I recently asked our Facebook followers if there were any homeschooling parents (I mean the primary, hands-on parent) who had not experienced burnout. I didn’t find any. Most parents experience burnout, so you can easily imagine that homeschoolers do – and many people do imagine it, so they choose not to homeschool for fear of the stress and burnout. Fitra Journal is going to address (avoiding!) burnout and practising self-care again and again, in sha Allah readers’ will get the message exactly when they need it. Or store it away for future reference… From Issue One ‘Getting Started’ here is our resident psychotherapist (and homeschooler!) Khalida Haque’s step-by-step explanation of why you should and how you can practice self-care:
“You cannot pour from an empty cup.” – Anonymous
What is self-care?
Self-care is seen as a habit that enables well-being. According to the National Health Service it means: “Looking after yourself in a healthy way, whether it’s brushing your teeth, taking medicine when you have a cold, or doing some exercise”. It is done intentionally and purposefully. And it is of holistic benefit.
Self-care is also a divine responsibility. Our bodies and selves, just as everything else, that Allah (SWT) has bestowed upon us, are an amanah (a trust) upon us. When I think of self-care, I remember the following two ahadith:
The Prophet (SAW) once asked a companion: “(Is it true) that you fast all day and stand in prayer all night?” The companion replied that the report was indeed true.
The Prophet then said: “Do not do that! Observe the fast sometimes and also leave (it) at other times. Stand up for prayer at night and also sleep at night. Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you.” (Bukhari)
In the second hadith, Hanzalah (RA) reported:
“Abu Bakr met me and asked: How are you O Hanzalah?
I Replied: Hanzalah is guilty of hypocrisy!
He said: Free is Allah and far removed from all defects! What are you saying?
I said: When we are with Allah’s Messenger (SAW) and he reminds us of the Fire and Paradise it is as if we were seeing it with our own eyes. Then when we depart from Allah’s Messenger (SAW) and attend our wives, our children and our business, then much of this slips from our mind.
Abu Bakr said: By Allah we also experience the same.
I went with Abu Bakr until we entered upon Allah’s Messenger (SAW). I said: Hanzalah is guilty of hypocrisy O Messenger of Allah (SAW).
Allah’s Messenger(SAW) said: And how is that?
I said When we are with you, you remind us of the Fire and of Paradise and it is as if we are seeing it with our own eyes. Then when we depart from you and attend our wives, our children and our business then much of this slips from our minds.
And Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said: ‘By Him in whose hand is my soul if you remained continually as you are when you are with me and in remembering (Allah) then the angels would shake hands with you upon your beds and upon your roads. But O Hanzalah, (there is) a time for this and a time for that, (there is) a time for this and a time for that, (there is) a time for this and a time for that.’“ (Muslim)
It is difficult to be strong when we are spent and empty. And as we know through hadith, the strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer (Muslim). This strength refers to an internal strength and relates to imaan (faith) which becomes eroded if there is no self-love and compassion. Everyone has an internal voice and it is often negative. It is generally an internalisation of a critical parent. This voice, this harsh inner critic that many, if not all, of us possess is not as influential if we take care of ourselves. It loses power if we practice self-care, though it may try to sabotage us when we do. This voice does not believe we are deserving of care, love, affection or indeed anything positive.
I don’t think it is possible to express just how important looking after ourselves is.
“Taking care of yourself is the best selfish thing you can do” –Unknown
Self-care is often confused with selfishness and when someone does something for themselves they can often feel guilty. There is a gulf of difference between doing something for self-absorbed, narcissistic personal gain and doing something that allows us to recharge, replenish and feel human once more. When we are being selfish we are showing a lack of consideration for others and our primary concern is our own profit and/or pleasure. Genuine self-care is not selfish. True self-care is nurturing, honouring, caring for, and loving ourselves – both for our own benefit and for those around us.
Homeschooling and self-care
“Taking good care of you means that the people in your life will get the best of you rather than what’s left of you.” -Carl Bryan, Tennis Coach
If we reflect upon the above ahadith, we recognise that we have to divide and devise our time wisely and that a fair portion needs to be given to each aspect of our lives, selves and commitments. As mothers we are often the worst at self-care because, let’s face it, we basically place ourselves at the bottom of the list; right there at the bottom of the heap, below the ironing and taking out the rubbish. And playing the martyr then comes so easily to many of us: “Look at poor me who is doing everything for everyone”. We often tell ourselves that self-care is something we should do when we get everything else done. When we have some time for it. However it is important that we recognize that we have to make time for it. It cannot be an add-on or afterthought.
Sometimes we may be motivated to take care of ourselves out of guilt or fear: I really should eat better. I really ought to exercise more. I’m not taking very good care of myself and if I continue this way I’m going to get sick, gain weight or something terrible is going to happen to me. And as these negative, critical thoughts roll around in our heads they often become the impetus or motivation for us to “take care of ourselves.” However, it is better if we choose to take care of ourselves rather than feel forced into it.
Experience, theory and practice all say that a happy mum makes for happy children. Therefore, it is really important for us to take care of ourselves if we are not only mothers, but also homeschoolers. Teachers who work in schools are drained by the end of the day. So what does that say for mothers who homeschool? They don’t get time away from the children and the classroom, particularly if there are no boundaries between mum time, learning time, play time, etc. And these mums don’t self-care and put themselves in the ‘I’ll get to it when I have time’ list. There is a very interesting phenomenon, probably something to do with quantum physics … or more likely barakah (blessings), but when we earnestly spend out of our time (be it on ourselves or others) then our time seems to expand. We may have little of it but it can be rich and full. However, it is not just the quality of our time that can grow. The way we are stands to also benefit.
Self-care is not only essential to our personal well-being but it is fundamental for our relationships with others, particularly those closest to us. And as expressed earlier, it enriches us and what we are able to give to others. We cannot give anything if we are drained and working from reserves. Contemplate how you are with your children when you haven’t slept the night before and are plain exhausted. How the slightest thing can tip you into the abyss of negative parenting. Would that happen (so often) if we recognised that we needed to take care of ourselves, just for a few minutes? Self-care can empower us to be more generous and available with those around us in an authentic, true to ourselves manner, whilst modelling to them how we want to be treated.
Taking care of ourselves requires willingness, commitment, and courage. Given the nature of our often busy, bustling lives it’s not always logistically or emotionally possible for us to even make let alone keep our self-care promises. Therefore it is imperative for us to recognise that it is not about doing it perfectly or right, or even about following a detailed plan to the very letter. It is more about remembering ourselves and that we deserve to take care of ourselves. And that when we do, it not only nourishes and replenishes us but also allows us to be available for those important things and people in our lives. As mothers and homeschoolers those things and people are our children and their education.
How to self-care
“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.” – Etty Hillesum
Truly, taking care of ourselves can be as simple as that. When we focus on ensuring our ‘rest’ we tend to have the strength for all the other stuff in our lives. Below is a list of suggested twelve steps to self-care that are readily available on the internet. I’ve added a few of my own thoughts and explanations.
- If it feels wrong, don’t do it
This first step requires us to get to know ourselves and to trust our instincts. If it feels wrong, at the very least entertain the feeling and give yourself the time to think about it. What’s the rush anyway? You’ll miss out?
‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab is reported to have said: “No amount of guilt can change the past, and no amount of worrying can change the future. Go easy on yourself, for the outcome of all affairs is determined by Allah’s decree. If something is meant to go elsewhere, it will never come your way, but if it is yours by destiny, from it you cannot flee.”
- Say exactly what you mean
Too often we don’t actually say what we mean. More likely we say what we think others want to hear. If we don’t say what we mean how are others to understand our needs? And who can we then blame when they then do things against our wishes? Be clear.
- Don’t be a people pleaser
The things we do and say are usually for the pleasure of others. We like to see others happy. But does it have to be at the expense of ourselves? When we are people pleasing we are putting ourselves at the bottom of the list.
- Trust your instincts
Our instincts are there for a reason. And the only book we truly need to be able to read is ourselves. It will ultimately tell us so much about others. Too often we say ‘‘I wish I’d followed my gut” about dealing with others and making choices.
- Never speak badly about yourself
We all make mistakes but to speak badly of yourself means that you are not recognising the things about yourself for which to be grateful. Also why would you want to speak badly of yourself? Sometimes we do it to illicit sympathy from others and it can be manipulative. And being manipulated causes others to feel bad about themselves. Consider your feelings when you’ve heard someone talk about themselves negatively.
- Never give up on your dreams
Dreams provide us with hope. Aspirations give us something to work towards. Having a focus and a goal can pull you back up when you’ve been knocked down.
- Don’t be afraid to say no
If you don’t want to do something or you can’t, just say no. Saying no can be really hard for those of us who are people pleasers and do not like the idea of letting someone down. However, you will without a doubt be letting yourself and others down if you are doing things you don’t want to or if you overstretch yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to say yes
Particularly to yourself. If you want something and can afford it carefully consider why not say yes?
- Be kind to yourself
If you cannot be kind to yourself then what sort of kindness are you truly showing others? Kindness to others without kindness to ourselves is often borne out of guilt, self-blame and people pleasing. Kindness to ourselves shows us the true way to be kind to others. But be kind to yourself anyway, you’ve probably had a hard day! Also see the earlier reported saying of ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab.
- Let go of what you can’t control
In the psychotherapy world we talk about spheres of control. There is the sphere of things within our control and a sphere that is outside. There is also an overlap area which is referred to as an area of influence. We may be able to influence but we can not control. The idea is that we take care of everything within our sphere of control and leave to others their spheres. And sometimes all that is in our ability is to let go because we can choose to do that.
- Stay away from drama and negativity
Drama and negativity is draining. It will sap you and bleed you dry. So do your best to sidestep it and walk away.
Love yourself. Love others. Just love. Love makes everything easier. And now four things to focus on in terms of self-care:
How we treat ourselves
We need to treat ourselves the way we’d treat someone we love. Think about how you speak to yourself. Would you talk that way to anyone you cared about? Self-blame and negativity are unproductive and when we recognise this it can be very powerful. If we continue with self-harshness it actually moves us away from the things we want to achieve. Consider someone of authority, say a teacher, constantly on your case and demeaning you: how motivated would you be? Now think about a teacher who encouraged, supported and nurtured you, how would you be then? Our minds cannot distinguish between thought and external event. So we hear negative self-talk and experience it similarly. Therefore, it is important that we make sure that our self-talk is loving, supportive, nurturing, and forgiving. It will take some time for us to believe and it will be like hearing a story we know wellbeing told completely differently – confusing and possibly distressing. However, in time we can unlearn and re-train our thought processes to become healthy and helpful. Treat yourself with the utmost respect, you deserve it!
Health and feeling well
Physical and emotional wellbeing are intrinsically linked. We obsess far too much about our external appearances and achieving the perfect body. Instead we ought to focus on what being healthy gives us and how it makes us feel, then we are more likely to feel motivated and stay on track as well as find a deeper sense of gratification. We also start to become intolerant of how unhealthy choices cause us to feel. This leads to us being able to reframe the way we look at healthy options. Self-care requires us to nourish and feed ourselves physically and emotionally. And if we eat well and exercise we are likely to feel our best and thus banish any concerns of ill health. Exercise, of any form, is known to release endorphins (the happy hormone), fight anxiety, as well as leave us feeling good. Moments of stillness and quiet, no matter how brief, enable us to find inner calm and peace. If you are physically and emotionally well you can be more available for others and you can partake in more activities.
Stay positive and be grateful
Don’t waste time and emotion looking at others and wishing you had what they have. If you need visual inspiration for a physical change then find photos of you at your best or perhaps hang up a dress you would like to get back into. If there’s a holiday you want to take then have a picture of it as your wallpaper on your laptop. If you want your children to all go to university create a picture of them doing that (in your minds). Learn to release the negativity and focus on all the good you have and on all that you’ve achieved. Make a daily list of your accomplishments and what you are grateful for. By doing this it will motivate us to do more and help us when we start to feel frustrated and ready to give up. Nothing is too small to be grateful for especially if it is moving you in the right direction.
We need to learn to love ourselves. To do this we need to acknowledge our efforts and achievements and see perfection in our ‘imperfections’. We need to find the beauty within ourselves. To love ourselves we need to catch our negative thoughts and release them, not hold on to them. It may seem ironic but when we focus on caring and loving ourselves the external transformation, (we’ve perhaps been craving), is more likely to occur. When we treat ourselves with the care and respect we deserve the routines needed for a physical transformation to take place seem to naturally develop. Similarly you will be able to be more available for your loved ones or think more creatively in terms of the education of your child(ren). Because you are grateful for what you have, you will make choices that benefit you and your family.
We are fortunate as Muslims that we have built-in time to regroup, recoup and recharge in the form of our daily prayers. I know that as mothers, particularly with little ones, praying in peace is a luxury but if we can enable ourselves to have even a moment of kushoo (calmness, serenity) then it can do wonders for our day and our general presence.
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” ~ Steve Jobs
Islamically, we know that we need to submit to the will of Allah (SWT) but do we recognize that that will has given us the permission to be who we are? And so we need to also submit to who we are. Because it is all contained within us, we have to have those moments of self-care that allow for self-reflection and contemplation to unravel our selves. When we know ourselves better we are better placed to help our children discover who they are.
Khalida Haque is a qualified and experienced counselling psychotherapist who has a private practice, is a clinical supervisor, group facilitator, freelance writer and counselling services manager as well as founder and managing director of Khair (www.khair-therapeutic.com). She is a mother of three with an on-off homeschooling tendency, having been guided by her and her children’s needs.
Issue One ‘Getting Started’ is available in both print and digital through all Amazons or directly through us here.