I have consistently been interested in women’s lives and stories, most particularly women living in rural communities. Over the years, I have often questioned what it is that makes women tick; and what do women need to fuel their spirit, feed their passions, relieve tension, and breathe freely? My experience as a woman, a mother, and an occupational therapist interested in women’s wellness education led me to engage in research with mothers of school-aged children living within rural communities. I wanted to know about their journeys in learning to care and nurture themselves when a major portion of their personal responsibilities revolve around caring for others.
I wondered if other women’s stories would reflect my own daily struggle to balance work, rest, leisure, and sleep. As a woman who has grown up in a rural community, I have received less-than-supportive messages about how much time and effort I should put forth nurturing self. The majority of the messages I had received over the years questioned whether I should, as a wife and mother, take time away from my household, husband, and children for my own personal health and well-being.
One of my closest and dearest female friends posed these thoughts to me numerous times throughout the years: “Is it really appropriate for you to take time away from your children and husband to have a facial or go to a painting class? What if your boys need you and you aren’t available because you are doing something for yourself? What if all women spent time taking care of themselves; who would cook, clean, and help the children with their homework?”
Then there is an older man in the community, who has expressed irritation with my independent nature, and once told me: “Your place is in the home; you don’t need time for yourself. Your children and husband always come first!”
So, this is my story ... does it sound familiar, personally or about a woman you know? Because it is my story, as well as the story of many of my clients throughout the years. I have developed an educational program to help support women who work hard every day to be committed and loving wives, mothers, daughters, and community members; and who also recognize the importance of nurturing themselves.
First, it is helpful to know that women’s nurturance of self refers to the invaluable and precious time required to refuel a woman’s mind, body and spirit, those moments of time that women capture to take walks, engage in gourmet cooking classes, write in journals, take an exercise class, and/or join a book club. Self-nurturance is a meaningful occupation which supports and enhances women’s overall health and well-being. In occupational therapy, meaningful occupation is defined as those experiences which promote, enhance, and/or maintain an individual’s state of well-being (Baum & Christiansen 2005).
As a woman and as an occupational therapist, I have heard women talk of wanting to care for self; however, due to both time constraints and social influences, they have the perspective that their needs are less important than others. Because of this, they have left the meaningful occupation of self-nurturance unexplored, untouched, and unattained.
Remember, self-care is a meaningful daily and life occupation. Nurturing self and taking care of one’s emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual needs is important to women’s overall development. I challenge you to recognize that self-nurturance and women’s development of self must be dealt with simultaneously. Reflect upon how you have changed and/or your thoughts have shifted over time as you have attempted to successfully engage in self-nurturance. Most of all, remember that nurturing self is a very meaningful daily and lifelong occupation that will assist women in engaging in healthy living day to day. PD
— Excerpts from Record Herald , April 29, 2009