What Childcare is Teaching Me about Self-Care
One of my current life roles is nanny. Two days a week I spend my time with two tiny humans, a one-almost-two-year-old and a three-almost-four-year-old. I found my way here as I was looking for a job that was more intimate, that had the potential for deeper connections. Little did I know the profound insight taking care of children would give me in regards to what it means to be a (good) adult.
The family I help uses a respectful parenting style, meaning they are raising their kids in a framework that prioritizes collaboration, boundaries, self-respect, and communication. They treat their kids like little humans who are learning how to navigate their feelings and their bodies in a complex world. Because of this, I am able to teach these kids ideas about listening to your body, belonging to yourself, and attending to your needs. Being in this role also allows me to learn these skills for myself. This experience is helping me to be an adult navigating my feelings and my body in a complex world.
Dr. Harold Koplewicz has said, “Self-care is really childcare.” I am learning that being an adult is really about extending the same level of attentiveness and care that we give our children to ourselves. It is about truly taking care of ourselves, showing up for ourselves. As an adult, you still have many of the same needs as children do. The only difference is whose responsibility it is to meet those needs. As children, we need another person to take care of us; but as adults, we are capable of taking care of ourselves. Not only are we capable, but I believe nurturing ourselves is one of our most sacred tasks. I am learning that being an adult is about being your own caretaker in the biggest, most beautiful, transformative sense of the word.
Dr. Nicole LePera writes about reparenting, a practice she understands as the act of acknowledging our needs and desires and allowing ourselves to fulfill them. As children we absorb our experiences without processing them (separating truth from conditioning, recognizing that not everything other people do is because of us). Our childhood brains are incapable of this kind of analysis. We take our experiences and internalize them. We make them our identity – it is not what happened to us, it is who we are. We create stories that tell us who we are, how the world works, and what makes us worthy all before we have the ability the perform a detailed analysis of the structure and truth of something. Reparenting gives us the opportunity to revisit our core beliefs with an adult brain, a brain capable of processing our experiences, organizing them, and choosing what stories are true and what we want to inform our understanding of ourselves and the world. Reparenting allows us to more consciously understand what our identity is and have a voice about what stories are true.
Four Pillars of Reparenting
Dr. Nicole has a reparenting framework made up of Four Pillars: Emotional Regulation, Loving Discipline, Self-Care, and Rediscovering our Childlike Wonder. Emotional Regulation involves learning the skills to successfully navigate our emotional states. Emotions are information, they are communicating our experience of the worlds within and around us, drawing from our past experiences too. Feeling our feelings is important if we want to understand what we are experiencing, and navigating these responses is vital in meeting our needs and being able to show up for ourselves and others.
Loving Discipline involves creating boundaries with ourselves that are maintained over time. Boundaries are practices that support us in meeting our needs. Creating them and maintaining them helps teach us that we are cared for, valued, seen, and heard. Doing so lovingly allows us to have kindness and understanding for ourselves throughout the process. This pillar represents commitment to ourselves and the work.
Dr. Nicole says, “True self-care – supporting your needs and valuing your worth – is not indulgent at all, and it’s fundamental to holistic wellness. Self-care is the act of learning to identify and care for your physical and emotional wants and needs, especially those that were denied in childhood,” (213). Learning to take care of ourselves and then following through is at the heart of reparenting. I believe it is also at the heart of being a fully grown human (aka adult). Self-care is about being your own caretaker.
The fourth pillar, Rediscovering our Childlike Sense of Wonder involves returning to (and promoting) a state made up of creativity, imagination, joy, spontaneity, and playfulness. Play is a fundamental element of childhood. Keeping play and delight out of the adult world is a huge mistake – it makes life unsustainable, draining, and discontent. Forgetting about play also deprives us of delight and meaning. Our world needs to revisit how we think about play and to separate the word ‘childlike’ from its negative connotation in adult worlds.
(You can read more about Reparenting in How to Do the Work by Dr. Nicole Le Pera.)
Being a nanny is giving me an awareness of the reparenting process and the power of attending to my needs in a way I did not anticipate when I got this job. I walk these tiny humans through their day, and in this praxis, I learn a lot about what it means to take care of a human, lessons that I get to extend to myself as well.
Power of Routines
I am learning that kids do really well with a routine. When their bodies and minds know what to expect throughout the day it helps them to transition, to be present, and to do the basic things like sleep and eat with more ease. I also think adult bodies do really well with a routine, something we do not often acknowledge. Having observed and lead the kids’ routine has inspired me to get in touch with my needs for the day and to build a routine supporting that. Routines help me feel like I am in charge of my life and that I have a choice about how to support my wellbeing. Practicing a tailored wellbeing routine is a great example of Loving Discipline and is a way I am reparenting myself.
Importance of Food & Sleep
I’ve learned that regular and quality food are critical for good moods and good times. I didn’t know until recently that adults tend to skip meals – a lot. This teaches our metabolism to rely on unpredictability and scarcity, which causes our bodies to live from a place of lack where we have to hoard all the resources we imbibe (put on fat) rather than take what we need. Our body has a hard time when we don’t have regular meals. When we skip, our bodies don’t get the nutrition they need and we interact with the world from a place of scared ‘not enough.’
Eating regularly is not just something that is good for kids, it is good for adults too. When we feed our kids regularly, it tells them they are cared for and that it is important to fuel their bodies. When adults eat regularly, we are also telling our bodies they are well cared for, that there is enough, and that we are not under threat. When we eat well, we stabilize our mood and approach the world from a place of sufficiency. We have more patience for our kids, our spouses, our jobs. We have more compassion for ourselves and others and so much more emotional resilience.
In conjunction with eating well and regularly, watching these kids has also shown me the importance of sleep. These tiny humans reflect to me the same trends I experience with lack of sleep, they just do it at a more intense level, getting my attention and showing me that tired humans are grumpy humans.
Play & Movement
I have a tendency to take my life seriously – often too much so, forgetting to let myself be silly and playful. Watching these two children has reminded me of the power of pure, unadultered delight. Play is doing something solely for the sake of enjoying it; not for productivity, not for status, not for pay. My experience with these kids has made me realize that exiling play to the realm of childhood is a huge mistake. Brené Brown writes, “True play that comes from our own inner needs and desires is the only path to finding lasting joy and satisfaction in our work. In the long run, work does not work without play.” Play is so central for the kiddos I watch, and it makes me sad to think about how marginalized play has become in my life. Bringing back joy and delight will pull along vitality and fun – two things I know I need more of! Inviting more play into my life is helping me rediscover my sense of childlike wonder.
Coupled with their play, the kids I watch also have a need for movement – it isn’t something they have to think about, if they want to move, they do. If they want to dance or jump or run, they do. Watching the little one wobble reminds me of how our connection between mind and body is fundamental. Watching the older one move uninhibited reminds me that we are made to move, our bodies gracefully made and ready to experience the world by moving through it. I am reminded that dancing & wiggling & twirling are sensory and tell our bodies many things about the world within and around us.
Self-Care & Childcare
I find it fascinating and beautiful the way humans are mosaics, made up of everything they’ve experienced and the relationships they’ve been in. Being a nanny has been an experience that has made me able to see the connections between self-care and childcare, and to understand that they are really a shared model. I have learned that I am an adult living with the stories I made to understand my world as a child, and that some of these stories are not true. It is my job to rewrite them. It is also my job as an adult to take exquisite care of my being because I am now capable of doing so. This care includes attending to my basic needs (food, rest, and play) as well as more abstract or philosophical ideas.
Read Part Two of my Self-care & Childcare Series after October 27th to learn more about the interconnections being a nanny is teaching me about care, adulting, and health.