Well-Being is a general term, to describe the state of being happy, healthy and prosperous. To say well-being is one thing, would be difficult. Well-being is a broad measure of many dimensions, including physical, emotional, social, cognitive/mental and spiritual well-being. And creating well-being requires a commitment to self-care skills, strategies, and behaviors within each of the dimensions of well-being listed above.
Focusing on well-being and taking care of yourself can be challenging when you’re a parent. And having children is lovely and rewarding, but it’s also exhausting, stressful and demanding. As a mother of four children, I often feel the constant demand of caring for my daughters and making the time to care for myself.
When I became a mother fourteen years ago, I was stunned by the constant outpouring of energy caring for my twin girls. Early in the first months of mothering, I remember thinking, how come no one ever told me how challenging it is to care for yourself while also being a mom? And with each additional child we welcomed to our family, the challenge of caring for myself became a significant obstacle; there was just so much to do with little time left over at the end of the day to focus on my well-being.
I learned quickly if I didn’t prioritize caring for myself, I couldn’t adequately care for my children. No amount of caffeine could keep me going after consistently losing sleep. And while exercise seemed overrated, I was constantly busy caring for my kids, I experienced an increase in irritability and short fuse for frustration when I didn’t make time to exercise. Ironically, I made sure my girls had balanced nutrition at every meal, but hardly did the same for myself, eating on the go or finishing what was left over on my daughter’s plates. I was completely out of balance. The turning moment in self-care journey, or lack of caring for myself, happened in my first year of mothering.
Prior to becoming pregnant with twins, my close and dear friend, Rachel, moved to Colorado. I felt her absence tremendously. We stayed close, talking late into the night. When I became pregnant, not only did she offer great advice on morning sickness and what babies really need in the first year, but she was a friend who I could talk about anything and everything. And, when my twins were born, as a mother of a toddler, she shared her wisdom and perspective in late night calls. Rachel was a life-line and immensely supportive in my first year of mothering. We supported each other during late night calls, laughing and getting lost in conversations. And because I was on the east coast, the time difference worked beautifully during the late night feedings for my twins. I don’t think I could have adjusted to motherhood without Rachel. And then one day, unexpectedly, Rachel became ill and passed away.
Already exhausted caring for twins, after Rachel’s death, I plummeted into a world of grief. And I realized I couldn’t look after my girls, manage grief, and continue to function putting myself low on the priority list. Rachel’s passing was a critical moment in mothering; I needed to shift out of the mindset of making self-care optional into a requirement.
Slowly, I started to focus on my well-being. At first, it was challenging, not staying up late to watch television. At 9:30 pm, the house was finally quiet after the marathon of caring for babies since 6:30 am, and I desperately needed to zone out into mindless entertainment. But the sleep deprivation was creating havoc the next day. So instead of watching television and staying up late, I started going to bed to make sure I had enough sleep. I began setting the alarm a half-hour before the girls woke, to eat breakfast and have a nice warm cup of coffee. How many moms actually drink their coffee warm? Instead of mindlessly eating when I was ravenous, I started to plan what I was going to eat for the day in tandem with the girl’s meals. When they took a nap in the afternoon, I would jump on the treadmill, even if it was for ten minutes. And I would get in a walk during the “witching hour” familiar to all parents, usually around 4 p.m., even for twenty minutes pushing the twins in a cumbersome double stroller. The fresh air did wonders for all of us. And slowly over time, when I had physical self-care in place, I started adding in more self-care behaviors to improve my social, emotional, mental/cognitive and spiritual well-being.
To manage my emotional well-being, I journaled my pain and sadness grieving my friends passing. Spiritually, I made time daily for prayer and expressing gratitude. Mentally, I reconnected with my creativity through art, reading and photography. Socially, I joined a mom’s group for parents of multiples (twins, triplets and more!), and I made sure to go out one to two times a month with my girlfriends. I also scheduled two hours a week to do something alone for myself, not chore related like grocery shopping, sans children. On one outing, I went to a bookstore, one of my most favorite places to be, and purchased a book that had nothing to do with parenting or my children!
And slowly, over time, the small behaviors of caring for myself, added up. The more I took care of myself and focused on my well-being through self-care practices; I became stronger, healthier and happier. None of this happened overnight with immediate results. But slowly, each week, with discipline and commitment to myself, I experienced the benefits of feeling calmer and happier, which encouraged and motivated me to continue caring for myself. And I have, to be honest, I thought caring for myself meant I’d sacrifice time with and caring for my children. But the opposite happened, when I cared for myself, I showed up differently with my girls. I was more healthy, happy, and energetic, and able to deal with the stress caring for my girls. I was so grateful to have a solid foundation of self-care and well-being to cope with the tantrums of toddlerhood! Which brings me to a core belief I have: Children need healthy parents, not perfect parents, healthy parents who are focused on caring for themselves.
Years ago, when I first was inspired to create a website for mothers, I came across a quote so meaningful, it captured how I feel about well-being. From Benjamin Franklin, it is,
“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.”
This quote inspires me. I don’t want parents to live in the mindset viewing well-being as optional; it’s necessary. Spending two decades in the therapy room, I can assure you, I have heard countless times from clients, “I wish my mom (or dad) took better care of themselves, maybe things would have been different.” And the reasons vary; untreated mental health issues (depression/anxiety), alcoholism and/or drug dependence, health problems related to cardiac issues, diabetes, COPD, smoking, etc. The hundreds of clients whom I have worked with have shared their wisdom in the therapy hour, they all had a desire for parents who were healthy and happy in all areas of well-being.
The cultivation of well-being requires attention, care, and action behaviors. If you never ran a mile, it would be unreasonable to think you could run a marathon without training for it. The same principle of practice and discipline applies to well-being. If you want to have stable, healthy well-being, you have to create and cultivate it through self-care behaviors. The good news is, regardless of where your well-being is, there are many behaviors, skills and strategies, you can start today do to improve your overall well-being.
On this site and my other site DrClaireNicogossian.com, there is plentiful information and how-to’s encouraging physical, emotional, social, mental/cognitive, and spiritual well-being. My hope is for you to find this information encouraging and inspiring to cultivate and maintain well-being in your life for yourself and your children.