Once I had kids, this innocent side of myself began to atrophy and eventually dwindled down to a spec of dust buried deep inside. I felt like this was a sacrifice that came with parenting territory, and so I waffled between feeling guilty and depressed anytime it reared its playful head. My anxiety soared, and so did my alcohol intake. I became consumed with feeling like an ungrateful and selfish person with the added delight of killer hangovers. Aren’t we supposed to think that healthy kids, a partner, and a cozy home is enough? What more do you want? Back on the hamster wheel of guilt with the pop of a wine bottle. Every mom I talked to felt like “this” was just the way it goes. It must be normal, right? Well, the thing was, I didn’t like this normal. Not at all.
So, I took time to sit with the uncomfortable feelings and explored them with care. I reminded myself of a question a friend had posed to me a decade before. Having just come down from her newlywed high she was dealing with the dilemma of: How do you become two and remain one? At the time, I was living in New York City unwed and free as a bird. I couldn’t fully grasp the magnitude of her question. Now, it’s clear as can be. The difference is my question has turned into: How do you become four and remain one? As I quieted my restless mind and took this in, I realized that all of my anxiety was from fear. Every. Single. Bit. I hated the admittance that I was so concerned with what people would think that I was willing to people please and dismiss my inner tugs in hopes of replacing my voice of guilt with gratitude. What I found out? It don’t work that way. I was letting myself down and it sucked.
But as my intuition strengthened and my throbbing head quieted, my childhood question of “Why?” and my adult question of “How?” merged into “When?” When am I going to stop apologizing for taking time out for myself? I'm not talking about "me time" vegging at a spa, clinking at a ladies night, or nuzzling up with a book on the couch. I'm talking about taking action; doing something for myself that doesn’t feeling like doing anything at all. That soulful action that lights me up like a goddamn Christmas tree. That one thing that brings my childlike spirit to life and floods me with joy.
And that is when I privately dusted off a half-written draft of a screenplay I began years ago and got to work. Raising little humans gave me the courage to flip society’s connotation of selfishness (especially regarding women) on its head. I needed to walk my talk: More intentional doing; less auto-pilot fat chewing.
I have no idea what will come of the story I'm creating. All I do know is that it brings me solid joy. I am sucked up into a vacuum of a pure timeless flow. It's an off the charts electric feeling. Fifteen minutes, three times a week was my sweet spot of being enough in my comfort zone that I would show up and enough out of my comfort zone that I would grow without the urge to bail. What happened was I found myself wanting even more time - scratch that - craving more time. It was the best déjà vu rush in the world. And, unsurprisingly it made me a better mom without any effort at all. Imagine that.
So, whether your inner itch is writing, painting, dancing, gardening, distilling, experimenting, picking, or peeling - do it for you; Not for anyone else.
Here is where you will find your original self before jobs and laundry and partners and laundry and kids and sticky floors and hands and nighttime routines and laundry. Then you may actually begin to embrace these mundane domestic moments in your life. Because the small cracks of space within where creativity hibernates, tend to shoot out beams of light while you’re folding underwear or washing dishes. The only difference now will be acting on it instead of sweeping it under the couch until it surfaces again.
If we allow ourselves to be honest and make it a non-negotiable practice to dedicate fifteen - thirty minutes to ourselves FOR ourselves WITHOUT APOLOGY, I fully believe that we will be shifting the world on its axis in the right direction. We are MOTHERS. We are CREATORS. Let's not have birthing end with babies. Let it begin. We are role models and lovers and energizers and investigators and what if-ers and why not-ers. We are all of them rolled into one badass body, and it's our time to turn self-care into soul-care.
Here are 3 tips to help reignite your soul and send you on your way.
1. Ease up.
Repeat after me: You are not a bad mom if you don’t preface everything with “I love my kids, but….” You can enjoy being on a solo road trip without having to share the playlist or spend time alone in a quiet house without feeling like people are going to judge you as a bad mom.
You know you’re an incredible parent. The difference is, once you permit yourself to do what you love without an emotional guilt trip, your level of Martydrom Mary and Resentful Rita drop to an all-time low. Amen to that!
There will always be an endless to-do list and exorbitant amounts of time to criticize yourself for not completing it. The goal here is to give yourself small reminders to practice self-compassion every day. It’s not about kicking all responsibility to the curb. It’s about making time for yourself as habitual as brushing your teeth. Yes, it’s that important for your health.
Plus, it’s like a little healthy affair with yourself. Only you know about it, and you can see it every day. Find a wink-wink word you post on the fridge or a symbolic visual that you keep as your phone’s wallpaper. (Your kids will be okay not having their face as your lock screen wallpaper, promise. And, no, this does not mean you love them less, no matter what the voices inside or outside your head say.)
Dr. Kristin Neff, the author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, says“Unlike self-criticism which asks if you’re good enough, self-compassion asks,“What’s good for you?” You know deep down what’s good for you; you just have to allow yourself to do it.
So, write for no reason. Paint just because. Collage on a whim. Dance your ass off. And then maybe, just maybe, that turns into something. A class. A book. A show. An idea. Or not. Maybe it continues only to be your thing that keeps your fire glowing inside. Who knows? But we won't know unless we give ourselves the chance to explore it. You can find the time. Put the phone away, and you'll amaze yourself at the hours that miraculously appear.
2. Wake up.
Once you start committing to what you loved as a kid or that one feeling or idea that keeps itching your heart and won't go away, you're going to start waking up. You’re going to gain perspective and feel the rumble of excitement within. This is what I call the soul-stirrer or shit disturber moment. Same coin different sides.
Your inner critic is going to have a field day and pounce on your every moment of joy. Its job is to be a buzz kill sucking every ounce of pleasure from the restored love of your inner creative life. It thrills itself on shaming you until you're left trembling in the fetal position in a dirty corner. (Which it will then shame you into cleaning said corner.)
In a nutshell, it's out to destroy every ounce of innovative hope inside. Don’t let it. Stop it in its tracks. Name your critic. Draw it out. Take a blank piece of paper (yes, the back of a Target receipt will do) and talk to your critic. Write to it. Draw it as a cartoon. Go abstract. Just get it out. Thank it for sharing and caring; as our self-critics are ultimately there to protect us even if it doesn’t seem it at the time. The minute you make it real, you now have the power back. And, that’s when you can get back to doing what you love.
3. Grow up.
Just like plants, all souls aren't created equal. Maybe you water it daily. Perhaps it’s every other day or even weekly. You are the only one who knows what is needed to keep your soul growing up and out. Thoughts expand our reality. Take powerful ownership of recognizing this truth. Then, do more of that. Be honest with yourself. Start small and then go from there. Grab a small notebook and a favorite pen (because nothing beats a favorite pen) and keep it on you at all times.
Now that you’ve put your attention on it, you’ll gleam moments of insight at the most inopportune times. The silver lining? You’re now prepared. The newfound friendship I have made with my car is one to write home about. I used to make a mad dash to any appointment barely on time. I’d be in my head; Email clients? Check. Dry cleaners? Check. Class snacks? Check. Dinner tonight? Shit.
Now, when I arrive early somewhere (that’s right - early), I will spend the time in my car creating dialogue or scenes or character backstory. Maybe it’s 5 minutes; maybe 10. These pockets of time strengthen and stoke my creative fire keeping it growing; while finally making me a powerhouse of punctuality. You may even find that you secretly yearn for the “waiting” time. These are the moments that instead of checking out; you check in. Dentist’s waiting room? Coffee counter? Grocery line? They’re all game.
If we give ourselves 15 - 30 minutes daily or weekly to do something just for us, our kids and the world feel it. We shine brighter than before. We're more grounded in our bodies and vibrant in our space. We're there. We re-find ourselves. Our kids see this. They bear witness to it. They respect it, and they become it. Together we shift the labels and roles that have been embedded in our society so that we can indeed create like a mother.
Kristy Lenuzza is a writer, speaker, and trainer focused on all things creativity and communications. She lives by three beliefs: That we all need a little help to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves, that the best leaders are the most curious students, and that eavesdropping on strangers' conversations will save the world. She lives in upstate New York with her family.
You can subscribe to her weekly blog, Hair Down, Thumbs Up, or visit her site to learn more: www.kristylenuzza.com