As this last toddler-naptime of 2019 quietly rolls by, I’m finding myself sitting on our faded red couch, listening to the wind rustle outside our arched windows, and reflecting on my year. In truth, I am feeling serenely proud of how much we all learned and grew as a family. It’s an odd feeling, to reflect and feel pride.. because typically at this time of year, I am caught in post-holiday burnout, and scheming about what I need to do better in the new year.
But this year… this year (!) I think I finally found a peaceful balance. And for the sake of reflection (and camaraderie with you, sweet reader) I’d like to share some of my favorite self-care and personal growth highlights of 2019!
1. PICKING A WORD OF THE YEAR:
Last January, I picked a word of the year: “attention.” I even wrote a blog post about it, where I mulled over strategies to be more present with my family.. I’d never tried this strategy before, but had heard much praise about it on various social media outlets.. So even though it felt a bit silly, we tried it as a family.
Looking back, I’m so thankful that I set it as an intention for our minds and hearts, because “attention” was indeed a recurring theme for all 3 of us in 2019.
I worked a LOT on perpetually evaluating and streamlining my creative commitments, so I could gift my full attention to my daughter during the day (and husband during the night). This looks like saying “no” to requests, not overbooking playdates/activities, and turning off my phone in the evenings.
Jacob worked a lot on keeping his work life organized and efficient, so that he could be fully present with us in the evenings. I appreciate this about him SO much. It feels so wonderful to know that he prioritizes his time with us, plus I know it takes major self-control to shut off work thoughts during family time.
And Violet, our sweetheart, has grown leaps and bounds as a toddler this year. We’ve worked a lot on communicating when she feels that she wants attention. She now confidently knows how to say “excuse me” and “I need attention, Mommy.” When she does have negative attention-seeking moments, we talk openly about it, and she usually wants to try again in a more positive way. I’m so proud of her.
Overall, I think we all benefitted from thinking so purposefully about our attention, and we probably wouldn’t have made such strides if it weren’t for setting that “word of the year.” I’m planning to do this again for 2020!
2. BEING INTENTIONAL WITH BODY POSITIVITY
Like so many women, I’ve always struggled with my body image. Although weirdly, since I became a Mom, I actually do feel more relaxed about my body, which has been a wonderful relief! But there are still many days when I feel overwhelmed by negative self-image. While swimming with my family this summer, I had this great “aha-moment” (here’s the IG post I shared about it) which has turned into a helpful self-care strategy for me:
When I’m anxious about my body, I intentionally focus my attention on something I DO like about myself, like taking time to do a pretty hairstyle, or picking an outfit that highlights my tattoos.It’s so simple, but it REALLY has been a game changer for me!
Another helpful strategy from 2019: I started following more body-positive and fat-positive Instagram feeds. Now, whenever I am scrolling and see a woman who LOOKS like me, I instantly smile! And feel better about myself! I think it’s so helpful to curate your influences with intention. A few of my favorite accounts right now are: Tess Holliday, Tori Block, Megan Jayne Crane, and Mia O’Malley.
I also just discovered this great body-positive podcast called “Plus Mommy” that really lifted my spirits on a day when I needed a pep talk! It was right before my anniversary, and I was feeling down on myself for gaining a lot of pregnancy weight, and this podcast cheered my right up. (I listened to Episode 6).
If you have any other recommendations for body-positive podcasts or audiobooks, I’d love to hear them!
3. BAKING BREAD AND KNITTING SWEATERS
I’m going to lump these two hobbies together because they’re both meditative self-care activities that have brought me SO MUCH JOY this year.
2019 was the year of bread in our household. I’m not exaggerating. Violet and I now make bread 1-3 times a week on average now. I’d made yeast breads in the past, but never have I baked with such wild abandon until 2019!!
I think what really hooked me was learning to bake Sourdough. I wouldn’t call myself a devout sourdough baker (in fact, I don’t even have a starter living right now) but learning sourdough was a game-changer for me. It was something totally new to try, and I had to tend to the starter every day. It was like a ritual, feeding that starter. I felt really proud of myself for keeping at it and making some beautiful loaves! It’s a hard thing to learn, and overall just turned out to be an incredible self-care tool for me. (If you are interested in learning about sourdough, I highly recommend you try the “Foodbod Sourdough” method!!)
Now, I view all baking as an important self-care strategy throughout the week. I love the methodical, tactile process of connecting with dough. I love baking with Violet, because it always raises my spirits! And I especially love the time it takes to proof dough – it’s a beautiful reminder to take breaks in your work and to savor the process of creating. ….also it makes my house smell amazing which really impacts my mood. Not joking!
Next: SWEATERS. Oh my, how I have fallen in love with knitting sweaters. Honestly I always shied away from sweaters because of my own body image insecurities. But this year, I knitted a sweater for my husband, which was a fun learning process! And THEN, I knit myself a SWONCHO. It’s a sweater-poncho combination, so it’s super comfy and I didn’t have to worry about whether it would fit my body perfectly. It turned out FABULOUS and it gave me such joy and confidence, both with my knitting skills and with my self-image! There is something extremely rewarding about wearing a homemade sweater, like you’re wrapped in an actual hug. And after that swoncho, my knitting took on a whole new life of its own.
I mean, I was always a knitter, but now, thanks to sweaters, I am comfortable calling myself an avid knitter. It’s become such a comfortable, meditative, (yet exciting!) hobby that I knit practically every day. It’s become a self-care priority for me, to knit and to be a serious knitter. 🙂
Overall, I think both baking and knitting have become to important self-care strategies to me for two reasons:
1. The act of creating something practical, for my family, is both grounding and rewarding.
2. The skills I have learned along the way give me confidence and pride in my work.
4. USING THE 1SE APP
This year I used the “One Second Every Day App” on my phone. It’s really simple and I tried it on a whim… but it has become SO important to me! I can’t recommend it enough!!
What started as a fun family documentation project has become an invaluable self-care tool.
Every day I try to take a few seconds of video and upload a moment into the app. As the months rolled by, I would sometimes review our “family movie” (as we call it) and I couldn’t believe the amount of JOY I saw in all our faces. It was like I was watching hard evidence of my work as a stay-at-home Mom. Without that app, I would have forgotten hundreds of little activities, silly moments, adventures… it’s so powerful to see your family life in a linear form. You get to see everyone growing (literally!) and remember how much GOOD you’re doing. It’s a great thing to pull out and watch on a day when you really need a pick-me-up or some reassurance that you’re a good parent.
I am 100% going to use the app again this year, and I hope you’ll try it too!
5. LEARNING ABOUT FENG SHUI, WABI SABI, & KINTSUGI
I think I’ve always been a homemaker at heart, but I feel like this year I really learned to embrace my HOME instead of just “keeping house.” And the mindset of letting our home be imperfect has been a valuable self-care tool for me.
At the beginning of 2019, I read this really cool book called “Kintsugi Wellness” that taught me about the ancient art of Kintsugi. If you’re not familiar, it’s basically a practice of repairing something that is broken and celebrating the cracks. You should read about it, because it’s much more elegant than how I just described it, lol. BUT, the idea stuck with me all year, and I have been able to see imperfections in our home with fondness instead of anxiety.
The book also taught me a bit about “Wabi Sabi” – something I’d like to learn more about this year! The mindset of seeing beauty in imperfection, of going with the flow, of choosing simplicity, has been really powerful for me as a homemaker. I used to call myself an “anxious cleaner” but not so much anymore. I do clean a lot and I get kinda weird if our house is cluttered, BUT… wabi sabi has been a great self-care mindset for me in 2019.
Another homemaking/self-care tool I learned about this year is “Feng Shui.” At first, my family thought I was silly for going on and on about it! But it is honestly so brilliant and fun to learn! I loved the act of learning about it just as much as implementing it. I’ve always been one to rearrange furniture and organize and decorate with intention. But learning Feng Shui gave me a new structure and purpose behind my homemaking choices. It also taught me tricks to arrange my home to feel calmer and safer. I absolutely love it and think I’ll keep learning about it all my life!!
My favorite book I read this year about Feng Shui is called “Feng Shui That Makes Sense” and I would recommend it! I borrowed it from my library 🙂
6. DIVING INTO TAROT
Another “new age” thing I embraced this year: tarot cards. I will be honest with you. My husband and I totally ordered them online when we got tipsy during a night when Violet was at her Gran’s house, LOL!!! BUT, then the cards arrived, and we started playing with them… and THEY. ARE. AWESOME.
I hope I won’t embarrass Jacob by saying this, but he is actually really good at reading tarot, and we do readings together in the evenings sometimes. It’s become a fascinating self-care tool for BOTH of us, sometimes together, sometimes apart. What I love about them is that they’re a unique tool for self-reflection. You look at a spread and think about your life from a new point-of-view. We like to be pretty intuitive with our interpretations and err on the positive side. (Something which was hard at first, because that Tower card is scary, dude.) But if you’ve never tried tarot, and have always been a little intrigued, I would say it’s worth a try as a self-care tool! It really does help you tap into an inner voice where you’re thinking about yourself from a bird’s eye view.
We really like the blog “Daily Tarot Girl” for positive explanations and ideas. And we actually just bought a new set of oracle cards! I’m looking forward to learning about them with Jacob in 2020! Here’s the set we are using, if you’re interested. So far I really like them, because they feel extra positive and intuitive!
7. LETTING GO OF DAILY RITUALS
Another self-care feat of 2019: I learned to let go of daily rituals. They just weren’t working for me.
I mean, some things I still do daily: like curl or braid my hair in the morning… relax during Violet’s naptime… try to get outside every day… knit and/or bake… keep my home calm and pretty… the basics.
But in 2018, I was really going off the deep end trying to journal EVERY DAY. Trying to wake up early and get alone time EVERY DAY. Trying to keep tabs on my mental health EVERY DAY. And it was exhausting!
So in 2019, I learned how to relax and let my self-care needs ebb and flow. Instead of treating self-care like homework, I try to just do the basics, then recognize when I’m getting burnt out or need extra TLC, and act accordingly. Some signs of burnout for me are:
- spending more time than usual on social media
- online shopping
- changing my clothes a lot out of insecurity
- thinking I should try to make more money
- when the house gets cluttered or dishes stack up
- when I don’t feel like knitting or baking anymore
- feeling disconnected from my husband
When I find myself in need of some extra self-care, I ask someone to watch Violet for me so I can get out of the house. Or frequently, I take the time to myself and do an essential oil hair mask, paint my nails, and watch a period drama. When getting alone time isn’t an option, I like to force myself to clean (or bake) with Violet and that usually gets me feeling a little more like myself. And if I do journal, I like to do structured journaling now: like writing affirmations or writing lists of things that help me feel better. 🙂
8. FOLLOWING “THE HOLISTIC PSYCHOLOGIST”
If there’s one person who really influenced my mental health and self-care practices this year, it’s Dr. Nicole LePera.
I am so grateful to be able to read her words on Instagram, and to hear her speak on YouTube and on Podcasts! She has taught me SO MUCH about boundaries, the ego, and self-reflection. I can’t recommend her enough. Her weekly email newsletter is always a welcome sight in my inbox. I also really benefitted from trying her “future self journaling” exercises. (In fact, Jacob did this with me over the summer!)
Her thoughts on boundaries are especially brilliant and comforting. Jacob and I both grew a lot this year through boundary work, both individually and within our marriage. It was grueling at times, but Dr. Nicole’s posts were a constant source of encouragement and enlightenment along the way!
9. LEARNING TO HAVE SELF-COMPASSION THROUGH BUDDHISM
I probably should have started with this one, because it’s the most prevalent self-care tool I use right now: self-compassion and lovingkindness. This fall, I suffered from intense morning sickness. The kind where I could barely walk to the bathroom, let along change a toddler-diaper without puking my guts out. It was brutal, and it lasted every day, all day, for 18 weeks.
BUT… (and I can hardly believe I’m about to say this)… I am really thankful for that time. Because I finally learned self-compassion.
I was so desperate for emotional support and wisdom through this time period, that I found myself googling “help for chronic illness” – hoping that someone who truly understood sickness would have insight. BOY WAS I RIGHT.
I found a book at the library called “How to Be Sick” by Toni Bernhard. It’s a Buddhist-inspired guide to dealing with long-term illness, and I think it changed my life.
At first, I felt a little melodramatic reading it, because I have no true idea how it feels to have chronic illness. This book gave me a new perspective on, and a new respect for, people who live with chronic illness. But regardless of my own health, this book taught me how to view myself with compassion. How to be aware of self-blame. How to slow down my thoughts and speak softly to myself. Comforting myself. How to let go of resentment for things out of my control. How to steer away from self-pity. How to be “in the moment” with my daughter even when I feel physically horrible! I mean… this book was spectacular. I HIGHLY recommend it as a self-care tool for anyone struggling with illness, even short-term illness!
And furthermore, this book (How to Be Sick) led me on a journey to discover Buddhism. I’m learning about it very slowly, but I can’t believe how powerful and positive it all is. I’m so thankful to be learning about it now!
I’m now s-l-o-w-l-y reading a book by Tara Brach called “Radical Acceptance” and I honestly think it’s the smartest thing I’ve ever read. If you’re someone who wants to learn more about self-compassion, THIS IS THE BOOK FOR YOU! I discovered Tara Brach through YouTube, while searching for a guided meditation. And overall, I love her calm, intuitive, and loving manner. Her email newsletters are wonderful, short and sweet with links to helpful videos. I’m so thankful to have found her work!
There’s one more radically helpful self-care tool I’ve learned from Buddhism: a lovingkindness meditation by Jack Cornfield.
While I was sick, I would lay in bed during Violet’s naptime, and close my eyes and think these words:
May I be filled with lovingkindness.
May I be safe from inner and outer dangers.
May I be well in body and mind.
May I be at ease and happy.
Even now, these words instantly fill me with a warm peace of mind and body. I love to repeat them to myself when I notice I’m anxious. Sometimes I repeat them to myself with someone else in mind: especially my husband and my daughter. Sometimes I say the words as a blessing over my baby. The meditation is just so comforting and filled with love, I think I’ll use it my whole life. As a blessing, a self-care blessing. I hope you might try it, too!
10. LIVING MORE IN THE MOMENT (AND LESS ONLINE)
While I was sick this Fall, I took a complete break from social media and my blog. It was just too exhausting and I felt so disconnected from everyone and everything. I didn’t even knit. It was kind of scary! But at the same time, I knew I just needed to let myself get through each day. My husband kindly reassured me over and over that I would get back to myself in the second trimester. (He was right!)
But taking that long break from the online world was so valuable (in hindsight) because I re-learned how to be in the moment with my family, my surroundings, and myself. After I started to feel better, I didn’t even crave online interaction anymore. I had rediscovered how lovely it is to simply get lost in shadows dancing on a wall, or the feel of wind brushing your cheek. My daughter and I grew closer, and I was able to slow down on my housework and embrace imperfection.
I actually wanted to shut down my blog because I’m not sure it’s serving me anymore. Even today, I’m wasting away hours of naptime typing away.. while my husband is next to me playing video games. We could be hanging out together! What a pity!! But… idk, ultimately I think it’s good to keep some online ties going, and while it is draining to type up a long blog post… I think it’s ultimately a good self-care tool for reflection and camaraderie. As long as I can keep things slow and balanced and not get caught in the sharing/validation cycle, because that feels like homework – yuck!! We will see what happens as I move into my 30’s this year. 🙂
Overall, I really value you few readers out there who take time to listen to me, and share your own parenting and self-care stories! I hope you all have a wonderful New Year’s Eve, and may your 2020 be filled with LovingKindness, confidence, and joy. <3