NURTURING THE WHOLE SELF
As a mother, it has become easy for me to define nurturing as something I give to others–whether in marriage, mothering, friendship, creative pursuits, or service–but I’m slowly realizing as life increasingly grows more full and complex (even in the best ways), I simply cannot give much of anything without first receiving. There is a reason flight attendants remind passengers in the event of an emergency to give oxygen to themselves before helping another: it’s not always instinctive. To most mothers, it might even seem counter-intuitive.
Honestly, I’m not always good about protecting and maintaining self-care practices. Even though I have always been attentive to food and exercise, at times even these practices have been harsh, a perfectionistic pursuit detached from the rhythm and season of life. This has more often led me to crash-and-burn type cycles, rather than discovering a steady way to love and take care of myself right where I am. At some point two years ago, I decided I didn’t have the energy to expend on rigid exercise regimes and stopped almost altogether. In terms of longevity and wellness, that’s not really a great option either.
This year, I’ve felt the need more than ever to strengthen the whole of me again, to pay attention to my changing body, skin, energy, and emotions, to nurture and nourish myself from the inside out, not just just merely “get in shape.” At 37, I believe my best self is still in front of me, opposed to a shadow in the past to whom I’m trying to make my way back. 2016 is teaching me about gentleness and patience with myself, in short how to allow my whole self to unfold. And so I’m beginning this new series Nurturing Wholenss here, where I hope to share gentle practices I’m learning along the way.
The deeper I grow into womanhood, the more I recognize the importance of morning rituals–gentle, patterned ways for me to begin a new day. I learned this from my own mother, who from my earliest memories was always up before me, reading and journaling, drinking warm English tea, talking with my father, or listening to morning talk radio while she made breakfast. We tease her now, how she would wake us for school with her chipper songs and loud movements in the kitchen, as though she had lived half a day already. In some ways, she had.
Although I prefer waking naturally (with the sun), I began setting a morning alarm several years ago to wake early in the morning before both the children and the sun. I couldn’t do such things in the earliest years of motherhood, when nights were at times as wakeful as the day. Life with small children and babies is rarely divided into equal parts: some hours are lit by the sun; many are lit by the moon. I found myself a more sane person working with our unusual home rhythms in that stage: sleeping as much as possible at night, briefly napping during the day, and waking to snuggles or coos from my earliest birds, often ready for breakfast. That too was a morning ritual of its own. Still as our family grew, I noted on the rare mornings I naturally woke before the kids, our days felt a bit smoother. My busy days with them naturally stemmed from a more peaceful, nourished place within me. I felt a bit more prepared for the questions, “what are we going to do today?” I decided then to be more intentional about this beginning portion of my day and six short years later, this is why I still wake early.
Friends often remark to me that they could never wake early because they’re not a morning person. I assure you, I am not naturally a morning person either. I like to wake slowly and quietly. I don’t enjoy talking when I first wake up, even when I’m fully rested. Waking earlier, although harder at first, has given me the space for silence and thought that I need before having to offer anything to anyone else in a day. I have used this brief period of time in different ways over the years. Morning rituals are more an art than a science. The intention is that this period of time always serves what I’m needing to restore in that specific season.
MY CURRENT PRACTICES
Currently, I set my alarm for 5am on weekdays, since it’s difficult for me to find uninterrupted time during the days with homeschooling right now. After brushing my teeth, I’ll drink a full glass of water and spend a few minutes stretching, praying, and/or meditating. I do this long enough to feel awake and present. I then refill another glass of water and make a cup of coffee. I light a candle at my desk (an idea I borrowed here from my friend, Kirsten) and write a blog post or edit photos until 6:45 or 7am. I try to save emails for later in the day since they don’t often require as much concentration, and I try my best to avoid social media and my phone altogether. as they can distract me from my own voice and time constraint. Two to three mornings a week, I fill a water bottle after stretching and pick up my sister for simple strengthening workouts at the gym together (a new habit I’m making space for this year, and part of the reason for more sporadic posting here). I’ll share more about that another time. At 7am, it’s time for me to transition to breakfast, and this of course is the hardest part, especially when I’m in the midst of good writing flow. On those days, I jot down a few notes and stop anyway to start my day with Mark and then the kids. I blow out my candle, a signifier that this period of quiet is over until tomorrow. I wake up the kids, and sit down with Mark for a few minutes before he’s out the door. In the wake of busy family life, these few moments can mean much in our marriage. The kids and I then begin making our breakfast and aim to meet at the dining table at 7:30am for read-a-loud and memory work. We’re not overly rigid about this routine, but I find having simple goals keeps us focused and an early start leaves more room in the afternoon for whimsy.
IDEAS TO ESTABLISH NURTURING MORNING RITUALS FOR YOURSELF
wake at the same time daily / Each person has different Circadian Rhythms, leanings toward morning or evening energy. Regardless of when your day begins, aim to wake at the same time daily to create consistent rhythms through the rest of your day.
unplug / This is the most obvious and yet the most difficult for me to follow. My alarm is on my phone, so it’s natural that I’d begin checking social medias or email from my bed to begin. I’m re-training myself to do other things first. It’s easier for me to hear myself think and not be distracted by what other’s are doing. The focus of this time isn’t to produce or connect, it’s to nurture my soul, to restore and wake up for the day. My day. I’ve learned it’s best to save emails and social connections for later in the morning after I’ve had some time alone.
hydrate / According to this study, mild dehydration in women directly affects focus and mood. It can lead to headaches and decreased energy throughout the day. Since I tend to forget drinking water as consistently later in the busy day, I always begin my morning by drinking a full glass or two of water first thing in the morning. It always helps wake me up, and generally I feel more alert and attentive from the start.
stretch, meditate, pray / Taking time, even five to ten minutes, for stretching helps me connect with my body. I tend to notice if I’m sore or inflexible in specific areas. I notice stress–I generally get a knot in my top right shoulder–or anxiety in my stomach and am able to begin releasing those things physically through movement and spiritually through prayer.
read or write / Journal, blog, write a letter or a poem. Writing can be restorative, as can reading.
drink coffee or tea / This is one of my favorite parts of the morning. The smell of coffee comforts me and feels kindred to writing and reading practices, but if I’m feeling anxious on a particular morning, I’ll wait until later in the morning, as it can upset my stomach.
play soft music / I don’t do this every morning, but I find playing music is always soothing to my soul. I tend to choose instrumental music during this time so I don’t become distracted with lyrics. My current favorite album for the early morning is Bethel’s “Without Words Synesthesia” or Balmorhea’s “Balmorhea.”
make your bed / I know. This is mom-ish thing to write, but making my bed somehow makes the space and my day feel more orderly.
take a walk / Sometimes it’s nice just to be outdoors in the early morning, especially when the sun rises. Walking doesn’t require tons of focus, but it can be a quiet way to wake up your body and soul for the day ahead. Physical exercise can be a great way for many people to begin a day.
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Oh my gosh, I am an older mother of three young girls, and I started homeschooling this school year, and I am worn out… dog tired because I haven’t allowed myself to recharge. Your blog is so very encouraging to me. It reminds me of seasons when I have taken better care of myself and motivates me to do so again. Thank you! Thank you! God certainly uses your loveliness, transparency, humility, and…”je ne sais quoi” to bless me.
Really liked it. First, I was thinking that it’s nothing for me because I’ve got to go to the office in the morning. Then I just started. It’s just about 15 minutes in the morning. I practice a ritual now since 2 weeks. A candle, stretching and reading with open windows in my living room. Incredible. Didn’t had any back/neck pain this 2 weeks and feel much more balanced. Feels good to appreciate the mornings, not just for “getting ready for office”
Thank you for that post.
(quote something from you in my blog, I hope it’s okay)
I appreciate that you often mention what so and so looked like when you had many little ones running at your feet. I am in this season now and the practical help that your, “this is what I used to do,” offers is refreshing. Thank you for sharing those tiny bits of your earlier days in motherhood.
I truly love this Bethany. Thank you for the mention of how different it is in the baby years. I think I’m hard on myself sometimes about not pushing myself to get up early every day, even when the baby has had me up a lot at night. The days I do get the chance to wake even slightly before the kids are so sweet though, and I know it will happen more in coming years.
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The way you write is inspiring and motivating. I have been struggling to wanting to wake up early this week because I felt I have been running out of patience and I think it’s because I need some quiet time to meditate on His word and to workout. I have 2 littlest who wake up in the middle of the night to pee so when 5 am comes I’m like I want more sleep. What time do you go to bed ? And do you wake up at 5 am on the weekends too ? Thanks.
REALLY, really love this.
I’m so grateful to hear this resonates with you, friend, and of course I am also grateful for the encouragement. xx
love this. on a nice weekend day i get myself a cup of coffee and sit outside in the sun all by myself. on a cloudy morning i sit with my coffee at the table but it is never quite the same as being in nature. thankfully my kids are now 6 and 8 so i can grab some time to myself. on school days though when they must leave at 6:45 it is so hard to start the day off on a right note; it feels rushed and not relaxing.
Yes! You’re giving words to what the Lord is showing me as well:) I love how consistently you lend yourself to His voice to me, sister!
Now if only we lived closer. Love you, friend. x
Thank you for such a thoughtful post.
You’re welcome, Miranda. Warmest to you.
Thank you for this series. I feel a bit lost in this season of young children, homeschool and a newborn. Honestly it is difficult for me to know how to nurture myself or even connect to my heart in this season that is so focused on doing instead of being. I appreciate the tips; thank you for sharing what you have learned : )
Well, you’re not alone. Although some bits of this have gotten easier as my children have grown, other parts have become more complicated. It’s encouraging to know we’re not alone, isn’t it? I’m glad to hear this is an encouragement to you.
So good. Excited for this series to continue!
I’m so glad to hear this, Elizabeth. Thank you.
Thank you Bethany. I used to really be a morning person and I feel the gentle tuggings of wanting that again. I simply cannot make myself do it though. I don’t sleep well at night as it is, so I think part of it is that I almost never wake up feeling refreshed. If I do go through a span of waking myself up earlier, I find that I must nap on those days. I’m not entirely sure which is a better use of my day. Waking early and napping or just allowing my body to rest. I do struggle with medical problems and part of me feels bitter toward my body for needing so much rest. I do wish for a dedicated way to start my day off without feeling so exhausted though. I don’t know if you have any thoughts on this…
Heather, I am certain that there is no one way to go about our days and I imagine it’s best to listen to your body. I often take a little cat nap in the afternoons if I feel exhausted. There’s no shame in needing rest. Zero. None. Motherhood (and life in general, really) is busy mentally and physically and proper rest is one way we take care of ourselves (a future topic in this series). If sleeping a bit is helpful, then continue, but try to find a way to begin the day in a manner that feels restorative for you, even if they’re small things, like drinking water and stretching, or having a few quiet minutes outdoors alone. xx
One thing which has really helped me (even though you didn’t ask ME *grin*), when I can’t get up before the children, is to teach them to take some quiet time first thing too. Sometimes you have to meet some food needs first (or diapers), but it is possible even with a little baby and a three year old boy who likes nothing better than to run and stand on his head. The baby sits in my lap, and the others quietly look at books. Even 15 minutes to pray and read The Word and write a few lists makes a world of difference, and the training is good for their character too. It’s an investment though. I often repeat in though the day as needed.
I’m finally coming around to loving this body in the now instead of chasing that shadow of my past; you put that so beautifully. I am really looking forward to this blog series! Thanks, as always. xo
I’m in the same place, Elissa. It’s funny how I’ve never considered myself to be self-conscious about my body until recently. I’ll write more about this later in the series. Self-love, although hokey sounding, is so valuable to our perspective of the world and home. Best to you this weekend. x
I too find myself in the happy and exhausting chaos that is small children and babies and we’re not done yet. Thank you for reminding me that although I will thoroughly enjoy cultivating a personal morning ritual in the years to come, there is still something precious in my shared mornings with two little ones (even when I fail to see it myself). While I am certainly a morning person I have forced myself to make better use of my nights once the children are in bed as this is often the only time I have in the day to read, write and edit photos. I’ve found when I haven’t pushed on that the following day my patience is lacking and I’m greedy for ‘me time.’ Thank you for your insight. I always need reminding to surrender to this season of family life because I know the day will come all too quickly when I wake with the sun and not with the happy coos of a four month old or a little voice saying, “Hello Mummy.”
I do miss those little morning snuggles and wake-ups, truly. And I also think it’s common to find ourselves at the end of our patience and energy when we haven’t had proper time for quiet. Morning rituals are always evolving. They must adjust to what we need in the season we’re in. I completely believe healthy morning rituals can be formed with kids in tow. In fact, it can teach them how to do the same as they grow, too. ;)
“I completely believe healthy morning rituals can be formed with kids in tow. In fact, it can teach them how to do the same as they grow, too.” It’s funny you say that because I found myself over the weekend thinking about what our current morning ritual looks like and what I’d like to change and/or add. It’s a work in progress and like you said, it will change with each season. I’ve been following your blog and instagram for a little while now and am only at the beginning of this rabbit hole of home schooling (we are big fans of Charlotte Mason, CIRCE Institute and the like) but it is so good to have your words as a mother on the ground, so to speak. I trust you had a lovely Mother’s Day and certain hints were taken so that you found refreshment x
I love this so much and it speaks to me on so many levels as a mother, as a woman. Thank you for taking the time to put these into words and sharing
You’re welcome, Tahereh. I’m so grateful to hear they have been a gift to you, just as they have to me. x
Thanks so much for these gentle reminders to take care of ourselves. I am looking forward to these quiet mornings once I’m out of the babies and toddlers phase. :) I also experience stress and tension as a knot in my right shoulder! It’s my ‘canary in the coal mine’ to remind me to take better care of myself.
Yes, exactly! The knot reminds me also to slow down, to stretch, to release something. I hope you can find ways for quiet even in the exact phase you’re in now, even if they’re small moments or practices. Every bit helps. x
This is so inspiring. I found you recently through Instagram because of your beautiful and calming images. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you so much, Courtney. Warmest to you.
Thank you, Bethany❤️
Thank you for these wonderful suggestions! I look forward to reading the Nurture the Whole Self section of your blog :) I want to aim for this & work towards goals such as this as much as possible, but I am in the thick of the “young children” days so I know it’s a challenge. Enjoy your IG too btw, very inspiring! :)
In the thick of it is right! But there’s a beautiful ritual to discover in those years, too. I hope you find something, no matter how small or simple, that works for you right where you are. x