Improving Family Well-Being by Way of Self-Care

Last month as a way to kick off the new year, I signed up for an equine (horse) coaching session.  The premise for this kind of session is for the horse to give you cues to the authenticity of the stories you have about yourself and your life.  A coach will guide you through exercises with your horse all the while asking you meaningful questions.  As you ponder and express yourself, the coach will watch the horse’s signals to give you feedback.

Essentially, how you do anything is how you do everything.  From the moment I stepped in the round pen with my horse, this fact could not be denied.

My horse had been in her pen overnight and the time was creeping past midday.

I was worried about her.

My heart wanted to commune with her in silence as I processed through the deep questions being thrown at me.  She made me feel so comfortable, I wanted to just be with her in the moment.

My mind kept interfering.  Thoughts about her not getting enough exercise, that she was bored or that she would rather run or jump than hang out with me kept flitting across my awareness.

It took concentrated effort on my part and calm, collected support on my coach’s part, to get me to relax and follow my heart.

Where else in my life do I put the needs of others before my own?

This was the real question.

Even though I knew the answer, I had a hard time consciously expressing it.

I put everyone’s thoughts, feelings and needs well above my own (my dogs’ included).  If I do something for myself, it is often tainted by a feeling of guilt.  A feeling that I should be spending my time getting caught up on household chores or making sure my family is well cared for.

I am not alone in this.  It often is the default setting of many parents, especially mothers.  We are so focused on keeping our kids happy and healthy, we have no space left to offer ourselves the same kind of devoted care.

As I processed through this unsettling realization, my coach offered me a different perspective.  He called it ‘immaculate care’.  It is a concept found in nature where the leader of a group of animals gets all the best when it comes to self-care.  They get to eat first, sleep first and whatever else they need to stay in optimal physical health.  For instance, the matriarchal mare of a herd of horses keeps herself in prime condition for the overall health of those she watches over.  If she stays healthy, she is better equipped to alert others of impending danger.  She can notice predators well before they become a threat if she is firing on all cylinders.

Here’s a short TEDx talk by Koelle Simpson, a master horse trainer and coach, that describes the concept of ‘immaculate care’ as well as learning our truths through the wisdom of horses:

TEDx San Diego 2011 Koelle Simpson

What if we took a similar approach as the leaders of our family?

Think about this:  How up-to-date are you with your health-related appointments?  My guess, if you are like me, you are current with most of your kids’ and pet appointments, but may be lagging when it comes to yourself.

This isn’t to meant to make you feel bad or stressed out, it is only to help you see the big picture.  Shouldn’t you, at minimum, be allowed to care for your health in the way that you strive to care for your family’s health?

Before you do anything else, consider giving yourself a six month time-frame to begin to schedule some of your appointments.  Maybe shoot for one appointment every month or so.  Even beginning to think about the possibility of getting these scheduled is a step in the right direction.

We shouldn’t stop there.  Optimal health requires free-time and friendships.  It means getting enough rest, moving our bodies in healthy ways and offering ourselves quiet moments to recharge.

It may not be realistic to immaculately care for ourselves all the time, but taking steps to do so will positively impact the well-being of our whole family.

Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent