their children in a more awakened and conscious way. But striving to do this challenging work from an empty tank is virtually impossible. Context is everything. When we change the context from one of lack and deprivation to one of abundance and fulfillment, the whole experience of motherhood itself changes.
When you are thriving, all those around you benefit.
Motherhood Through the Lens of Abundance
We have been gifted with life—that of our own, not just our child’s. The better we treasure and care for this precious life, the better we encourage our children and everyone around us to live meaningful, purposeful, and richly rewarding lives.
This seems so simple, yet the internal pressure we experience, along with the cultural pressure—not to mention the sheer logistics involved when raising children—sometimes makes taking the simplest step of caring for ourselves feel like we’re swimming upstream. Constantly battling against a current that says we should “do without” in order to serve our children certainly isn’t fun, and neither does it really work—not for us, and not for our children or anyone else around us.
In our culture, I witness what I call a martyr complex and a guilt epidemic. I can’t tell you how many women and men talk to me about how they somehow feel they’re never “doing enough, never “good enough.” Thus, the thought of doing what it takes to nourish our spirit, instead of giving all our attention to our children, is seen through a filter of guilt.
We then seek to alleviate this feeling by overdoing and overachieving, which never works.
Look closely at this filter and you’ll see that it’s rooted in an either-or mentality. Such a mindset is based on a belief in lack and implies that if one person gets their needs met, another may not. This causes us to abandon what, deep within ourselves, we know to be true for us—that if we don’t take good care of ourselves, we can’t really take care of anyone else.
But what if there’s actually more than enough for everyone to have their needs met, especially our children? And not only met, but met in abundance? What if abundance, not lack is, is the natural way of things?
What if we began to view the whole of motherhood through the filter of abundance rather than lack?
What if we looked at motherhood through a filter of both-and rather than either-or? What if it actually benefitted my child when I take care of myself?
Isn’t this what philanthropy is all about? A philanthropist has an abundance of good that they graciously share with others. In the same vein, I have a vision of mothers overflowing with inspired energy and enjoying a fulfilling life. Wouldn’t we then freely share our vitality with our children and our gifts with the world?
About the author: Suzi Lula is a visionary leader who is transforming the way people think about Self Care and Motherhood. This post is an excerpt from Suzi’s book, The Motherhood Evolution: How Thriving Mothers Raise Thriving Children. A much sought after spiritual counselor and inspirational speaker, she combines her innovative teaching over her 18 years in private practice with her training in spiritual psychology. Teaching mothers (and others) that they don’t need to martyr and sacrifice themselves for the sake of their children, but THRIVE for the sake of their children! Join Suzi’s Free Six Day Soul Care Challenge in Six Minutes a Day to start making self care a healthy habit.