One morning, when the Child was five, she followed me around the house.
The sort of following where she practically pressed up against me as I went about my routine:
Brushing my teeth? Five-year-old smooshed at my side.
Washing my face? Five-year-old face mashed up against mine.
Finally, in a fit of exasperation, I asked her what she was doing:
“I’m watching you, Mama. I’m learning how to be a woman someday.”
Five years later, I think about that morning a lot.
Back then, it was just a silly story I shared with friends.
Now, as she occupies the awkward space of not-yet-tween and no-longer-child, it means more than ever.
2010. pre-iPhone. post-tutu.
The words she shared with me at five captured precisely what I believe my job is as mother:
To teach my her self-care (in the myriad forms it takes) and to model for her how to be a woman (in whatever form she chooses it to take).
I feel it’s my responsibility to show her what self-care looks like and to present it in a fashion she’ll find fun and an opportunity to learn more about herself both inside and out.
It really is pretty simple: I practice what I long to preach.
10 Ways We Practice Self-Care Together:
1. We are the sum of how we spend our time.
This is a big one for me as I’ve found it to be repeatedly true for myself. The seemingly small choices we make when added up affect our bodies tremendously. I teach her this through the simple notion of an object at rest stays at rest. Yes, we need restful moments during our days, but together we work to make sedentary times—mental or physical—a conscious choice rather than a default.
2. We shed the screen and read together.
We alternate who chooses the book (she’s loves animals. I lean toward my favorite classics), but screen-shedding is non-negotiable. These days everything (homework to pleasure reading) can be done via screen. I work hard as parent to show her the importance of taking different approaches to learning and life. I want her to experience how sometimes “old fashioned” methods can be emotionally soothing, too!
3. We play high/low.
This is a game we started when she was little and, to my delight, she still plays happily at ten. The rules are simple: You must have a high for your day but you don’t have to have a low. Our game has matured as she’s matured. I started it initially to emphasize the importance of talking about our feelings. I wanted to show her how to identify emotions and capture them in words. I’m amazed by how articulate she’s become and grateful she knows I will listen whenever she wants to share.
4. We seek (not sneak!) healthy habits.
I don’t believe in hiding healthy ingredients in the food I prepare for my daughter. I don’t sneak black beans into brownies. I bake black beans in brownies and challenge her to see if she can taste them. We like to play together in the kitchen, add healthy ingredients to smoothies, purées, etc. and see if the other person can guess what we’ve added. I’m a firm believer sneaking doesn’t work. You’re neither creating a habit (she’d have no idea she was eating kelp!) nor are you building trust (Why didn’t you tell me there was spinach in there?!).
5. We journal.
I’ve created a mother-daughter journal with brief questions at the top of each page. Anything from: “Who is your best friend and why?” to “What’s the nicest thing anyone has done for you?” I also created questions which give me opportunity to share my experiences with her. Her prompt might be “What makes you nervous about becoming a grown-up?” versus mine, “What’s the hardest thing about being a grown-up?” We alternate writing answers and read them aloud to each other.
6. We have 60-second dance parties.
This burst of cardio self-care has changed as she’s gotten older, but it’s still a daily burst of movement. When she was little it broke up our days or served as transition between toddler activities. Now we use it for a spontaneous movement-break during homework. One of us shouts Dance Party!, turns on music, and we’re off and shimmying. Sure we’ve shifted away from The Wiggles toward Missy Elliott but it’s still as fun as ever.
7. We pay rent together.
One of my favorite Marian Wright Edelman quotes, “Service is the rent we pay for living,” is one I don’t know my daughter has ever heard. Still it’s one we practice together as much as we can. We prioritize serving and helping others. We discuss the good feelings acts of kindness bring us as well (the ole helper’s high). We chat about how self-care can be as simple as seeing what you can do to lift up those around you.
8. I make learning body stuff fun not embarrassing…or I try.
When she was younger, I focused entirely on the fun. Now that she’s older the “why” is more important than the ‘what.’ She’s curious about the details. She wants to discuss how germs spread and how things like hand washing can prevent illness. She’s more interested in the preventative measures of teeth brushing than in singing songs to be certain she’s brushed long enough. Through explaining the ‘whys’ in a fun accessible fashion, she better grasps why there are things she has to do for her body and, in my opinion, is more likely to maintain these behaviors when she’s independent.
9. We PLAY!
There’s so much pressure on tweens to buckle down and get serious. When a ten-year-old plays sports often coaches and parents remove the fun by piling on pressure to perform. Sure, success is important, but so is play. I prioritize play. I make her take breaks from homework to go to the playground. I want her to enjoy moving her body in a fun and unstructured fashion. It’s taken me 40+ years to realize how much I benefit from play. It replenishes my creativity and rejuvenates me so I can work again, too. Win win.
10. I focus on “wings” and remind myself we’ve created roots.
The biggest piece of self-care is feeling empowered. It’s learning to trust your gut, believing in yourself and having confidence in your choices. As I send her out into the world more frequently on her own I focus on teaching her to listen to her inner voice, live intuitively (but safely), and know when to ask for help.
For those of you with younger or no children, spoiler alert:
Ten, while a smidge more serious when it comes to learning self-care, is no less exuberant than the Five who followed me around the house.
And, if you’re as lucky as I am, when your child reaches this age, she’ll possess the right amount of insight and sass to maintain motherhood as an ongoing CrAzY adventure.
Parts of this post were originally published on Know Yourself.