The Snowball Effect of Self-Care (5 stars...highly recommend)

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When I was 29 I got a call from a dear friend who told me she was pregnant. I jumped from my chair, squealed my congratulations, and shared in her joy. When I hung up the phone, I sat still for a few minutes until my husband asked me what was up, and then I broke down into tears. I wanted nothing more than to be pregnant and I sobbed out, “I just have so much love to give.” I was able to travel, read for pleasure, and go to happy hours. I was able to talk on the phone with a college roommate for an hour to catch up, without interruption. I was able to spend all of my money, time, and energy on myself (I mean...some went to my husband...but you know how it is). But I didn’t care. I wanted to share it. With a child of my own.

Nine years later I have three beautiful (insanely energetic, funny, dirt-encrusted) boys ages 6, 4, and 2. My husband and I both work incredible full time jobs with long commutes. The older boys are enrolled in one sport/activity each season. Dinner is usually semi-homemade. Date nights are too rare. Laundry is folded between 9-10pm when I’m able to finally have “quality time” with my husband each night. Life has changed dramatically. Most days I absolutely love it. My life sounds similar to that of many other women  I know, but there’s a lot more to me, to each of us. AND YET, it sometimes feels really time-consuming and exhausting to round out the details and create the full picture of who we are and how we evolved as women, after children.

Where do we start? Who do we put first? How do we prioritize the people in our lives? The roles we play for these people? The roles we want to play for ourselves? Who the hell am I NOW?

The term “self-care” has been all the rage for a number of years now. I get that it’s over-used but the sentiment is solid: we need to take care of ourselves. When I first started dabbling in the art of self-care I konmari’d my house, bought a new eyebrow pencil, prioritized my skin care regimen, and got a bathing suit that actually made me feel sexy while allowing me to chase my kids around. All good things. The most important part though, is that it started a snowball effect. These tiny tweaks helped me realize that I didn’t have to classify all of my needs or desires as “indulgences” and list them a secondary or tertiary priority because they were only for me. It was a refreshing realization after having given my body, mind, and soul into the life and health of my kids for a few years running.

Here’s the thing though. Throwing away the non-joy-sparking things was excellent (5 stars, highly recommend), and buying a new bathing suit was supremely satisfying, but neither were revolutionary. The best thing I’ve ever done for self-care and preservation didn’t cost me a damn dime. It took some time though...years, actually. The one thing that changed everything was when I started saying what I felt and what I wanted...out loud...to everyone...without apology. Seriously.

For some of you this may seem like rookie-level business. But it was hard for me. I like to make people feel welcome and appreciated, and for many years I would achieve that aim by allowing their needs and desires to come before mine. Before long, I lost a real sense of what it was I even wanted. In an effort to be easy-going my voice became negligible.

Like my toe dip into self-care a la the eyebrow pencil aisle, speaking up started small. When my kids asked me to draw them a pizza man in jail, I told them I didn’t want to because I needed to sit down and relax. When my husband suggested a tried-and-true restaurant for dinner, I shot it down because I could take it leave it. Microscopic adjustments that helped change the course. Over time, I started speaking up more and more and I discovered I was GOOD AT IT. When I didn’t think something made sense at work, I said it, even though the opinion made people uncomfortable and meant additional assignments (they got over it). When my friends started planning a weekend getaway and asked if I had any ideas, I gave them and I advocated fiercely for them (I got my top pick). When my favorite musician came to town for the 4th time in two years, I vowed not to miss him again, and bought tickets without consulting anyone...I’d go alone if I had to (I didn’t have to). When I was tired of being passed over for a sizable raise for the 3rd year in a row, I presented my case to my supervisor and continually followed up (I got more than I asked for). Things changed.

It’s no exaggeration to say that speaking up for myself saved my marriage. For a while our marriage was good but wasn’t great, it didn’t feel completely solid. I’m convinced that it didn’t feel solid because for a long time I held the belief that if my husband really loved me he would know me well enough to know what I was thinking, feeling, and what I needed. I have no idea why I thought this because it’s utter bullshit. I married a man, not a mind-reader. BUT, I held the belief, which means I held a bunch of other stuff too. I shut him out and I resented him for not being able to understand me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a passive person and no one bulldozed over me, but I held back. A lot. And after years of trying to change him, I *finally* got smart and admitted that the only person I could change was myself. So I did, but not by catering to him, by catering to me. Once I started speaking my thoughts, feelings, and needs...things shifted. Mark began to understand me a lot better because I simply let him in. When I felt on the verge of losing it I said it out loud because I needed help with the kids. When I was excited about how work went I shared it. When I was anxious because I felt like I was juggling 17 priorities in life, I told him. I gave him a window inside. This past summer we were vacationing in the Smoky Mountains (another set of 5 stars, highly recommend) and late one night my husband looked at me and thanked me. He thanked me for being more open over the past year and for working on us. I was so incredibly moved by his gratitude that I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had been working on me, that the “us” fell into place. It didn’t even matter, the course-correcting power of tiny tweaks is legit.

By prioritizing myself, I set (and keep!) boundaries, I feel confident in my choices (regardless of the shade thrown by others), I have a far better sense of who I am and how to wield my power, and I helped strengthen the most important relationship of my life. It took a while, it wasn’t always comfortable, and there’s room for improvement. But it was worth it.

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Jenn is a founding MotherNation member and mother to three boys (#schmidtsuperstars) who keep her hopping along with her full-time job at the Holocaust Museum and her own business, Elysian Coaching + Consulting. She is our real-life Tina Fey- a champion of women who makes us laugh so hard we cry. Follow her on Instagram @elysian_cc (5 stars…highly recommend).