What Big Cats Taught Me About Being a Mother

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*Trigger warning: potential loss of a parent.

Someone recently said to me “Your son depends on you; without you, he wouldn’t survive.”

After they said that I kept debating with myself. Well, my husband would take care of him, our parents would help, we have great friends and a great network. I’m no longer breastfeeding…the hypothetical, worst-case planner in me had a plan so I had never entertained that statement.

But what the person was trying to tell me wasn’t the “all or nothing” thought that I had about if something happened to me, but rather that without me at my best, my son cannot thrive.

I recently binge-watched “Big Cat Tales” on Animal Planet. Several naturalists follow groups of big cats in Kenya to chronicle their lives. A very fundamental theme of this safari soap opera is that rearing the Cubs is the highest priority of the mother or the pride, in the case of the lions. Every ounce of the mother’s mind, energy, and heart is poured into these Cubs and even then, not all will survive. The mother hunts for, protects, and teaches her young so that they can be independent someday and continue the circle of life. In that circle however is death and without their mother, these Cubs, unfortunately, face a grim future.

I really was struck by the brutal truth of nature in this show. I have seen mother cats who were hungry and had to leave their young for days at a time to get food. In those moments, the mother has to put herself first to find food to sustain herself so she can sustain her young. She is at the top of the priority list so that she can care for her children below her.

Luckily, we don’t live in the plains of the Sahara but the simplicity of the principles that mother cats uphold are true for us, even in the domesticated world.

Without putting ourselves first, how can we reasonably care for our children?

This may seem like a harsh question to ask ourselves because so many of us put our children first. It’s human nature to want your children to have it better than you did. But how will they get the opportunity if you don’t ensure the health of your physical and mental well-being?

Self-care is such a buzzword these days, but what does it mean? We have so many distractions to caring for ourselves these days: technology, social media, prioritizing work. The list is endless. Self-care is truly individualized to what you need to be your best. Without you at your best (whatever that looks like that day), you can’t provide your best.

Most of us have the same basic needs: sleep, nutrition, hydration, exercise, a safe place to live. Others may need a daily practice of meditation or a sense of community with like-minded friends. Some need a challenge to work towards to push themselves. Others may use a journaling practice to ease their anxious mind.

Whatever you need, be sure to incorporate it into your life on a regular basis. What do you need to be your best? Understand that not every day will be the best day but by making more days great, you will be the best that day for your family. Your children depend on you to take care of yourself so you can take care of them. Even nature reminds us of this fact across all species.

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Residency training brought Tina to Charleston and after securing her full-time dream job as a clinical pharmacist, she couldn’t leave. Tina was born and raised in Punxsutawney, PA and attended the University of Pittsburgh before coming to the Lowcountry in 2014. She also holds several fitness and coaching certificates: Crossfit Level 1, USA Weightlifting Level 1 and Pregnancy & Postpartum Athleticism, that she used to coach at Locomotion Fitness in Park Circle. She and her husband Andrew call West Ashley home, along with their two bulldogs, Bosworth and Jackson, and their infant son, Reid. Motherhood has reignited her passion for writing in her "free time" - fueled by lots and lots of coffee.

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