how do you mother yourself?

March 10th, 2013

One of the first readers of Momma Zen, by my timid invitation, was a middle-aged single gay man who had no interest or experience in parenting but a keen eye for content.

“This is about parenting yourself, right?” he concluded after a quick flip through the pages.

I agreed as if I knew. As if that very insight had guided my hand.

But those aren’t the kind of insights that illumine the daily life of a mother when the process is so totally involved with the continuous operation of a malfunctioning bundle, so wholly immersed in behavior management of a toddling monster or a moody teen.

We don’t see our lives clearly when we live it as though it has an external object and outcome. Judging it as if it is a foregone conclusion or – what if? – a looming failure.

Yet how we mother our children can never be anything other than how we mother ourselves, because it is all one life. So my question is not how you parent the people you undoubtedly love the most, but rather, how do you mother yourself? Because there are not two ways.

Are you kind and forgiving?
Do you give yourself quiet attention?
Permission to play?
Discipline to work?
The confidence to do things by yourself?
Are you honest with yourself?
Do you encourage yourself to go outside?
To take a breath?
To try again?
To take risks?
To be silly?
Are you hurrying toward some imagined milestone?
Do you undermine yourself with constructive criticisms?
Are you undisturbed by your apparent lack of progress?
Are you tender, careful and trusting with yourself?
Do you comfort fears, or magnify them?
Do you nourish yourself?
Laugh at yourself?
Smile in greeting each day?
Do you abandon yourself to preoccupations with the past?
Do you make new friends and forgive the old?
Do you allow that the world is entirely your own and encourage self-mastery?
Do you sleep when tired and eat when hungry?
Take a bath and splash?
Do you let yourself rant and cry for no good reason and then coax yourself back into the familiar cushion of your very own lap?

Do you tell yourself you are a wonderful mother and a beautiful daughter? Then let me be the first, and not the last.

How do you mother yourself?

A printable copy of this post is available here.

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  1. i best mother myself by remembering to fill my own well. as moms (and as women) we are so often giving to others. simply giving a little to myself here and there gives me the energy i need to mother my little one.

    Comment by pink sky — April 28, 2009 @ 7:31 pm

  2. This is such a beautiful text, so pertinent. The french call these question à remise en cause, asking the questions again, never assuming. It is good to go back to start again, to refresh, to be bold and not afraid. We need to think about how we mother ourselves, Your questions rang so true to me, I don’t always greet myself with a smile and give myself time to play. Please enter me for your giveaway, I so want to read your book. Thanks again, Be well.

    Comment by Anonymous — April 28, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

  3. Anon,
    I hope you do get the chance to read the book, but please leave me a way to contact you!

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 28, 2009 @ 10:49 pm

  4. Good question. Now that my daughter is dead I reflect on motherhood more than a little. My own parenting, how my mother parented me, was I a good parent or not? I have been pushed back to parenting myself from the whole experience. I was not here for Annie. She was here for me. The learning continues.jeNN

    Comment by big Jenn — April 28, 2009 @ 11:26 pm

  5. I make myself tea.
    it takes, what, two minutes?
    Fill the cup with hot water, to warm.
    Pour out the water. Add the tea. Add more water. steep. add milk. take out tea bag.

    Meditation in a cup.

    I don’t always get to finish it. but it doesn’t seem to matter.

    Comment by kazari — April 28, 2009 @ 11:29 pm

  6. This is so true and so hard. Why is it so hard to mother our selves the way we want to mother our children?

    I think we as women in this society tend not to give ourselves (and other women) the same kindness we would give a child.

    Definitely a question we should ask ourselves again and again.

    Comment by Rowena — April 28, 2009 @ 11:42 pm

  7. Damn, you got me. I’ve been thinking lately, that the way I mother my two precious daughters has been lacking…and on a parallel track, thinking of myself as lacking as well. And until I read this, I didn’t have the ability to step outside myself and realize that the two are one and the same.

    I need to mother them with more tenderness, and then extend the same to myself.


    Comment by Jeanette — April 28, 2009 @ 11:44 pm

  8. i run, karen. i make sure i move my body in a semi-quick fashion so that my heart pumps. and i listen to my own music while i do it.
    i read your blog, and others like it that make me take a breath.
    thanks for such a wonderful post.

    Comment by Holly — April 28, 2009 @ 11:55 pm

  9. I try real hard to remember to take a deep breath. and a little of everything you listed…

    Comment by Chris — April 29, 2009 @ 12:18 am

  10. Thanks for the reminders… always refreshing and most welcome.
    I already own your book, but would certainly like to have an extra copy for a friend becoming a mother in just a few weeks…

    Comment by Alyssa — April 29, 2009 @ 12:49 am

  11. I love this post.

    As Aviva’s mama, I put on my big-girl panties. As Pearl’s, I go commando.

    Comment by jena strong — April 29, 2009 @ 1:51 am

  12. I really like this post; mothering and being mothered are issues I struggle with (where struggle feels more like drowning).

    I like the way you flip it inside out for me. Initially, I was thinking, “Great, not only am I a bad mother to my kids, but to myself, even more so,”

    But, as I sat with your words and reread the post, I take it more as inspiration to not only be a softer mom to my kids, but to take a softer voice with myself – I am often a damn terrible mom to myself in my head…

    Thanks. Always so much thanks to you.

    Comment by Mrs. B. Roth — April 29, 2009 @ 3:06 am

  13. What an amazing question! I just returned home after spending two weeks with my mother, helping her recover from heart surgery. The intention I set before traveling to her was that it was an opportunity to care for and mother her the way she was not able to do for me. I was only able to remember my intention for a bit before my childhood washed over and swept me away. Perhaps I needed mother both of us….?

    Thank you for writing such a beautiful book! I am touched and awed by your wisdom.

    Comment by Teresa — April 29, 2009 @ 3:12 am

  14. Thank you.

    Comment by RocketMom Cheryl — April 29, 2009 @ 3:19 am

  15. I think it is most definitely a question to ponder. Growing up with a “friend” rather then a mother, I’ve always been my own. I’m afraid to say that I’m a strict one. Its funny that I can be so sweet and loving to my son, but rarely am I that way to myself. Hmm….

    Comment by Jeannie — April 29, 2009 @ 3:37 am

  16. I try.

    Comment by mapelba — April 29, 2009 @ 3:39 am

  17. Brandy,
    Everything I write I write to myself. So I think I’ll tuck myself in and have a good cry and smile myself awake in the morning.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 29, 2009 @ 3:43 am

  18. AH! Karen, this is one of your most meaningful posts! How true this is! Learning to mother oneself, what a gift.

    Comment by Bridge — April 29, 2009 @ 4:19 am

  19. Beautiful post, very inspirational. Gives me something to meditate on :-).

    Best regards,


    Comment by Anonymous — April 29, 2009 @ 7:53 am

  20. I have taken very much to heart your lines in the book about connection, about if you want your child to eat well, you need to eat well, if you want him to go to bed on time you need to go to bed on time. That discipline is never just flowing from one person to another, but always back again in a circle. When I find myself floundering in the sea of anger and doubt and denial and resentment I try to remember that. That in order to mother my son the way I want to I must first mother myself the way I want to. I lost my own mother when I was 14 so I am missing that link to the past. I attempt to forge it for myself everyday, with eary bedtimes, time for myself in the quiet morning, and self discipline.
    Emma J.

    Comment by ELJ — April 29, 2009 @ 12:49 pm

  21. Ohmygoodness, yes! You continue to open my eyes. Your timing is excellent too, as I’m in the process of trying to become a mother. When it’s a bit of a struggle, you lose sight of what’s important in the presence of all that wanting. Thank you for your insights, and please enter me in the drawing for your book.

    Comment by Melanie J. — April 29, 2009 @ 1:27 pm

  22. Some questions to ponder…

    I have been kinder to that girl in the mirror for the past few months. She looks much happier, and more peaceful.

    Comment by Journey Wildly — April 29, 2009 @ 2:13 pm

  23. I think I need to print this post and hang it on my mirror.

    Comment by TZT — April 29, 2009 @ 2:14 pm

  24. Very good question, great way of looking at life, motherhood.

    Probably spend way to much time beating up on myself, but try to find moments of stillness where I can.

    Also, I treat myself to an ice cream if I’m being a good girl. ;D

    Comment by Lana — April 29, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

  25. I’m just now starting to learn the difference in mothering myself and feeling selfish and guilty. It feels so much better to mother myself.

    Comment by fondushka — April 29, 2009 @ 3:58 pm

  26. Oh Karen this is such a wonderful post. I love it! You need not enter me in your giveaway … I’ve already got a copy of your book and have purchased additional copies for friends. But I needed to stop by and say thank you you wonderful person you!

    Comment by Shalet — April 29, 2009 @ 6:22 pm

  27. I mother myself by listening to the little kid still here, suppressed but not forgotten — opening up to the joy and beauty and the wisdom that I lost, but that was always right here, all the time.

    Comment by Judy Merrill-Smith — April 29, 2009 @ 6:29 pm

  28. I love this poem/post. It’s so gentle in it’s words. I don’t ever think of mothering myself and anything I may do for me has guilt attached with it. My eyes are open and I am starting to see the connection. I will keep working on it. I loved the idea someone posted about tea. What a lovely, simple thing to do for yourself. Thank you again. Kelly

    Comment by kelly g. — April 29, 2009 @ 7:42 pm

  29. PS everyone,
    I’m picking up the posey from school and we’re going straight for ice cream! That’s how sweet a mommy I am today to myself.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 29, 2009 @ 8:25 pm

  30. I need to read this one daily!

    Comment by amy — April 29, 2009 @ 11:49 pm

  31. I wonder what the world would be like, what our personal relationships would be like, if we all mothered ourselves the way you described.

    My daughter is 2 years old, and it’s been a rough 2 years – of the reality of motherhood and a new marriage and two 39 year old adults turned parents and the evolution of all 3 of us in this new family. Wise women in my local community have been encouraging me to “take care of myself” so that I can better mother my daughter and improve the equilibrium in my family, and although I knew on an intellectual level they were right, it wasn’t until I read your post that I got it on a gut level . . . I have felt so deprived of mothering these last 2 years, longing for and needing mothering for myself, a new mother. I’m now realizing that perhaps I am better equipped than my own mother, or my friends, or my husband (or anyone else to whom I’ve looked during the last 2 years) to mother myself.

    I will now attempt to mother myself the way I strive to mother my daughter, and I bet we’ll all feel better for it.

    Thank you! :)

    Comment by Ashli — April 30, 2009 @ 9:58 pm

  32. Ok this isn't a contest I want to win, this is a contest I NEED to win.

    Reading over the post & the questions posed therein made me sad, made my heart ache, made my soul ache.

    I don't mother myself enough, very little at best. Which makes me wonder…
    How good of a mother will I be to my little girl who will be coming into this world come September…?
    If I can't even take care of my self properly how on earth will I take care of her?

    I would love to win this book but if not I most certainly shall put it on my amazon wish list to pick up ASAP.

    Comment by Jessica McConaha — May 1, 2009 @ 12:13 am

  33. I mother myself by taking time to play the banjo. Laundry piled high, dishes waiting, and there are times I will walk away, sit, and play.

    Comment by PtCakes — May 1, 2009 @ 1:02 am

  34. I just stumbled upon your blog tonight and I have been sitting here in absolute awe as I read these words. they are exactly what I needed to hear right now, today, this minute. thank you for that.

    Comment by Deanna — May 1, 2009 @ 3:06 am

  35. Hello Karen,

    I am the Anon from April 28. You can contact me at,

    Thank-you, be well,
    from a mothering mothered mother,


    Comment by Anonymous — May 1, 2009 @ 1:07 pm

  36. ps We are just off for ice-cream too!!!!!


    Comment by Anonymous — May 1, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

  37. I love this magnificent post, I am going to print it out and read it daily for sure! thank you, as always, Karen. what flavor ice cream did you get? -jill d.

    Comment by Anonymous — May 1, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

  38. Mint chip ice cream is my mother in a cup!

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — May 1, 2009 @ 4:33 pm

  39. We just had Italian chocolate and vanilla ice-cream in a cone and very nice Sumatra organic coffee at our friends bar. We sat and chatted and soaked up the sun while Alice and Liliane played.


    Comment by Anonymous — May 1, 2009 @ 5:28 pm

  40. I have tears in my eyes…thank you!

    Comment by Maegan Beishline — May 1, 2009 @ 8:07 pm

  41. I forgive myself for what I do wrong and pray that God will help me be a better person tomorrow, I read, and every once in a while I go to a movie by myself–I’ll admit, this was a little awkward at first but now I think it is wonderful to spend some uninterrupted time in someone else’s world for, oh, about ninety minutes or so. Then I can happily go back to my world a little refreshed.
    yeloechikee at hotmail dot com

    Comment by Anonymous — May 2, 2009 @ 3:04 am

  42. I hope I win ( :


    Comment by Astra — May 2, 2009 @ 9:01 am

  43. What wonderful questions! I would love an opportunity to read your book. I feel I am a wonderful mother, but I don’t often treat myself with the kindness I bestow on my own children. Your entry is very compelling! Thank you for the good read.

    Comment by Diane — May 2, 2009 @ 6:52 pm

  44. I mother myself by getting out of the house to relax when I’ve had enough

    Comment by jceko77 — May 2, 2009 @ 7:19 pm

  45. I try to take {ME} time everyday – even if its waking early for a cup of tea before the family is up, or squeezing in some yoga poses before bed…

    J :)

    Comment by LobotoME — May 5, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

  46. I am so glad to have found your site, I am new to motherhood, new to adulthood, new to blogging and like everyone struggling to tread the right path on all three counts. I am spread too thin, but tomorrow I will mother myself.

    Comment by ParadiseGirl — May 29, 2009 @ 3:32 pm

  47. Thank you. I am crying so cannot see the keyboard too well! Having raised two children then let them fly, now having just retired from teaching and feeling somewhat lost, I have come to your website. My dearest daughters have often told me to find a councelor, or someone to talk to. Reading your blog is just about what I would expect to get from such a professional, and I thank you.

    I must begin those things I have put off until I ‘had time’! Meditation is one of those things.

    I read ‘Hand Wash Cold’. I am ready to begin!

    Comment by Jude Smith — August 16, 2011 @ 6:31 am

  48. […] How do you mother yourself? […]

    Pingback by Guest Post: Momma Zen Visits Let ME Out And Leaves A Gift!! | Let ME Out!! — April 18, 2012 @ 12:39 pm

  49. Yet again, goosebumps. So very to the point. How can our children learn to be self sufficient if we aren’t, or self soothe if we can’t? They learn more watching us than they do listening to us.

    Comment by Sarah Stanton — May 9, 2012 @ 7:39 am

  50. ♥♥

    Comment by denise — May 9, 2012 @ 7:55 am

  51. Thank you, Maezen. I hope you get the blue and white towels you want.I am always surprised by Mother’s Day. Last year, I thought my son had gone to one of my favorite stores to buy me a gift. Turns out, he bought a necklace…for a girl at school! OUCH. He will start high school in August, and I could swear he was just saying his first word: agua.

    xo Robin

    Comment by Robin — May 9, 2012 @ 10:43 am

  52. I pretty much mother myself each day because I lack having a mother in my life in the way that I so desperately need. So I write. A lot. Including a Love Letter to Mothers Everywhere on my blog right now. I light candles. Meditate. Walk but not as much as I should … and yet I do struggle with taking time away from my kids. Perhaps because of my first sentence. Where’s the couch? lol

    Comment by Shawn — May 9, 2012 @ 1:03 pm

  53. Infinite gratitude for you, and the world you opened my eyes to. Love love love.

    Comment by Nichole — May 9, 2012 @ 6:18 pm

  54. I finished Hand Wash Cold a few minutes ago, I purposely delayed the pleasure, I could have read it in one sitting. I ordered the book frrom Amazon because of the comment one of the reviewers wrote, her last name is Quesada and she also wrote a book about Zen in the classroom. My comment to hers was that I was the mother of small children long long ago and I wished that such books as yours and hers had been written then. Now in my seventh decade and crawling towards retirement I’m finally learning how it is that one mothers oneself. Thank you for the gift of your book which I hope to read many more times Karen. It is my gift to myself on this mother’s day and there’s two more copies on their way to my girls. I look forward to this blog with an open and grateful heart. Daisy.

    Comment by Daisy Marshall — May 9, 2012 @ 7:59 pm

  55. Oh Karen…I love this post…Thank you!

    Comment by Marcea Pugliese — May 10, 2012 @ 10:38 am

  56. Thank you, as a mother to my two nieces for the last nine years and a mother to my 18 month old daughter I have my doubts along the way. But I ask myself ” what would Marcea do” because my mom has been one hell of a mom all these years. And when I am truly in doubt I just ask her and she reminds me that the dirty house will be there tomorrow, the laundry can be done on Tuesday, that I don’t have to do everything all the time. And then there are YOUR words. Thanks to both of you!

    Comment by Diamond Cambareri — May 10, 2012 @ 5:12 pm

  57. Thank you, Karen, for this gentle wisdom.

    I just came in from having a glass of wine and an appetizer at a local wine bar, all by my self. And I loved it. Watching people make conversation, smile at each other, and pay attention to others. I sat there and paid attention to myself, to my quiet, happy, contented self. That’s how I mothered myself tonight.

    But I’ve still got lots of reflecting to do on that lovely list of questions you wrote.

    Happy Everyday to you!!!

    Comment by GailNHB — May 10, 2012 @ 5:19 pm

  58. […] Thanks to Jen for sharing a wonderful blog post from Momma Zen for the devotion today.  Take time to mother yourselves! […]

    Pingback by September 21 Announcements. « MomTime — September 21, 2012 @ 12:51 pm

  59. Deep bow. Very touching. Thanks for sharing your gift, again.

    Comment by Richard DeWald — March 11, 2013 @ 4:00 am

  60. So glad to get this, almost a year since last May when I read your book. There is no doubt all of us “need” to be mothered, and “always” will. On Memorial Day, shortly after I wrote my comment, I fell and fractured the fifth metatharsal bone on my left foot, so I sat home a good while and had to practice that mothering big time! As a consequence my left foot received what was obviously too much pressure and I am still limping to this day after much care (more mothering) and therapy. One little fall, life is never the same!I’m going to read your book again Karen, I told you I would many times. It was time for me to get this e mail and I look forward to the second reading. I notice Katrina Kennison’s name on your list, I recently read her last book with delight. Now Im reading Margaret Roache’s Backyard Parables, I am no gardener but her blog feeds the soil of my soul. I am so glad I am on your list. I thank you and I thank you. Daisy Marshall

    Comment by Daisy Marshall — March 13, 2013 @ 6:35 pm

  61. This was exactly what I needed. My primal self was desperate for mothering, but I am too old to run to another adult for that. With these guidelines I can be consciously aware of this very basic need within myself, and fill it on my own.
    Thank you!!!

    Comment by Ali — March 14, 2013 @ 11:55 am

  62. […] This not-so-recent post had me in tears…because really, how do we mother ourselves? “Yet how we mother our children can never be anything other than how we mother ourselves, because it is all one life.” […]

    Pingback by Bighorn Mountain Mama » Tuesday Gems to Share — March 19, 2013 @ 6:24 am

  63. Wonderful

    Comment by Lazia — May 13, 2013 @ 1:46 pm

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