Motherhood calls to mind the home, and we like to believe that the home is a private place. Perhaps we imagine row upon row of backyards, behind suburban or tenement houses, in each of which a woman hangs out the wash, or runs to pick up a tear-streaked two-year-old; or thousands of kitchens,
in each of which children are being fed and sent off to school. Or we think of the house of our childhood, the woman who mothered us, or of ourselves. We do not think of the laws which determine how we got to these places, the penalties imposed on those of us who have tried to live our lives according to a different plan, the art which depicts us in an unnatural serenity or resignation, the medical establishment which has robbed so many women of the act of giving birth, the experts—almost all male—who have told us how, as mothers, we should behave and feel. We do not think of the Marxist intellectuals arguing as to whether we produce “surplus value” in a day of washing clothes, cooking food, and caring for children, or the psychoanalysts who are certain that the work of motherhood suits us by nature. We do not think of the power stolen from us and the power withheld from us, in the name of the institution of motherhood.
Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution
Dear mothers and women with identities separate from the role you play in others’ lives.
As the summer holidays approach I just want to remind you that you have a right to self care. Self care is nourishing social contacts; taking time for your physical health; finding peer support and making time for therapeutic activities. Self care puts you in the right place to be able to care for others with love instead of resentment. Because it is all well and good to recognise that the “institution of motherhood” withholds power from us, but right now, we are in it. If we focus on looking after ourselves today then we can figure out how to destroy the patriarchy tomorrow.
Marisa Peer has a very easy breath exercise. She asks her audience to breathe out. To only breathe out. To only give air (I know that it’s carbon dioxide but stick with the analogy) not take in air (oxygen). How long is this sustainable? Her very quickly made point is that we cannot survive if we only ever give. As mothers are we cast into a role where we think that is what is expected of us? Do we believe that our role is to care for everybody and that we don’t deserve to be cared for in return? I hope not. But I understand if we secretly deep down think that. From the Virgin Mary to images of mothers in art, on television and in movies mother role models are always carers, nurturers and givers and when they aren’t - what a point of tension that becomes.
A night out or a coffee with a friend or any other regular face to face contact protects us from depression says this Psychology Today article .Face to face contact with our children or other family members doesn’t necessarily count. This study for the NHS discovered that these networks can actually place more obligations and burdens on women. Instead, the research found that women’s friendship networks are more important for mental wellbeing. Our mental health isn’t just important to us, if we are the main carers in our family then it is important for our kids too. I recommend booking a walking catch up with a friend - feel better from being outside, having a chat and get the endorphins from the exercise all at the same time.
As well as trying to make regular dates with my female friends I belong to Driven Woman. This is a life working group for women. We meet monthly and get support in our business and life journeys. We set our own objectives each month and are then accountable to the group at our next meeting. It is wonderful to be supported and guided by smart, interesting women.
A movement class or a good long walk helps us find joy in our bodies, it helps us feel well, gives us energy, helps us sleep, challenges and changes our movement habits. It is an investment in our physical health and longevity. Women often brush off the idea of spending money on 1:1 sessions and I don’t push them. I am more interested to hear that they are moving every day. As long as they prioritise movement I am happy. When I hear women say that they wouldn’t spend that amount of money on themselves. I feel sad because I hear “I don’t deserve to spend an hour a week with someone who is entirely focussed on guiding me to move in a way that is great for my body”
When I don’t go to my dance classes and Pilates studio sessions I start to hurt and I have less energy. When I have less energy I am much less fun to be around and am a far less patient parent.
I wonder if people who don’t prioritise their movement time are the same ones who don’t get massages? Is this for the same reason? Massage is brilliant. I have one a month. I do this to prevent injury. My husband has one to help him relax. Studies (so many studies) show that massage reduces cortisol, lowers blood pressure, increases the immune system's white blood cells, decreases migraine frequencies, improves sleep quality etc etc. On my resources page I recommend two amazing massage therapists. Petra for pre and postnatal women has made my almost ten year old C section scar much freer. Roger, has been a masseur for over thirty years and reads bodies with his hands. If you tell them I sent you I’m sure they’ll give you a discount ;) If you don’t want to play for a massage convince someone, anyone to give you one. You can repay them with a massage too.
Energy supporting nutrition is also an exercise in self care and self love - yes juicing is a bit of a hassle and requires cleaning up. Making and then freezing nutritious snacks requires time and planning. Making a big salad filled with vegetables and lentils/quinoa/nuts/seeds etc also requires mental effort. Is it all worth it? Are you worth it? I think so. I heard an American say “you can never look a million bucks on the 99 cent menu.” I love that saying and my version of that is to believe that “I fill myself with good food” so I do. It does require more time than a sandwich, crisps and a chocolate bar but the energy return is worth it.
I realise that all of the things that I have described as important self care tools are luxuries. If they don’t require much money they require time. Lovely privileged mothers. We are very lucky, we are educated; we have enough money for holidays; we have our mental and physical health and we have the space in our lives for self care. We deserve it. If you know a mother who can’t afford self care please help her. Can you skill swap with her? Can you look after her kids for a few hours? When we help other women we are like a rising tide lifting all boats. This is the first step in smashing the patriarchy. Enjoy your summer