“The simple act of being completely attentive and present… is an act of love, and it fosters unshakeable well-being.” Sharon Salzberg
Mother’s Day has always been a difficult holiday for me. As a daughter who struggled most of my life with my mother’s lackluster attention for me and as a mother who overcompensated for all the things I longed for in childhood but was often overwhelming for my own children, I rarely tapped the comfort or joy conveyed in the Hallmark Mother’s Day. This year feels different though, in part because my newly emptied nest has given me the space to turn my attention to myself. I was resistant initially, unused to feeling my own love, except for when I was offering it to someone else. And it was painful too, not only letting go of that familiar way of knowing myself as someone’s mother, but it often felt like the best parts of me had also departed as many of my best ideas and compassionate moments had always emerged through my caretaking habits. Discovering the wealth of my own love and developing my capacity to mother myself has transformed not only my mothering relationship to my kids, but also has released most of the old resentments with my own mother. Here’s three ways to practice mothering yourself this Mother’s Day:
- Becoming a vessel for love
The first thing that became crystal clear as I began to give myself my own mothering attention was realizing how uncomfortable and unskilled I was with taking in my own loving attention. The kindness which I directed inward, felt like it had no substance, and I was like a colander, and all my own loving intention would pass right though me. Although I could witness the loving acts of self-care—a warm bath, a call from an old friend, or just a quiet walk in the woods, reflecting on the beauty around me, I couldn’t seem to hold on to it and allow it works its magic in me. So I shifted my focus and started focusing on the visceral sensations of the moments of self-care, of where I felt the warmth and fullness these loving acts landed in my body and then deliberately started to envision an internal container to hold it. It may sound far-fetched but I urge you to try it. Create a sacred urn at the base of your pelvis to collect your own loving intentions in a pool at the back of your heart, (I use both) and be deliberate about truly sensing the light and warmth that happens when you offer yourself your own attention and kindness. This practice of becoming a vessel to hold love will not only teach you how to mother yourself and the more proficient you become, the more love will shower you from all directions.
- Embodying Kindness
Extensive research has demonstrated that the singular most important attribute in successful relating is kindness. And there is nowhere that is truer than with oneself. I have come to believe that being able to be kind to ourselves is the foundation of kindness we have for anyone else. Kindness is less an attribute than it is an action verb and the best way that I have found to activate it in myself is to give myself the benefit of the doubt. One of the great gifts a mother offers is unconditional love—the kind that holds up when you succeed or fail, or even more importantly is still true when you are good or bad. Even when I fall short of my own expectations for myself, I give myself a break. I tell myself that I can do better and that it is okay to make mistakes. I practice being compassionate with all that is imperfect in me. The beautiful thing about this kind of self-mothering is that it makes you more generous to everyone else you know. Ultimately the truth that we are all doing the very best we can at any moment starts to feel true, like gravity. Even the worst behavior can be seen through a different lens and it makes moving through the hard days a little bit gentler.
- Embrace boundaries
Boundaries are how we love ourselves. And although consistent discipline was the weak spot in my parenting style, I have come to embrace this truth, even when I don’t always know how to do it. I do know that it is impossible to respect your own limits when you don’t know what you want. Our limits and boundaries are a direct reflection of how well we can trust what we know. And having spent way more time being an emotional barometer for so many people around me, I often never stopped to think about what I wanted until I had gone far over the line of what I didn’t. This is at the heart of the consent issue that plagues the sex lives of so many people, young and old. If we can’t know our own desires, we also don’t know where to draw the line for what we don’t want. Learning to embrace our boundaries is a practice of listening inside. Take the time to tune out what is around you and feel where yes ends and no begins. It is there, waiting to be heard. I know that some of my most effective mothering moments for both my kids and for me have been the times when I have been clear and articulate about saying no.
Even if only for five minutes this Mother’s Day, give yourself permission to practice one of these powerful and dare I say life changing practices to become your own mother. It is a true celebration of the heart.