Nurturing Yourself, by Esther Leisher
In the midst of this crazy time that the Holiday Season seems to have become, it can be hard to remember to take care of yourself, to slow down, to take time, to include yourself in your plans to take care of everyone in your family. Are you not part of the family? This article on nurturing yourself came at a timely moment for me, and I hope it speaks to you as strongly. Enjoy.
"What do you do for yourself?” How often I was asked that when I had four
children at home. I was obviously pouring myself into what I considered my
profession (family life), and it must have looked like I was making great
sacrifices. I wasn't. I was pretty much doing what I wanted to do. You are a
creative artist working with the substance of everyday life. You learn to be true
to the heart of the music but play it in your own style.
An example from my own life is Saturday mornings. I was strongly disinclined
to get up. My husband left early to work on the community water system or do
volunteer work at our country fire station. The older children locked themselves in
their rooms, busy keeping the younger ones out and avoiding the chores that
had to be done on Saturday mornings.
I always felt that after five days of conscientious attention to caring for the
children, I needed a break. Saturday mornings had to be different, something
to look forward to. Since there is nothing I find more soothing than beauty --
art books, beautiful illustrations, handmade wooden puzzles, art cards -- that's
what I did with the kids on Saturday mornings. (You of course have probably
already found your own restorative activities, things that are uniquely your own.)
On Saturdays I wanted to stay in bed and relax into beauty. The younger
children had their breakfast set out for them the night before (muffins and
juice, maybe). They got up and ate breakfast, played a little and then came to
find me. If I asked, they brought me something simple to eat and drink (a cup
of yogurt and some water?) and we sat up in my bed and enjoyed beautiful
We had some remarkable handmade wooden puzzles from Europe that were
only taken down when company came. Except for Saturday mornings. Then
we chose one and worked with it. The puzzles came in a special frame and
case. We slid off the clear glass cover and took turns taking one piece out of
the wooden frame at a time, carefully laying each piece on the cover. When all
pieces were out, we took turns replacing them. I let the children put in the
larger, simpler pieces and always chose the less obvious ones. Of course they
needed some subtle suggestions now and then as to where something might
fit. (Puzzles are one of those wonderful "from wholes to parts" activities,
something to remind us that we came from unity, a unity now broken into
fragments here on earth, and our job is to restore the unity.)
Then came the children's books, the books with beautiful illustrations that I never got
to really look at -- except on Saturday mornings. I read to the kids all week; but on
Saturday morning we only looked at the illustrations. "Look how the ribbon of
her dress floats out behind her." "How strong the farmer's hands are." "The
little girl is lifting up her arms to the sun." "What a marvelous wheelbarrow." I
only made comments, did not ask the children any questions. Questions
would have taken the experience out of the realm of art and delight and into
analysis and intellect.
Art cards were next. We had a generous stack of them because everywhere
we went we collected art cards. Those mornings I looked and looked to my
heart's content (so much variety, such vastly different styles) while I made up
Utrillo's Paris: "Someone is just around that corner, ready to peep out and see
if his lost cat is on that street." Van Gogh's sunflowers: "I think a friend gave
them to him and their beauty moved his heart ." Or the blue chair in the
painting of his room: Who knows what significance that chair might have, or
maybe it had some mysterious quality. "Whoever sat on it always had to tell
the truth." "What did the gloomy cypress trees think about that man who
stared at them for so long while he painted them? They probably felt he was
becoming like a cypress tree and they had a fellow feeling for him." Asian art
with the tiny, overburdened person against the looming mountains: "The man
is going somewhere. He is carrying wood for his village and the mountains
watch him pass each day." Soon the children began to add their own
comments, and I spent most of the time just looking.
Paul, from the age of four, was entranced with the art cards and to this day has
a passion for art . Laurel got bored and went off to do her own drawings. Now
as an adult she notices beauty but still prefers to create her own.
Here's another answer to "What did you do for yourself?"
When the youngest child was about 2 years old, and I was feeling that
parenthood was taking a very long time, I decided to fit some spiritual
exercises into my day (I was so tired at night). I chose the development of
focused thinking and focused will. I did the brief thinking exercise suggested by
Steiner in the early morning (2-5 minutes). The will exercise I fit into the
In the will exercise you choose to do the same thing--something that does not
need to be done--at a certain time each day. There is no reason for it, and you
do not have any feelings of like or dislike. You want to focus on just pure will
for one month. At 8:10 a.m. I put on a tape of the life of Bach, found the song
that he wrote for Maria Theresa and sang along with it. "Yah feen. Yah feen.
The children looked on in surprise; it kept them fascinated while I got my will
exercise done. When I look back now I hope I was also humanizing the
recording, giving something to them as well as myself. And besides, where
else were they likely to hear Bach? (That will development exercise went on
to include other unlikely projects and brought the children a measure of
I could also mention the almost daily walks that gave me time to think about
adult things. I would announce before we went out for a walk that something
needed to be done or something needed to be put away before we left. While
they did those things I quickly read a paragraph or two in whatever
thought-provoking book I had taken up. Then we were off.
They were happy -- the walk included a tree with a low branch that could be
ridden like a horse, a sandy patch for playing, a natural "rock garden" whose
rocks could be rearranged into rooms or forts or whatever. They played and I
thought. With a toddler and a baby in a stroller I had to do a little more talking
and interaction, but even then there was a special tree to look at (the "alligator
tree") and predictable events along the way as a focus for their attention -- the
horse, the big house, the picnic table at the field, the place in the woods to play
the flute. In the unendingly busy years of caring for young children and later
homeschooling, I got an amazing amount of reading done.
What do you do for yourself? You create a family life that includes you. Then
you are not bitter later that no one appreciated all the sacrifices you made for
them. You didn't make any sacrifices; you felt satisfied. Later you will
remember that it wasn't always easy, but you were doing what you wanted to
Of course in the midst of it I did sometimes feel sorry for myself. It was heart
breaking for me when my husband would take the older kids off to a used book
sale and I had to stay home with two really small children -- left at home again,
and on a weekend. Suddenly you feel so lonely and so deprived.
Those are the times you give yourself a chance to cry, but then you resolve to
make the best of it at the moment -- and see that it never happens again.
There will be times when you feel that everyone is going places and doing fun
things except you. Be prepared for such catastrophes. Remember that you
need to get out of the house. Think of something you can do at those times.
Find a babysitter. Or do something with a friend whose husband works on
Saturdays. Unhappy times are part of life; plan ahead so that you can avoid
most of them.
What have you found works for you? How do you avoid feeling that it is all too
much? Do you get a babysitter so you can have 2 afternoons a week off?
Does your husband take the kids on Saturday? Do a group of friends trade off
with you? We'd all love to hear from one another. --Esther Leisher
This article was written by Esther Leisher and appears on the Waldorf in the Home website. The original can be found at http://www.waldorfinthehome.org/2005/05/nurturing_yourself.html