I once read a quote about self-care not only being bubble baths and face masks, but creating a life you don’t want to escape from. I remember vividly the frantic need for an escape during the early years of motherhood. It was all so new and so much. So much need and noise. So much worry and emotion. So much more love than I ever could have imagined was humanly possible. I knew nothing had or ever would come close to comparing to what it meant to be a mother. And right next to all of the joy and gratitude the role evoked, sat an immense amount of pressure and fear.
I created impossible expectations for myself. I stressed over preparing the healthiest homemade baby food, tending to each detail of the most creative birthday party themes, enforcing sleep schedules babies didn’t agree with, coordinating outfits no one else wanted to wear and implementing strategic home organizational strategies that my adult ADHD brain mercilessly sabotaged. For a while, it’s possible I pulled off the false perception of perfection at the expense of completely losing touch with who I was in the process. But behind the scenes of the happy family photos, I was drowning.
As I looked at my toddler daughter one day- so happy and free and full of personality and life- I knew that if I wanted all of the magic inside of her to last, I had to exemplify a woman who was able to maintain her own measure of magic individuality within motherhood. I had to begin living in a way I would be happy for my children to someday mimic. I was inspired for the first time to take tangible steps towards becoming whole, loved and at home within myself with hopes of helping them become whole, loved and at home within themselves for having witnessed it in me.
Nurturing my creativity through writing has been the single most important step in rediscovering and accepting my truest self. It has opened my mind and guided me toward a more compassionate approach to the world around and within me. Using my creative gifts to bring meaning and movement to the emotions I used to stifle and suppress has been deeply therapeutic. It doesn’t, however, completely replace the benefits of actual talk therapy.
Investing in my mental health has been one of the kindest things I’ve done for myself. It’s been empowering to see the positive changes that have come about from consistently holding space for my most candid voice. And in an effort to align my physical and mental strength, I’ve worked to reframe my thoughts on exercise.
What used to be a chore, or punishment for over-indulgence is now a gift I offer myself- a portal to replenishment, but only when I remember to check in with what my body truly needs. Some days it’s a jog, others it’s a gentle walk or yoga. Some days, it’s meditation, or rest and realization that taking time to be still is restorative and powerfully productive in it’s own right.
Through each of these practices- and some bubble baths, too- I’ve found that the most spectacular and unexpected aspect of self-love is the way it radiates into those we care most about. As a mother it’s easy to believe that taking time for myself takes away from my family. But refueling my energy and refreshing my attitude benefits all of us when it allows me to offer a better version of myself to them. And I hope that in outwardly caring for myself, my children are absorbing the importance of prioritizing their personal needs as they grow into the responsibilities of adulthood.
There will inevitably be times I need an element of escape from the overwhelming anxieties of parenting. But in consciously assessing and honoring my needs, that escape plan typically looks more like a run around the block than fantasies of running away to a deserted island. My attempts at self-sacrificial motherhood perfection did no favors for anyone. They only created unnecessary chaos and missed opportunities to find value in the messiness of motherhood. It isn’t always easy or enjoyable, but nothing will ever matter to me more. In offering myself the grace necessary to become more peacefully present in these brutally fleeting days, I grow continually more aware of the ways each experience with my children blends with those that have come before and the moments that remain to be met to create a beautiful life well worth showing up for.
Ellie Norris is a mother of two from Collierville, Tennessee. She writes to empower, entertain and inspire creativity through authentically relatable stories of motherhood and identity. Follow @ellienorris.writer on Instagram for more of her work.