This is my daughter and brand new grandson. What beautiful creatures. I want them to have joy and love and fulfillment in their lives. And, now that I am old enough to be a grandmother twice over, I especially want them to have health. I know how important – and fleeting – health can be.
This picture brings me back to those early days of my own motherhood when sleep was rare and personal needs took a backseat to an infant’s cries. The moment I took the photo, I began to formulate the lessons I’ve learned, from parenting and from my career, about why personal wellness needs to be prioritized and how to do it.
My daughter knows these are important, as so many of us do, but when in times of great stress – even happy, life-giving stress – we need to revisit the basics that so easily fall to the bottom of our things-to-do list.
- Sleep. There are so many reasons to stay awake, whether it’s because the baby would rather be fed by you than a partner or whether a deadline is bearing down. Sometimes keeping awake is a necessity, but often it’s a choice. When we don’t get a good night’s sleep, we make careless mistakes and poor choices. These can end up increasing the demands on us and interfere with future sleep … the cycle can soon spin out of control. When given a choice, choose rest.
- Eat well. Easier said then done anytime, but especially in times of personal or professional stress. Try to plan ahead (or ask your mom to bring you a healthy care package). Have fresh foods and healthy treats stashed nearby. This is another habit that quickly affects the rest of your life.
- Exercise. Maybe even more than sleep, there is always an excuse not to exercise. Plus, if it’s not part of our routine, the body is quick to complain. Here’s a secret: the time we take to push ourselves physically not only makes us healthier in the long run, it makes us happier in the immediate. Do not underestimate the power of endorphins.
When in times of great stress we need to revisit the basics that so easily fall to the bottom of our things-to-do list.
- Boundaries. Babies need physical ones and we need abstract ones. Our time and energy is limited. I love the term #JOMO – joy of missing out. When weighing whether to accept an invitation or an assignment, we often dwell on what we might miss if we pass. We need to remember that a “no” to someone else can mean a “yes” to ourselves.
- Forgiveness. This one might be the hardest of all. In parenthood and many other parts of life, including our careers, we can be our own worst critics. I’ve wasted too much time regretting errors that, if I can remember them at all, seem barely significant in retrospect. Guilt over our own missteps can be a sickness that drags us down. We need to treat it – with reflection or an apology, if that’s called for – and always with authentic forgiveness.
When my daughter wakes, I will give her these and ask that she consider them touchstones. We can’t sleep well, eat balanced meals, cross-train and be full of mindful reflection every day. Life is too tumultuous. I want her to embrace them as goals to reach for whenever possible, because everybody, no matter at what stage of life, deserves to be treated with care.