Graf-Martin making space for joy

Sitting here with chipped-up nails and hair overdue for a cut, I may seem like a candidate for a little good self-care, but I promise, I’m not too bad at it, all things considered. Two years ago, I joined a bunch of other adoptive and foster parents for a series attachment classes. It was kind of weird to take training on how to connect with your child, but, like most parents, I wanted so badly to be the mom that my baby needed that I’d have done almost anything for her. Including sitting on chairs that tilted precariously in a stuffy classroom with a bunch of strangers one night a week for 6 weeks.

There were sessions that were great, some that were redundant, and some were heartbreaking and hard, requiring plenty of tissue. (Wonder why attachment training is necessary? Things like this will help you understand. Let’s not forget these precious kiddos.)

The most surprising class, however, was on Self-Care. I couldn’t quite figure out why, as homework, we had to do a self-care assessment. The questions evaluated how often we took time or remembered to do things like reading, reflection, spending time with people we enjoy, or massages. We even had to mark down those basic things like getting enough sleep, eating regularly, eating healthy, and getting medical care. Everyone does that, right?

Not so much, it turns out. As we shared our scores, these really selfless people proved that they were just that. Many said that they didn’t even take time to see the doctor. They were flat-out tired.

More Likely To Snap Than Smile

Tell me how a worn-out, malnourished, at-the-end-of-her-rope parent finds opportunities to laugh with their kids or to expend the energy to get an angry teenager to horse around. Honestly, when I’m there, I’m more likely to snap than smile. And then it all made sense – why we’d spend a precious evening away from our families to discuss something that seemed impractical at first. Caring for ourselves? It was absolutely necessary to being able to care for others.

Joy, Play, Laughter

And here’s why we had to do that exercise: we love our neighbour – our child, our parent, our spouse – as we love ourselves. Our teacher shared that joy, play, laughter and fun actually had been shown to solve children’s behaviour problems, as they connected in meaningful positive ways to their caregivers. Turns out, laughter isn’t just good medicine for ourselves, but this joy is glue for others’ cracked hearts.

I saw that self-care seemed completely overwhelming to some of those other parents. And I feel for them. I wanted to bless them, fairy-godmother-style, with babysitters and massage therapists and hot coffee. I’ve got a full life, but I’m only parenting one sweet girl, and I’m blessed with a husband who steps up in huge ways, and friends who have cared for us. And I truly believe that a bit of honest-to-goodness self-care honours how we were created – as valuable, loved, with hearts and minds and bodies that need strengthening as we realize the limits of our humanity.


Here's the thing: we love our neighbour – our child, our parent, our spouse – as we love ourselves.

I’m so grateful for the sacrifices my fellow students had made, some parenting kids with special needs, others with 5 teenagers under their roof. With the challenges that were shared in the safety of our conversations, I have no idea how they were going to find opportunities for time to even think. But it hit me hard: when we are striving and stressing and keeping our schedules so very full, we have no time to attach or connect, and our kids’ hearts desperately need connection. Without it, each one of us behaves as the worst version of ourselves.

Making Space To Care…For Yourself

Bit by bit, I’m learning that by making space to care for ourselves, we make room in our hearts to love others. To really love those close to us. To care for those entrusted to us. To attach our hearts to theirs. It’s putting on our own oxygen mask first, so that we can hold tight to our babies.

For me, it means crafting and painting at 9 PM, or walking at 6 AM. It means reading a book over my lunch. Sometimes it means journaling at 11 PM. It means seeing the dentist, even when it’s completely inconvenient, and finding a doctor with later hours. Hopefully, in doing these things, I’m living out my call to be the mom that my daughter needs most.

What Does It Mean For You?

So, how do you find space for self-care? What do you find is the most important to make room for?

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