What my mother teaches me about radical self-care

My mother's life serves as a road map to my self-care and liberation.

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During the pandemic, I left a job that I loved to pursue entrepreneurship.  I was excited and looked forward to entering this new season in my life.  What I didn’t know was that serving, loving and working over a decade in the nonprofit sector left me burned out- my body and spirit were not as ready as my mind for this new season. What was supposed to be a month-long break turned into a five month break.  

I struggled to find peace in allowing myself to rest for that extended period of time and others did as well in seeing me “do nothing.” Initially, I took offense to the inquiries of when I was going to “get back to work” and “what was next.” Then it hit me, people were not used to seeing a Black woman being instead of doing. This period of rest and reflection caused me to look at rest, leisure and self- care for Black women in a different light.  

As I sought to prioritize radical self-care and wellness routines that suited me during this season and beyond, my initial thoughts were to seek wisdom from well- known thought leaders, then it occurred to me that I should think about what I learned about self care by watching my mother. 

My mother, Connie, is brilliant, beautiful and kind. Following her divorce from my father, she raised me as a single parent.  She stayed on the road taking me to school, dance lessons, student council events and fundraisers, dances, youth ministry meetings, cheer practice, visits with friends and family, the list goes on and on. My life was full of activity, love and community.  In the midst of this flurry of activity, there were key things- big and small, my mom did that showed the importance of centering yourself and how important it is to our survival.  

She didn’t start her day without a cup of coffee- and still doesn’t. She made it known that whatever we had on the agenda that day would not happen if she didn’t have her java. She prioritized her needs before she started taking care of me and everyone else. I think about all of the times I jump into my day without thinking about or insisting upon doing something that brings me joy or that is important to me. 

From the time I was about 7 until I was 17, my mom would send me to Franklin, Louisiana, where my family hails. She insisted upon the importance of getting to know “my people” and in leaving my “city life” in Dallas to play in the grass and dirt and walk about town carefree with my cousins and friends.   

I protested going at first but then I grew to love my summers away, how they expanded my world and rooted me in my family’s heritage. It occurred to me that my mom also sent me away for the summer because she needed a break! She needed time to be Connie and not just Jarie’s mom. It’s hard for me to think of any position in my life or people I love from whom I’ve taken a break for two months. I love how she knew what was good for her was also good for the collective community.  

Time in Louisiana meant new experiences for me, deeper connections with my extended family and time to breathe and rest for her. My mother was my first teacher on this topic.  Angela Davis, legendary activist and scholar, emphasizes the importance of collective self-care . “If we don’t start practicing collective self-care now, there’s no way to imagine much less reach a time of freedom.”

Even today, my mom is still showing the way in radical self care as she prioritizes her health and exercises no less than three times per week. At one point, she was doing boot camp, yoga and zumba every week. She is my workout accountability partner and pushes me to put my health first, even in the midst of daily demands and meetings. My mom’s zeal for life and love for herself encourages me to “put myself in front” as activist, Alicia Garza, puts it.

The way my mom lives teaches me that radical self-care is knowing that care for self may happen in a space like a spa, walk trail, a hometown, bubble bath or yoga studio, but that it starts within the depths of our spirit.  Radical self-care is necessary for us to live the glorious, free, and full lives that we deserve.  We also owe it to our mothers and our ancestors to show them that their work and sacrifices were not in vain.  As with so many other areas of our lives, our mothers have given us the roadmap if we can slow down to look at the directions. I am thankful for this time in my life where I can do just that.   

Alice Walker said it best: “Guided by my heritage of a love of beauty and a respect for strength, in search of my mother’s garden, I found my own.” 

Jarie Bradley is the CEO of Sound & Sable, the People Consultancy and Public Voices Fellow with The OpEd Project.

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