I read a blogpost by Pinky McKay recently that described an analogy for the importance of prioritising self-care as a mother (or parent) that was even more powerful for me than the oxygen mask analogy that I read about so often. It described a wildlife documentary in which a lioness and her cub hadn’t eaten in two days, and the situation was becoming critical. When the lioness finally achieved a kill, she ate the whole lot herself, leaving none for her starving cub. The meal gave her the energy and strength to continue hunting, and she eventually made a larger kill, which she shared with her cub.
The lioness instinctually “knows” the vital importance and priority of self-care in her role as a mother. Her instincts instructed her to feed herself first for a crucial reason: if she had shared or given the food to her cub, she wouldn’t have had the energy or strength to make another kill, and consequently both she and her cub would have perished from starvation. She had to take care of her own needs first, to ensure the survival of her cub.
This story cuts deep. Since becoming a mum, it’s felt as though my every need comes second (or third, or fourth) to those of my kids. In the early weeks and months, they were so utterly dependent for everything, and the patterns were quickly formed: meet the incessant needs of my baby, and then if there is any “left over time” when they’re finally sleeping (even if attached to me whilst doing so!), I can quickly slot in meeting my own needs before they wake again and the cycle repeats. This worked for the first few days, when I was high on a post-birth hormone cocktail mixed with the excitement of my newly birthed baby, but it wasn’t sustainable. Yet, being the stubborn soul that I am, I have persisted with this habit, to some degree, for close to five years. Any wonder I feel exhausted, burnt out, resentful, disengaged, often sick, and I fantasise about running away on a regular basis.
In considering the lioness analogy, despite understanding it on an intellectual level, my automatic and immediate response is still that I would give that first “small kill” to my kids – it’s my responsibility to care for them first and foremost, after all. After a little more careful consideration, I might contemplate the idea of sharing it with them. It’s not until I stop to consider the longer term consequences, that I feel a slight guilt-inducing tug towards making the choice to “feed myself” first. Do I really want us all to eventually “starve”? Of course not! Getting real about it requires me to really think through what this means. Neglecting my needs is causing me exhaustion, burnout, resentfulness, disengagement, illness, and fantasising about abandonment, whilst the kids immediate needs are being met. Long term, this will lead to (and is already heading towards) more serious illness, disconnection and broken relationships, and an inability to parent my children well and guide them towards living happy and healthy lives. This is clearly NOT what I want for myself or my family. At this point in the analysis, the appropriate action is glaringly obvious – meeting my needs MUST be prioritised when caring for my family.
I see this pattern in so many mums I know. Why is it that this notion of unsustainable self-sacrifice is so ingrained in so many of us as mothers? I think that’s perhaps another rabbit hole to be explored elsewhere, but one thing is crystal clear: at the end of the day, it serves no one.
I’ll keep the lioness in my mind as I go about life this week, making my daily choices in caring for myself and my family. Following from my last post, I’m pleased to report that I’m on track with my daily meditation and adequate sleep. I haven’t been perfect – life knows how to bring up great excuses to avoid your commitments – but I’ve been mindful, and making better choices more often than not. I’ll remember the lioness as I continue.
How about you – how do you feel about the lioness and her choices? Do you prioritise yourself, or are you in denial of the critical priority of self-care? Why do you think that is? What is one small action you can take towards prioritising self-care? I’d love for you to share your thoughts in the comments section below.