Today, I’d like to offer a very different, personal reflection of my own journey towards self-care. I am writing in response to needs I hear in the community of educators and parents that I work with. And, mostly, I am writing to myself.
Human beings need to feel a sense of agency – like our decisions and our needs matter. When life feels out of control, we often slip into patterns of power-over rather than power-with the people who are in our closest circles. We see this play out when children react under the stringent control of over-powering adults. People who have a strong sense of agency don’t have insecurities about sharing power in a community. Agency paves the road for presence.
Surprisingly, at least to me, parenting has slowly deflated my personal sense of agency. Day in and day out, my life seems directed by my young family. A swept floor gets a bucket of dirt poured over it. Folded piles of clean laundry get toppled before they can be put away. I’m awakened against my will. I spend time undoing the curious exploration of crayons on walls. The ways I plan for my days to unfold are always always subject to change.
Yes, I can turn those experiences around into learning opportunities – working together to care of our space, fostering empathy as I respond to middle of the night needs with love and compassion, but I can only empower others to the extent that I feel empowered over my own life.
I’ve come to realize that the single biggest predictor of my ability to be present and mindful for the children in my care is whether or not I feel empowered over my life. Empowered people are free to empower others.
As silly as it sounds, I didn’t start this journey as an educator or a parent understanding this link between my personal agency and the extent to which I could empower my young ones.
My “agency-awakening” happened a little like this…
I am a mother of three young ones (5, 3, & 1) and I have the body to prove it. I spent pre-child years excited for the physical changes of motherhood, my early mothering years trying hard to ignore the scale for the sake of embracing my new mama role, and the more recent years being authentically meh about my body.
The “meh” was connected to my perceived lack of agency. Time to workout? Bah! Eating healthier? Double-bah! So I felt resigned to continue feeling meh, waiting for that illusion of more free time in the future in order to make changes.
I desperately want to model for my children a whole life, one that embraces the intangibles, shrugs off the societal pressures to look or behave a certain way. But in a state of meh, the opposite was happening. Feeling powerless over my body left me off balance and resentful.
One day last October, I decided to engage with the meh, to find agency where I hadn’t felt any before. I joined a weight-loss group – an act I swore I would never do. I am really cautious of the dieting and weight-loss industry because it seems to focus on such a narrow, culturally contrived definition of beauty. I don’t want everything in my life to circle around counting calories or timing workouts. Enjoying all types of food and making time for family over workouts is part of a healthy and abundant life. Even as I share this story, I’m aware of the underlying biases about beauty, gender, politics, and class that an act such as “joining a weight loss group” can signify.
But my journey with my body isn’t at all about weight, or clothing sizes, or the way I look. It has everything to do with empowerment, and feeling like the decisions I make do matter.
And I am empowered. Irrespective of the changes on the scale or on the tags in my clothes, I feel more beautiful than I’ve ever felt, and it’s because I have found a pocket of agency in my routine that is often very others-focused. I make time in the evenings or during my children’s nap time on the weekends to exercise, not because I have extra time, but because these acts are the moments I reserve just for me. Even though I resist (a bath in the evening always sounds so much nicer!), these small choices are like shots of agency, and my entire outlook changes.
I also find little pockets of agency here:
- In evening walks in the neighborhood, just me, in the quiet.
- In turning up MY music, too loud, in the ear buds of my music player, late at night while I go about my routine, getting ready for the next day.
- In my social groups of family child care providers who can relate to the work that I do.
- In making small, irresponsible decisions, (because I have to make responsible decisions all day long!) like staying up too late to finish one last episode of a television show or a chapter in a book. Of course, this can backfire – as I try on short sleep to navigate a day with the crew!
The stronger our sense of self, the more present and aware we can be with others. The more protected our sense of agency, the more we can empower those around us to make decisions for themselves. And that truly will open our hearts – and by extension, the young ones in our care - to abundance.
I have recently read a few beautiful articles about caring for ourselves, and I think they are so worth the read.