*name has been changed to protect privacy
I recently went outside my comfort zone and made a ninety-minute drive in unfamiliar territory to hear one of my favorite authors speak. My hesitations about leaving the comfort of my home on a Friday night at rush hour in the pouring down rain all were abruptly silenced by three words, “I need this.”
You see, my friend Glennon writes words that offer me refuge. With hope spreading like my grandma’s arms, I feel understood and unalone in her space. I knew that hearing her speak her truths would be like an I.V. of pure goodness flowing straight into my blood stream.
Sure enough, the experiences and revelations Glennon shared from a comfy couch, shoes tossed to the side, made me laugh out loud, clap enthusiastically, and cry unashamedly. But when Glennon was asked what advice she’d give people trying to be the best parent, person, or human being they could be, I became completely still. Glennon said, “Find something that fills you up and then do it.” During a painfully low point in her life Glennon followed an intense urge to sit at the edge of the ocean for hours and hours. She realized that sound, that smell, and that feeling was vital to her ability to thrive. She knew that she needed to sit by the water’s edge once a week and so that is what she did … that is what she does. “Find beauty that is just for you … find beauty that will fill you up,” she encouraged.
Much to my dismay, the program came to an end. I began heading for the exit when someone tapped me on my shoulder. “Excuse me, but my friend loves your blog and was wondering if she could talk to you.”
Behind this beautiful woman I’d never met was another beautiful woman I’d never met—and she had tears falling from her eyes.
“Do you read my blog?” I asked as I held out my arms. She nodded, and for several glorious moments we just held on to each other. As I hugged this stranger who didn’t feel like a stranger, I thought to myself: I need this.
My two new friends and I ended up talking for quite some time. I felt an instant ease in their presence as though I could just be me—no hiding, no explaining, no apologies—just me. With them, the laughter and truths came easy. We were delighted to discover that we all lived fairly close to one another. We made a date to go walking—my version of “Filling Up” that Glennon spoke about just a few minutes prior.
On our second walking date, my new friend felt compelled to tell me why she cried when she first met me. She explained that she hadn’t had the kind of parenting that I describe in my blog. Then she used the word mother in way I’d never heard before. “I come to your blog for mothering,” she said.
Mother as a verb … as an action … as a gift we can give ourselves sounded so powerful … and so hopeful.
I immediately thought of the desperate message I’d just received from Sarah* a bright and courageous seventeen-year-old reader of my blog. She said her greatest hope was for her mother to treat her like a human being with feelings, thoughts, interests, and opinions. Her mother’s constant comments on her weight, grades, hobbies, and short haircut had withered her down to her “almost breaking point.” It was through my blog that Sarah came to realize this was not the way all mothers treated their children and that there was a better way to live. She asked me what to do, and this was a portion of my response:
I completely agree with you that your mother's treatment of you does not have to be ignored or accepted. You are worthy of love, acceptance, kindness, respect, and encouragement. But even if your mother does not say encouraging words to you now or ever, you can say them to yourself. You are seventeen and you can take ownership of that little voice inside you. Your inner voice does not have to be your mother's harsh critical words. You have the power to silence that negative voice with the voice of a loving encourager. Start by saying these empowering statements to yourself:
I am worthy.
I am a good person.
I am enough.
I am strong.
Write these messages on sticky notes and place them inside your dresser drawers or inside your school folders. Keep repeating these soul-building words to yourself until they become your inner voice. Only love today, sweet Sarah.
All at once, Glennon’s advice, my friend’s admission, and my encouragement to Sarah came together to form a tangible anchor of hope that I felt needed to be shared with as many people as possible:
We can mother ourselves.
No matter the degree of emptiness we feel, we can be filled.
No matter the lack of response we get, we can answer.
No matter the extent of brokenness we see, we can build.
No matter the weight of the burden we carry, we can move forward.
No matter the level of condemnation we face, we can rise above.
No matter what we did not receive, we can still provide.
We can mother ourselves. It is not too late for us. It is not too late for our children … nor is it too early. This last and final realization occurred to me when I took my daughters and their friend to the park—the same rustic park where my new friends and I walk.
We were only two minutes down the trail when my older daughter, Natalie, unexpectedly exclaimed, “I love this day!” She then stretched her hands towards the sky as if trying to collect sunbeams in the sleeves of her shirt. “Can you believe how the sun is shining in February?” she asked truly amazed. “Doesn’t it feel good?” she asked her companions. I noticed the other two girls agreed, but not quite with the same enthusiasm.
We finally reached their designated hut-building area. Two of the girls got right to work searching for fallen limbs and heavy rocks. As they chatted and collected, I watched Natalie crouch down next to the small babbling stream. She found a place where a small dam forced the water to trickle down like a mini waterfall. She closed her eyes as if in meditation or prayer. A few minutes passed and she turned back to me, suddenly remembering I was there.
“Do you hear that, Mama? Isn’t it beautiful? I wish I had the sound of this stream in my room. It sounds so soothing.”
As I promised my child we could come here anytime, celebratory tears filled my eyes. She’s learning how to fill herself. She is learning what soothes her soul. She’s learning what she needs to thrive.
There have been many gifts I’ve wanted to give my children, but knowing how to mother themselves was not one—until now—and now it makes so much sense. Given the state of the world we live in, perhaps it is the most important gift we can provide. We live rushed lives. We are bombarded by distractions both obvious and subtle. We are surrounded by critics. We are pressured to conform. We are stretched and depleted. There is little time for nurturing, soothing, and nourishing our inner needs. There is little time for meeting the inherent longings of our souls. But it doesn’t have to be that way—not with the gift of mothering. Take a look:
Child, let me mother you.
Let me take you to running streams.
Let me walk with you at your pace.
Let me play this beautiful song for you.
Let me fill your ears with soul-building words like: I love you just as you are, exactly as you are.
Friend, let me mother you.
Let me pray for you.
Let me bring you hot soup when you are sick.
Let me tell you how remarkable you are in a note you can read again and again.
Let me sit beside you in your despair—you don’t have to talk.
Self, let me mother you.
Let me take time to read the pages of this riveting book.
Let me visit this blog where I find hope and understanding.
Let me cry—I don’t have to be strong all the time.
Let me encourage myself: Who I am becoming matters more than who I once was. Today matters more than yesterday.
My friends, start paying attention to that little voice—the one that says, “I need this.” Listen and give it what it craves. There will be voices trying to dissuade you from this gift of caretaking, but do not listen to them. Those voices of negativity, pressure, and perfection will bleed you dry, steal your joy, and leave you hungry. They will not nurture you. Mother yourself so you can be the best version of you.
It’s not too late; it’s not too early. It’s the perfect time to fill the longings of your worthy soul … and possibly inspire others along the way.
Friends of The Hands Free Revolution, how do you mother yourself? And if you are lacking in that area, please share how you plan to start filling yourself up. The comment section of this blog always offers a wealth of inspiration and understanding.
- In addition to Glennon’s soul –building space called Momastery, I’ve been soaking up the authentic, uplifting truths written by Beth Berry at Revolution from Home for many years. I am thrilled that Beth is now sharing her wisdom and insight through wholelife coaching for anyone feeling “Motherwhelmed”. She can help you get clear on why you’re here, align your gifts with what the world desperately needs, and get those gifts out there. The first session is free. Perhaps this is your first step toward mothering yourself.
- The Only Love Today bracelets have proved to be highly effective in helping people change their critical inner voice to a more positive, encouraging one. There are leather and non-leather options available. My wonderful sister-in-law will be selling the bracelets when I speak at the Indianapolis event on March 14. Indiana, please come see me in Carmel or Batesville! There is so much filling up that happens when we gather together!
Lisa @ Four Under Six says
Oh I needed this today. Thank you. Your post brought tears to my eyes. I’ve been having a rough go lately (grieving my mom’s passing) and well, I need some mothering. And so do my children that get caught in the crosshairs of my emotional shifts and turmoil.
Ways I fill myself up (that I will continue to do more of): writing/blogging, being in nature which immediately makes me calmer, happier and grateful, and running. I thought of these three things immediately and know them all to be true.
Thank you Rachel! This is a gift.
Sorry about your mom.I lost my mom too this Summer and when I got back home after everything,I ran everyday and I hugged the trees sometimes.For some reason I felt close to my mom then:-)
Lisa @ Four Under Six says
Hi GKB, thank you. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. It is the most difficult thing I’ve ever been through. And yes, something about running these days. Some days I just have to. I feel like I will burst if I don’t.
Fountains or streams helped sooth my soul too – especially in college as I adapted to truly living in a city for the first time in my life. I needed to sit occasionally next to the peace of a fountain to help calm my soul and find respite in a place where I was never really alone. I used to sit in a particular wooded area, or try to walk past as many fountains as possible on the way to/from the dining hall for dinner. Thank you for beautifully expressing how “mothering” helps us all, I’m so glad you and your new friends found each other and that your blog helps mother me. I teach high school and I try to pass along your ideas and mothering to the students I see each day. Especially some of the teenage girls need your mothering messages like *Sarah.
I never thought about helping my children learn to “mother” themselves. At age 41 I am just now figuring out what refreshes, refuels, and restores me and I find it equally difficult to make time for those things. Thank you for sharing your insights and encouragement!
I am too, Alison, and I’m the exact age you are. Yay for the 40s! I took up rowing last summer and love it. Can’t wait for it to start again this spring.
Thank you for giving me the words to what I’ve needed to do for years–mother myself. Yet I grieve for the mother I wish I had since my mother is living but emotionally unavailable. I visit knowing I will leave with a comment that sears my soul and makes me question what I know to be true and valuable.
So, YES, I will continue to be a mother to myself and strive to teach my adult children to learn what fills their souls by example.
As a divorced single parent of three children ages 4 to 11 I discovered that dancing became the way I mothered myself. The church single’s group I belonged to gathered on Tuesday nights at a Country Western dance club. As I took lessons and mastered the steps in dancing, this empowered me to master the steps in my single life, also. I realize now, in retrospect, that the time I spent dancing was the only time in my life when I didn’t have to lead. I could relax and just follow the music and a partner. When money was tight and I was praying for overtime, when one of my patient’s died, when my loan approval for a new home fell through, when one of my children was having issues; it was dancing that filled me and gave me the strength to solve the problems and believe that all would be okay. I continue to dance today at the age of 65 and dancing ‘mothers’ me still and brings me great joy.
Erin Gettighughes says
I realized I always would sit at the waters edge on my breaks from the hospital I am a RN…or when trying to restore my soul after some of life’s biggest blows…. And I no longer do that… I have all the time to do so right now, I am feeling bleed dry… What a beautiful reminder to get up an walk the beach or along the sea walls.. I am surrounded by the gulf and bay.. I need to mother me so I have more to give back when my time to go back to work I can do my job and help my daughters with any of their needs when they arise. Your Blog made me realize I never would have allowed a job to steal my family time when my children were young…and this last job, combined with extended family issues (not my husband or girls families) I was going to break if I didn’t change things.
I have been off 1 month now & told my sibs it was their turn I had to back out of the rollercoaster day to day and set limits of which is difficult for me… Yet I still have the feeling that I need to be re-fueled & today you gave me a gift… Thank you.. #47y/owifemothergrandmotherandnowme….. My girls are 29,26&23 ….. I started reading your blog after my daughter, I suggested it to her and She said “I love her blog….” Her little ones are 6,4,&2… I too love your blogs… But today’s was what I needed today!
This broke my heart in so many parts. To Sarah* you matter so very much–so myself and so many others are praying for you today and loving you from afar–I hope you feel that.
Beautiful story and article! Another word of advise for “Sarah” if she is reading these comments… surround yourself as much as possible with people who support you in your life journey. I agree with Rachel that you can look within to do your own “mothering,” however it is nice to be around others who are also seeking what you seek, who can show you love and support through life’s many challenges. Just like those pictures above.. women filling themselves up and supporting each other as they do it. Sometimes you just need that human connection, the hug, the knowing look in another’s eye, the words that give voice to what you are feeling that you haven’t quite been able to figure out yet. Wishing you much peace, love and joy on your life’s journey! You are truly wise for a 17-year-old.
Claire Holloway says
To *Sarah* (and our lovely Rachel), I wish I had the self awareness at 17 that I discovered at 44…. when Life dealt me some profound blows…. that ‘mothering myself’ was a new skill that I had to LEARN, lest I perish. I was not mothered the way I thought best. Now I mother me and my son. And it’s like a second childhood in many ways. I’m amazed that I can both mother and be nurtured by my own nurturing. Thank you Rachel. Hugs from Australia.
“Find Beauty that is just for you…find beauty that will fill you up”. Rachel, your honest and humble words are my source of BEAUTY and continue to heal my heart and inspire my soul.
This is just incredibly inspiring and beautifully written! Thank you for sharing with us as this has inspired me to take some “me” time and not feel so guilty about it!
Thank you from the depths of my soul for today’s post….both yours and Glennon’s blogs offer to me the mothering that helps me feel calmer and more inspired both for myself and in my parenting!
Another fantastic resource from a parenting perspective is Dr. Laura Markham’s website, ahaparenting.com, that speaks about re-parenting ourselves so as to be loving, compassionate parents for our kiddos, despite our own experience of being mothered/parented.
This is something I realized last week. I need something… something I enjoy. I am currently searching for it, but know it has something to do with water, or walking, or being creative. I try to find it in watching tv or cooking or cleaning, but that is not it. I think it needs the beauty party, the enthusiastic part. I also applied “you are what you eat” to other parts of my life. Reality tv, gossip news/magazines, shows with swearing/violence fill you will non-sense. I need to fill myself with food for the soul, love, hope. Your words are always on point and lift me up. I am working on making “only love today” my mantra. Thank you
John S Green says
I agree that you need to set boundaries with ANYONE who does not build you up…even if it is your mother. There are things we need to find strength in that will carry us. I have found that ‘believing in myself’ and telling myself good things about me still don’t fill the gap I can feel. Knowing Jesus Christ is the only way to fill in all the cracks and to truly know who HE thinks we are because he made you and is the only one who can full forgive and love. Even more than a loving mother! I really enjoy your blog. It is full of heartfelt and healthy things but over and over I see how much more impact full these things would be if you put more faith and trust in Jesus. I would love to tell you more if you are willing.
Tracy L says
Really love this post. As women and mothers we are often so busy caring for others that we forget to care for ourselves and sometimes we don’t know how. Listening to that still soft whisper on your heart, figuring out what does fill you this is so important and vital to our being able to care for others!
Your timing with this could not have been more perfect. An interaction with my mother over the weekend left me feeling un-nurtured and un-loved; emotions I feel quite frequently where my mother is concerned. Knowing that I have to power to nurture myself gives me hope. Each day I strive to be the best mother I can be to my own children in spite of the way I was raised.
Such powerful words. Thank you for helping us become hands-free mama’s to ourselves and our loved ones. I’ve found that it is a never-ending journey, this need for mothering. Isaiah 66:13, “I will offer you peace like a river, and like a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you, says the Lord”. I hold on to this verse. As a mother myself, who has lost two mothers, one of them twice, through adoption.
I come here for mothering too. Lately, I mother myself with hot tea and getting more sleep. I need more of the outdoors and yoga.
And my mother’s parenting was lacking & looking back, what I would say to Sarah* & I learned to say to myself is that my mother’s behavior (& my dad’s) many times affected me but was not a (an accurate) reflection of me!
This post hit home for me. We spend so much of our strength and energy mothering others. I am part of the sandwich generation. My children are grown with children of their own. My mother is 87 and having health issues. It seems liked I am pulled in many directions. Feeding the birds is my time. Watching the activity calms. I got my mother started with this soothing hobby. We can visit about birds at our feeders and feel a bond over the miles between us.
Yesterday, God gave me the opportunity to reaffirm to my 6 year old grandson that he is loved. He’s been in trouble at school. I sat beside him and gently told him that I loved him. Regardless of bad choices, I would always love him. His dad spent some time in prison. We discussed how I never stopped loving his dad. The last thing I told him was that I would always love him. Parenting is a hard job whether your raising your mother or a grandchild!!
Your post is one of several I draw my mothering from. Again, thank you for sharing and caring.
Truly amazing to read. We have a common love; Glennon. Oy. That woman! YOU, woman! These women^^^^^^ thank you for the invitation to Mother myself. It’s never too late or too early, I’m never too tired, or bloated or busy to love myself! Thank you for sharing.
So true we all need mothering.This is what I do for myself
3.Take a nap every weekend.
Caroline McGraw says
Rachel, it made me so happy to see you and G together!! You are two of my favorite writers, inspirations, and friends, and I’m so glad you were able to meet. I went to Nashville to see her speak last year and it was wonderful … it helped give me courage to go and meet you a few months later!
And what a good question. Lately, I’ve been mothering myself by getting rid of shabby clothes, making time to read, and slowing down to breathe when I feel that frantic rush-rush-rush energy starting up. Oh, and booking a plane ticket to go and see my actual mother. 🙂 xoxo
Thank you. A) you & Glennon in a post together=mind blown! Than you. B) This message is so powerful. A message that I have allowed to ebb & flow in my life depending on whose voice I let myself listen to. When I listen to my own, I know what I need but there were so many times I heard it & didn’t listen b/c of what others might say. Most of the time not anymore, it’s been for a while now & someday not ever again. Thank you.
Kaitlin Gertner says
Amazing article Rachel – thank you of this. Having lost a mother at a young age and searched for mother-type figures throughout my life, I’ve realized none hold up to the mother I can choose to be for myself (even at 26). I first fell in love with your blog after reading the Bully Too Close to Home which put into words my fears about motherhood that I had not been able to verbalize myself. While I hope I can find the courage to think I will be a good mother in the future and embrace doing so, in the mean time it’s articles like yours that get me one step closer. Thank you – I truly mean it.
Thank-you, I needed this!
As Spring comes and with it anniversaries that remind me that my mother died over 20 years ago, I need reminders like this one that my toolbox is full. I have women in my life that can minister to the soul that reaches out and those who remember last year. There is quiet. There are books to be read and journals to be filled. And HER journal! What a treasure! There is prevention in the simple act of slowing down, changing focus. I don’t have to be a mess, but it’s ok if it happens. There is grace, and I plan on dispensing it freely. Thank you!!
Thank you once again Rachel – I have only been reading your blog for 2 months but already you’ve made such a difference to my life. I worry these days that I give so much to my children and my job that I’ve forgotten what fills me up. I’ll have to find some time to try new and old things – I work so hard that I’ve become numb to everything. I think I’m a good mum (most of the time) to my children, but I don’t give any time at all to myself.
To *Sarah – the fact that you read this blog, the fact that you reached out to Rachel – you are so strong already. The comments below are right – be careful to surround yourself with friends who support and love you. And think about what a great mother you will be one day! You have learned so much from your own experiences, you have so much to give.
Cait Fitz @ My Little Poppies says
I feel that I was meant to read this today, and I thank you. I am actually a huge advocate of self-care, or mothering, and I’m typically quite good at self-care most days. This winter, however, has been a challenging one with nonstop illnesses among my littles, massive heaps of snow so deep that my children cannot even maneuver, and a major home renovation and all the challenges that go with that. I just feel… spent. I felt that this message came to me for a reason today and I’m determined to find my version of Glennon’s ocean today- somewhere amid these snowbanks 🙂
My Mother died when I was 16. I’m 41 now, have three beautiful children and a wonderful husband but I still suffer from depression from time to time. Recently, my therapist told me I had to learn to ‘Mother’ myself. I was a little at a loss for what this meant until I read your blog. God had graced you with beautiful insight and such an expressive and poetic means of expressing this insight. Thank you!!! I’m excited to be able to share this essay and reread it when ever I’m feeling at a loss on self=mothering.
As always, your words have been balm to my soul. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, your lessons, and your gifts.
A friend shared this with me today and it was so perfect. My grandmother passed away on Saturday. She was a mother to her core… a mother to everyone. While my mother is a bit more like Sarah’s, my grandmother always loved and accepted me for who I was. She took care of me while my mother had to work, she has been with me my whole life, she was my constant. I will miss her desperately, but her strength and her kindness to everyone who came into her home will stick with me. She got to meet her great grand daughter and for that, I feel so lucky. She brought her joy in her last moments. This woman shaped my life… it’s the end of an era, but she is the kind of mother that will live forever in all of us.
The universe is conspiring for me to read lots about re-creating myself and mothering myself and taking care of myself lately.
I love to take walks outside -year round in Minnesota- and the weather has been cooperating. Love to see the critters, hear the birds, just notice everything around me. I also like to rock in my rocking chair in the dark with the glow of candle light. Those are the two big ways I mother myself or recreate myself on a daily basis.
Sarah B says
Oh Rachel. I have been reading your blog for a very long time. But this is the first post that compelled me to write a note. The sheer synchronicity of this post, and of my life’s journey…so affirming.
I, too, had a childhood very much like the Sarah you wrote about. My mother just has not been a witness to my adolescence and adulthood. I used to yearn for her to be interested in my life, in my thoughts, and craved mothering from her. It was not something she could give. And when she tried, it looked a lot like the way you described Sarah’s experience – critical and hurtful. And I have 3 younger sibling who also just craved mothering from our mother. And my heart broke to see them suffer. So I mothered them the best I could as a big sister. And that healed me on some level.
As I graduated college, left my hometown, and my siblings grew older, I started to pull back from my mothering. It created issues for me in my romantic life, and I started to feel like maybe it was best if I just reigned in my mothering. Because perhaps there was an unhealthy side to mothering, and I needed to learn balance.
Fast forward nearly 15 years, and I am a yoga instructor, a wife, and now a mother myself. After becoming a mother in June 2014 to a sweet little (now 9 month old) girl, I simply cannot allow myself to hold back my mothering. It is who I am.
My ‘word’ for 2015 is “nurture”. And the parallel you drew between nurture and mothering (this sounds crazy, I know, that I did not see it before now) finally clicked it all into place for me. I yearn for this mothering to come into its fullness – not just with my sweet babe – but in all areas, my yoga teaching, my full time university work, even my marriage…and I am finally beginning that work of finding that balance.
Thank you for affirming that we do seek mothering, and that we can mother ourselves. It is been such a integral part of my adult journey, in healing my childhood yearnings, and in discovering my dharma. A big, long, refreshing hug to you Rachel. xx
So cool to see you and Glennon, two of my favorite bloggers together. You’re both very inspiring.
nice article…you’re brilliant rachel
Thank you so much for this. Your words have become a blessing to me.
Sharon Ballantine says
Learning how we feel “filled” is an important gift we give to ourselves and our families. Not only are we better parents (and human beings) when we are filled, we provide a great role model for our children that it is OK to pay attention to what feels good!
Whether that is gathering sunbeams in our shirtsleeves, listening to the babbling brook, sitting by the ocean, hugging trees, dancing, or …
Discovering our inner-spiration is a unique and wonderful journey.
Thanks for sharing this story.
And Sarah, I encourage you to learn to listen to your heart. Learn to trust your Internal Guidance System and it will help you know your unique wonderfulness, even if others are not able to see or appreciate it. You are wonderful and deserve, and can have, the magical life of your dreams.
I have been reading your blog over the past year, and feel very drawn here as your message speaks vividly to my heart. I have come to the unhappy conclusion that I have not been offering the safe haven, the mothering my children so desire and need. I have been a drill sergeant, harsh, high expectations, low patience level, lots of excuses for WHY I am always frustrated and on the verge of angry.
Our children are all adopted, and that alone lends them a spirit of rejection and always wondering if they are truly loved, and while I was busy DOING things, I was not always present, not always patient, and not always loving while DOING. Meeting their physical needs? Oh yes!! Meeting their spiritual and emotional needs? I have fallen very short.
I am thankful God has opened my eyes to this, but oh the years of pain that are needing to be overcome-I feel quite incapable of it all-basically, starting over-with my relationships with my oldest 2-home 14 and 15 years-and in such tremulous times themselves as teens-
Thanks for speaking truth, in love, and for daring to walk a path that is not easy.
[…] *name has been changed to protect privacy I recently went outside my comfort zone and made a ninety-minute drive in …read more […]
[…] The Kind of Mothering We All Need via Hands Free Mama: When I went to get the URL for Hands Free Mama to include with the above post, I read Rachel’s latest post and wanted to share it too. It’s a really beautiful post about mothering – learning how to mother ourselves, what we need to soothe our souls and to thrive, and teaching our children how to do the same. […]
[…] The Kind of Mothering We All Need by Rachel Macy Stafford – I had the pleasure of meeting both Rachel and Glennon last year, and they are both my heroes. Rachel in particular has become a treasured friend and mentor. She lives what she writes. […]