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. 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

  2. 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

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

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

  4. 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

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

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

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. […] 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

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

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

  10. 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

  11. 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

  12. […] 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

  13. Wonderful

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

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