Mothering Ourselves

by Cheryl Rainfield, 2002

There are so many of us who didn’t get the kind of nurturance and love that we needed as children–the kind of nurturance that our society associates with mothers. Not having received that nurturance or gentle care can leave long-lasting effects, the least of which is a constant yearning for the love we never received, and a gaping hole of pain and need.

Mothering ourselves, and finding small ways to receive mothering from others, can help us heal that wound. While we may need to look for nurturance from other people at the beginning, the most powerful nurturance comes from ourselves. Because no matter how much nurturance someone gives us, if we’re not truly loving ourselves or giving some of what we need to ourselves, that nurturance will wash off of us, and eventually will slam up against our self-loathing or our unending needs.

It can be hard to accept that we need to nurture and mother ourselves, when we never received it. There’s often a lot of anger and pain; why should we have to be the one to do it? We *should* have received good love as a child. But if we didn’t, there’s no way we can change the past. And, I believe, the most powerful ways to meet those needs are to give ourselves that nurturing–during or after we have learned to receive it from others, or we have experienced a few moments of true nurturing from someone else, so that we can effectively model it.

You may need mothering for different ages–an infant, a toddler, a little child, a teenager. Different methods work differently for those different ages. Some, such as ones that comfort an infant, can, I believe, help heal the other ages that we didn’t receive love.

So how do you mother yourself? Here are a few suggestions:

    • Make yourself something warm to drink.
      Make a warm, comforting drink for yourself, and give yourself time to enjoy it. Drink whatever makes you feel good–warm cocoa, soup, tea, soy milk, or milk. Allow yourself to take the time to just relax and drink it slowly.
    • Wrap yourself up in a blanket or quilt.
      Babies and children are often wrapped up to be kept warm, and also to feel secure. Try wrapping yourself up in a favourite quilt or blanket, and just letting yourself lie there for a while, without having to do anything else.
    • Get frequent hugs.
      Good, safe touch is important. I think it’s an actual need. Without it, we may feel distant from ourselves and the world. Ask for hugs often from the people you care about, and let yourself relax into them as much as you can. Take in the good feeling of hugging someone you like, and carry that feeling with you.
    • Ask a friend to praise you.
      It’s important for little children, and for older children, too, to hear good things about themselves. It helps them develop a sense of who they are, and helps them live up to those good things. Ask a friend, a therapist, or your partner to give you some heartfelt praise, to tell you something that they like and appreciate about you. Then take it in. You might want to set this up as a habit for a little while, asking for some praise once a week, or once a month. Try giving it, too; that also feels good.
    • Give yourself praise.
      It can be hard to tell yourself good things about yourself. We’re not really encouraged to do that in our society. When someone says good things about themself, they’re often called a braggart, or someone who thinks themselves better than others. But that’s just other people’s insecurities and old, negative training. Giving yourself positive messages helps nurture your soul, your self. Give yourself as many real, positive messages, as often as you can. Make it a habit to notice the things you like about yourself.
    • Ask a friend, lover, or therapist to read you a story.
      Having a bedtime story read to you can be a very nurturing thing. Ask someone you feel safe with to read you a story–at bedtime or any time. You might want to pick out a picture book or a children’s book that appeals to you, or let your friend surprise you. Ask if it’s all right to lean against them or snuggle with them while they read to you. This can help you to feel secure and nurtured.
    • Read picture books and children’s books to yourself.
      Take the time to nurture yourself. Pick a picture book or a chapter from a children’s book that makes you feel good–a childhood favourite, or a new book you’ve discovered. Or pick any book that appeals to you. Curl up in a comfortable chair or on a bed with lots of pillows and a quilt, and tell yourself the story. Read it out loud to yourself, or silently in your head. Really let yourself enjoy the pictures on the page, or the pictures in your mind. If you find it too hard to tell yourself the story, get a picture book that comes with an audio tape from the library, or buy it at a store. Then follow the story along with the tape. You can also watch (or tape and watch) a tv show that reads picture books out loud (such as Reading Rainbow).
    • Encourage the playfulness in you.
      Children need to play. It’s their way of learning things, as well as a way of expressing themselves and having fun. Fun is such an important part of feeling good. So let yourself play. Try not to censor yourself. Caring parents nurture this in children; you can nurture this in yourself. Blow some bubbles into the air. Draw a picture with crayons. Hop down the street. Jump on the couch. 🙂 Make some cookies. Push a toy car around your desk. Whatever appeals to the child inside you.
  • Encourage yourself.
    Encouragement and support is an important part of what children need. It helps children to gain confidence in themselves, to learn to follow their hearts and to be adventurous and true to themselves. Try giving yourself encouragement and support. Acknowledge when you’ve done something well, or you’ve done something kind or good, and give yourself praise. When you’re having a hard time or you’re doubting yourself, try to be your own cheerleading section. Encourage yourself on, remind yourself that the hard period will pass, and you’ll find your way out the other side, or you’ll find your way to what you need to do. Try not to criticize yourself, but rather encourage your dreams, your hopes, your true self. Let yourself express those things, and be all right with them.

Mothering ourselves may not always be easy to do. In fact, it may feel pretty hard at first, because really, we’re not encouraged to give ourselves such nurturance and support. And, if we never received it as children, it may feel foreign or unnatural, or we may always be looking to other people to fill that void. But mothering ourselves can be incredibly nurturing, and can help us to feel happier, more confident and secure, and to be more kind and loving with ourselves.

Here are some of my favourite picture books that you might enjoy:

  • Lester, Helen and Lynn Munsinger. A Porcupine Named Fluffy, Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 1986.A story about a porcupine who doesn’t fit the name he was given. He tries and tries to become something he’s not, until finally, with the help of a friend he’s able to see the humor in that.

    A book about knowing you don’t have to try to make yourself be something you’re not.

  • Modesitt, Jeanne and Robin Spowart. Mama, If You Had a Wish, Aladdin: New York, 1999.A beautiful story with powerful, loving messages, about a bunny who wonders if his mother had a wish, would she wish that he was different. And the mother reassures him, with each example that he brings up, that she is glad he is able to do and be each of those things, and that she loves him for who he is.

    A book about being loved for who you are; that you are loveable the way you are.

  • Hughes, Shirley. Up and Up, Warners: London, 1979.There are no words in this book, but the beautiful, descriptive pictures tell a vivid story about a little girl who wants so badly to fly, and can’t, until finally she eats a magical chocolate egg that helps her to fly. And fly she does! Anyone who loves the idea of flying, or loves dreams, should check out this book.

    A book about believing in your dreams.

  • Cosgrove, Stephen and Robin James. Leo the Lop, Grolier: Connecticut, 1977. (Part of the Serendipity Book series)A story about a little bunny who has long, floppy ears when all the other bunnies have ears that stand upright. The other bunnies tease Leo, until the tables turn and they try to be like Leo. But none of them are happy, until finally they realize that it’s okay to be the way you are.

    A book about accepting differences.

  • Kellogg, Steven. The Mysterious Tadpole, Dial: New York, 1977.A funny, totally fantasy kind of book with wonderful drawings, about a little boy who recieves a birthday present from his uncle in Scotland, of a little tadpole. Only the tadpole doesn’t stay little. It quickly grows. And it doesn’t turn into a frog, it turns into an adorable little creature with four paws, that just keeps growing and growing. Soon the little boy doesn’t know where to keep his pet…but the problem is solved. Until his uncle sends him another present. Funny and imaginative.

    A book that sparks imagination, fantasy, and playfulness.

  • Bourgeois, Paulette and Brenda Clark. Franklin in the Dark, Kids Can Press: Toronto, 1986.A story about a little turtle who’s afraid of the dark. And it’s very dark inside his shell at night. Franklin asks a lot of different animals what he could do, and each of them have a suggestion, but the suggestion is for their own fear, not his. But Franklin faces up to his fears…with the help of a nightlight. A touching story, with beautiful artwork.

    A book about it’s okay to be afraid of things…and it’s good to face them, too, but you don’t have to face them coldly.

  • Sheldon, Dyan and Neil Reed. Unicorn Dreams, Red Fox: London, 1997.A story about a boy named Dan, who has a unicorn for a friend. He tells his class and his teacher, and each time they don’t believe him or laugh at him. But then, at story time, when he tells them about his unicorn, they all see it, too.

    A book about dreams and imagination.

  • Shannon, David. A Bad Case of Stripes, Blue Sky Press: New York, 1998.A wonderful story with vivid art about a girl who isn’t true to herself, and ignores what she really loves (lima beans) just to fit in. And because she’s so worried about what other people think of her, she gets a bad case of stripes–vivid, rainbow strips that color her skin. And the stripes don’t go away. They get worse and worse, changing from day to day into the american flag, polka dots, a checkerboard, whatever the kids call out. And then more and more, as her parents hire people to try to help her. But nothing works…until a wise woman comes to the house and helps her admit that she really likes lima beans.

    A story about being true to yourself, and not worrying about what other people think.

©Cheryl Rainfield, 2002

Written by Cheryl Rainfield, award-winning author of SCARS, STAINED, and HUNTED

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